2011-01-16

Surrounded by the Cult of Personality

In all directions, I find myself surrounded by the cult of personality. Thanks to the brilliant musicianship of the band Living Colour, this phrase is now inseparable from the song of the same name (see below). This has, ironically, weakened our ability to apply the term and therefore criticize cult of personality movements. (Ironic, because it was the band's very intent to effectively criticize them.)


Wikipedia as usual presents a good synopsis of the concept of the cult of personality as it has applied to historical political movements. But I think society's problem with this runs far deeper than dictatorship. There is something in our psyche (or perhaps only in our marketing culture) that demands a figurehead representative of any concept thirsting for mass appeal.

Which perfume will you buy this season? Walk into the department store and take a look. Each perfume is presented using a trade name and a celebrity endorser. Do you want to smell like Catherine Zeta Jones or Halle Berry this year?

Attending a recent corporate meeting, I was struck by the fact that the meeting closed with a panel discussion featuring the executive board. The emcee (a regular joe working for the company) had a list of prepared interview questions. The executives sat on "director's chairs," their shirt collars unbuttoned, and gave their "take" on how the various HR projects within the company were going. ("It's going well, we have a lot of challenges ahead of us...") Do we need to hear this from the executives? The thing smacks of reverie.

Even a movement as individualistic as libertarianism is not immune. We are regularly confronted with the "Randian" versus the "Rothbardian" point of view. These people are dead. What are the issues?

I am tired of taking sides not between right or wrong, but between figureheads. Perhaps it's society's newfound obsession with presenting a "take" on everything. (Hey, I'm blogging, aren't I? I'm part of the problem?) Anyone who finds themselves a little bit ahead of the game soon waxes about what's going on. And of course you should really care because, after all, those guys are ahead of the game.

I see abstract concepts disappearing. I see genuine inquisition evaporating. What I see it being replaced by are meaningless figureheads. This may be useful for those of you who require a "team" to play on; but for the individualistic among us, it's almost isolating to watch ideas get replaced with people in suits.

I don't want to cheer, I want to think. I don't want a figurehead, I want a choice.