When the Internet became widely populated, it was an invaluable tool for prying open previously impenetrable fortresses of hierarchical oligarchy and replacing them with what was hoped would be a peer promoted meritocracy. Unfortunately, neither the hierarchical tools or the hierarchical methods of collaboration changed, so the Internet simply replaced rule by institutions with rule by celebrities.
So-called thought leaders have become the new traveling priests, roaming the globe with familiar comforting mantras, providing a well lighted path for those stumbling from the wreckage of institutions. Panels and conferences are the churches and revivals of the secular with orderly rows of believers gazing up for guidance and simplistic instruction. Intriguing quotes are plucked from their origins and added to the repertoire of the talking elite, edges softened and context free. Horizontal movements create celebrity speakers, NGO’s monetize grass roots movements and the faces begin to look like institutions.
News delivered in neat soundbites from talking heads is replaced by celebrity journalists dropping into crisis zones to deliver documentaries celebrated as gritty and real despite being delivered by cam-filtered tourists. Free Harry Fear! reads the protest sign outside the Israel embassy. And once Harry Fear is freed perhaps we can look past him to the 1.7 million Gazans without his UK passport.
Angelina Jolie, that living avatar of US military propaganda, is also the living avatar of the refugees created by the weapons industry when they are not advertising their latest equipment as props in her movies. “Don’t rape,” she murmurs to the UN before wafting away on a jet stream of war money.
Celebrity journalism is the future of journalism! crow billionaires craving edginess. Only if David Beckham is also the future of football. Silicon valley has reached the age of decayed empire where it only recognizes the revolutionaries we have already decapitated. They are still mistaking the post-NSA drums beating for their own heads as a cry to their cavalry to save us all.
Celebrity oligarchy was definitely progress. The peer promotion was real and the celebrities come without the black boxes the institutions hid in. But it is not a final product.
Silicon valley thinks it is. Twitter allows blue checked voices to mute all the un-blue riff raff from their stream. Direct message your followers back without actually following them! You can benefit from their input without acknowledging publicly that they exist! Twitter is heavily banking on its new elite, as are klout and many other social media tools. Silicon Valley doesn’t have a clue who uses their products or why.
Celebrities that popped out of horizontal movements certainly do though. There is a pallor that falls on accounts when their first 5000 or so followers turn on them, the painful sight of 7-digit follower accounts who are lucky to get forty retweets. If the core is offended, every tweet is met with a barrage of negative replies. On the Internet, any publicity is not good publicity.
As I mentioned earlier, horizontal governance does not mean no one gets a voice, it means everyone does. Devoting all of your work to a brand that will be used to create a bloated central figure who will then be able to control the messages of everyone while dining out on ill-gotten celebrity and collecting brand donations is no different than passing all your money to the Unification Church.
The old “Don’t trust anyone over 30” is now “Don’t trust anyone with a follower count > n”. Where celebrity is not tied to genuine expertise or acceptance it does not carry the power many expect it does. When celebrity accounts betray their stated principles, those who gave the celebrity feel as betrayed as they would by a corrupt politician.
The power of shunning may not dismantle a celebrity as quickly as they were created but when necessary, it will happen. Tools that pander to celebrity hierarchy can be hacked, reworked or deserted. There is a better way to work, coming very soon.