“You need your stars, even killers have prestige,” is the opening line to Slash n’ Burn, a song released in 1992 by the Manic Street Preachers. Accurate words that speak to us today as much as they did to a younger me almost 30 years ago. Society has always had those it looks up to, often for little, or no good reason at all.
It isn’t uncommon to see an inspirational quote by Marilyn Monroe, the poster girl for free and independent women, on social media. That’s the same Marylin Monroe who had three failed marriages, an affair with the President, and died of a drug overdose. Sure, a great resource for tips on a happy life. Why not?
What about the poster boy for love, peace, and social equality, John Lennon? He’s just there, imagining all the people living in peace. Well, except his physically abused wife and neglected son, not them so much. Even so, he was inspirationally imagining no possessions, possibly while driving around in his psychedelic coloured Rolls Royce. Here he is patiently taking a break from fighting the system and demanding equality, while a maid changes the bedding in his hotel room. Power to the people, man!
Idolising people without merit isn’t new.
We need our stars.
But it gets worse, and much sicker. Nikolas Cruz, the shooter at the Parkland school in Florida where 17 people were killed, receives love letters from women. Lots. A convicted mass-killer has fans, and not just any fans, women want to spend their lives with him and have children together.
We have movies and TV shows about Jack the Ripper, Ted Bundy, Charles Manson and others who have committed heinous acts of murder and deprivation. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a psychological fascination with what makes these people tick.
Even killers have prestige.
We allow ourselves to have these images of people based on what we are told, and what we want to believe. We create ideals of what we want people to be and they become the face of a movement we believe in, or they speak on our behalf. This is seen clearly in President Trump and his supporters and detractors. He’s a poster boy for redemption and racism.
Donald Trump has been sent by God to bring America out of darkness, the redeemer of goodness and righteousness, endorsed by Christian leaders. The same Donald Trump who has openly discussed sexually assaulting women, is three times married, has offered to pay legal fees for people who physically assault his detractors, bragged about his genitalia in a debate, rolled back a number of environmental laws, paid for sex with a porn star while his wife was pregnant, and has rarely shown any level of humility. Somehow, he’s the poster boy of Christianity and people view him as God’s chosen leader.
He’s also the poster boy for racism. He’s so racist that he’s dated a black woman, was awarded the Ellis Island Award for patriotism, tolerance, brotherhood and diversity, achieved the lowest levels of unemployment for black people in history, implemented the Second Chance Act which will mostly benefit black people, won an award for helping black people achieve goals in corporate America, and was routinely positively associated with black leaders until he ran as a Republican.
In one person we have a man, chosen by God, who behaves like a hedonist, who is also a racist that has was awarded for routinely singling out problems that negatively impact black people, and he fixing them. The truth is, this only just touches the surface, stories of his deeds, good and bad could fill entire libraries, but the point is this: We see what we want.
Admittedly, people change. He may now be the virtuous man of God his followers view him to be, while also becoming a raging racist. Unlikely though, on both counts.
We find something positive in a person, something we identify with, and that person becomes our representative. They say the things we want to say, but they have a platform, which makes them our advocate.
And this is how the poster boy takes shape. It’s an advertisement for one specific feature or function, much like a movie promotion poster. There are typically a few versions for every movie, depending on where it will be focused and what they want to represent. One poster will have blood, action, and the hero to represent action. Another is a little less exciting, but shows the male and female lead, hinting at a relationship and love story. Same movie, different stories, both represent a message that is tailored to send a specific message to the public. That’s how we end up with a hedonistic, racist, holy man, who is a champion of minorities.
We need our stars. They legitimize what we feel and believe, even if they don’t believe it themselves.