The Man to Blame for Our Culture of Fame

30Meacham-blog427Jon Meacham at the New York Times:

Virtually forgotten in our own time, Winchell is an undeniable architect of the way we live now — which makes Gabler’s biography essential reading. “A mention in his column or on his broadcast meant one was among the exalted,” Gabler wrote. “It meant that one’s name was part of the general fund of knowledge. It meant that one’s exploits, even if they were only the exploits of dining, rated acknowledgment. It meant that one’s life was validated.” Politically, Winchell, once an enthusiastic booster of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s, claimed to have introduced the New York lawyer (and later Donald Trump mentor) Roy Cohn to Senator Joseph McCarthy and the broadcaster’s program became a platform for the Red-baiting of the 1950s. Culturally, Winchell helped create the ambient world of celebrity that permanently blurred the lines between politics, policy, sports and entertainment. “This culture,” according to Gabler, “would bind an increasingly diverse, mobile and atomized nation until it became, in many respects, America’s dominant ethos, celebrity consciousness our new common denominator.”

To understand the narcissism of the first decades of the 21st century, it may help to realize that it is neither a sudden nor an entirely new phenomenon. “There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about,” Oscar Wilde’s Lord Henry remarked in 1890’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” “and that is not being talked about.” The world Wilde anticipated and Winchell crystallized can be explained by a few key texts that illuminate how we find ourselves with a president of the United States who used to call up New York tabloid writers (and would very likely have called Winchell, had Winchell still been around) posing as Trump spokesman “John Miller” or “John Barron” to talk about … himself.

more here.

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