George Packer: Meet the Celebrity ‘Super-class’ in America

George Packer: Meet the Celebrity ‘Super-class’ in America

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Bestselling author and New Yorker staff writer George Packer how today’s celebrities transform from people, to businesses, to empires; replace traditional institutions; and perpetuate insidious myths of equality and security.

today instead of elites we have celebrities they dominate the landscape like giant monuments to aspiration fulfillment and overreach there is intimate as they are grand and they offer themselves for worship to ordinary people searching for a suitable object of devotion in times of widespread opportunity the distance between these gods and the mortals closes the monuments shrink closer to human size the lives of America's celebrities become gossipy diversions but they loom large in times like now when inequality is soaring trust in institutions is falling and the normal paths of upward mobility seem blocked celebrities no longer rise with their fellow Americans they rise from them they constitute their own superclass they hang out at the same TED Talks big idea conferences fundraising galas they appear on the same talk shows they invest in one another's projects where one another's brand apparel champion one another's causes marry one another and cheat on one another with one another they can be found in every sector of society including ones that seem less than glamorous we have celebrity bankers Jamie Dimon computer engineers Sergey Brin real estate developers Donald Trump media executives Arianna Huffington journalist anderson cooper restaurant owners Alice Waters there's often a quality of self-invention to their rise Mark Zuckerberg went from awkward geek to the subject of a Hollywood hit shawn carter turned into jay-z and jay-z became Jehovah Martha costera became Martha Stewart and then Martha Stewart Living the person he balls into a persona and then a brand and then an empire with the business imperative of grow or die this process of expansion and commodification crosses boundaries and substitutes celebrities in place of institutions instead of robust public education we have zuckerberg botched rescue of Newark's public schools instead of a vibrant literary culture we have Oprah's Book Club instead of federal investment in basic scientific research we have Eric Schmidt's ocean institute celebrities either by institutions or else disrupt them after all if you are the institution you don't need to play by its rules I think the latest example happened last week with the death of the New Republic magazine at the hands of a Facebook multi-millionaire Zuckerberg foundation myth begins with a disciplinary proceeding at Harvard which leads him to drop out and found a company whose motto is move fast and break things jay-z's history as a crack dealer isn't just a hard-luck story it's celebrated by fans and not least himself as an early sign of hustle and smarts and Martha Stewart's jail time for perjury merely proved that her will to win was indomitable the next step is for Kim Kardashian to join the board of a tech startup hosts a global poverty awareness event and write a best-seller on popular neuroscience these celebrity monuments have grown so huge they dwarf the aspirations of ordinary people who are asked to yield their dreams to the gods to flash their favorite singers corporate logo at concerts to pour open their lives and data on facebook to adopt appal as a lifestyle our stars dangle before us the myth that in America anything is possible if only you have the right attitude but we know they aren't really inviting us to think we can be just like them their success is based on leaving the rest of us behind when the middle class hollows out and inequality reaches level such as we see today people begin to believe that the game is rigged that they no longer have a place at the table that they're disposable some of the characters in my book feel that way as they become conscious of the forces of history pressing on them during their adult life times the period covered by the book the character of America has changed it's become more free and less fair it's become more diverse and less secure it's more inclusive and more stratified there are more choices but they exist in a world without solid structures there's more social equality and less economic equality much less we now have gay boy scouts but the chances are they attend lousy public schools you

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