Christopher Lasch on the culture of celebrity voyeurism
Writing in 1965, in his celebrated book The New Radicalism in America, Christopher Lasch was, as so often, prophetic, seeing advertising (which he here called “publicity”) as the ersatz or synthetic “instrument of solidarity” in the consumer culture which came to dominate in the second half of the 20th century and beyond. He is in no doubt about the paucity of that culture, seeing that the highest value it is capable of evoking is a kind of voyeurism, epitomized in the prevalence of celebrity gossip.
“Publicity is to a contemporaneous culture what the great public monuments and churches and buildings of state are to more traditional societies, an instrument of solidarity; but because publicity is only the generalized gossip of the in-group, the solidarity it creates is synthetic. Its myths are manufactured. It turns out products, in our own time an Ernest Hemingway, a James Dean, a Marilyn Monroe; and the legendary quality about these people attaches itself not to their memorable deeds but to their personal habits and idiosyncrasies, their liking to go barefoot or their fondness for cats or their love of motorcycles or their various phobias and neuroses. The whole process appeals not to the sense of history but to the voyeurism which is the strongest emotion, it seems, that the contemporaneous culture is able to evoke.”
~Lasch, Christopher. New Radicalism in America. (p) 1966 Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.