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The fault in our Stars

Celebrities may be good at what they do, but when it comes to responding to a public issue, they may not live up to our expectations

Charismatic, aspirational and sometimes surreal, they appear to us from the high heavens of success, inspire us with lyrical reverie and live in our dreams — or give us sleepless nights. They appear to us on social media, and we worship them by “following” them and “liking” their tweets and posts. Far yet close, near yet nebulous — it is this state of transcendence that makes them stars for us.

We desire to be like them or long to meet them in person. I know because I so dreamt of shaking hands with a man whom I considered a legend in his field, Mario Miranda, but could only pay a meditative visit too late to his gallery at Porvorim in Goa.

An average Indian worships an actor or a cricketer. We feel we are part of the life of stars, and we matter to them. Sometimes, we admire the stories of struggle they have gone through to reach where they are, and feel proud to know them, to have shared the same culture and identity, to belong to the same country. But when they come out from behind the scenes, this bubble breaks.

The stars we covet are superheroes in what they do. They thwart their opponents with a deft backhand, or leap from a skyscraper to land safely with the damsel they had valiantly rescued. But when it comes to responding to an issue with an intellectual commentary, they may not quite measure up to our expectations. In real life, they are normal, vulnerable people, like you and me, who succumb to misinformation, fear and bias like any of us. They may not have a reasonable opinion, or may even have a flawed one, on matters we give them a willing ear to. They may simply hurt our feelings with a subjective comment. Common people like us fail, or even refuse, to acknowledge that what we know of our heroes is a desirable and unreal image we have constructed about them in our minds.

Paid to impress

But as celebrities, it is their job to impress us and get paid for it. They are influencers in the fashion and lifestyle product industry. They are trendsetters who try out new fashion and introduce it to us while the market is still not ready for it. It is their job to create a desirable image, like a chiselled mannequin in a retail outlet, and drive the consumer market. They trigger a large cycle of commercial activities from creating demand, job opportunities and business to endorsing them in advertisements.

They very often step in and out of a character to represent society or a brand. It’s all right, it is their business to act.

But when some of these stars come down to earth and make a statement on issues that concerns the life of the public, they tend to kick up dirt. As individuals who enjoy the goodwill of all categories of people, it is a celebrity’s duty not to take sides in a pluralistic society whose people love them without reservation. The fact that people look up to them as their idols is the reason they must not look down upon anyone.

They nevertheless have a right to their opinion. But as influencers of society, they have a paramount duty to uphold constitutional values. What they say and do in public, matter. But it is unfortunate to see that care is not exercised, and it is causing distress and schism.

Some celebrities are so forthcoming without a second thought or remorse to reiterate political narratives that are authored with the aim of polarising society on communal grounds.

Politicians are always working on their career progression. In a democracy, their targets are to make people listen to them, trust them and elect them their representatives. When they know they are incapable of winning hearts by philanthropy, they hit people where it hurts them: their philosophy, their perceived identity that runs deep within their conscience. When stars are added to this propaganda on media, the machinery of hate is complete.

Screen culture is a powerful tool of communication, irrespective of what is being communicated. Even more virulent is, in its true meaning of the word, the “viral media”. Once injected into the electronic veins, it propagates exponentially, infecting minds and attaching strains of new meanings to itself. The result could be a partial or complete collapse of a rational society.

ondarox@gmail.com

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Printable version | Jun 5, 2020 6:41:12 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/the-fault-in-our-stars/article31599910.ece

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