Celebrities like Michael Jackson play a key role in our culture today. They offer a framework for how we should behave, like the saints of the middle ages, their lives are held up to be emulated. The culture of the celebrity also deeply influences those who are not famous, it deeply shapes our sense of self, Chris Rojek in his book Celebrity notes that the sheer volume of exposure to celebrity culture that we experience has meant that just like celebrities we “construct ourselves into objects that immediately arouse sentiments of desire and approval in others “However we then fall into a trap that celebrities have been experiencing for years, the split between the public and private self.
“…celebrity status always implies a split between a private self and a public self…The public presentation of self is always a staged activity, in which the human actor presents a ‘front’ or ‘face’ to others while keeping a significant portion of the self in reserve. For the celebrity, the split between the I and the Me is often disturbing. So much so, that celebrities frequently complain of identity confusion…”
This split between the public and the private self creates a situation in which like the star we find a cognitive dissonance between our multiple selves, we find our selves asking the questions, which self is really me? We suffer from identity confusion. What if I get found out and people see the real me? Confusion is created and we feel the anxiety that is so pervasive in modern life. We may not all be stars, but we to an extent feel the stars tension between the public and private self.
You can see in the current media storm around the life of Michael Jackson, the tension and confusion that the self proclaimed King of Pop Felt expereinced between his public and private selves.Rojek notes that many celebrities end up turning on their public selves, just think of Britney’s head shaving incident. This scenario gets played out again and again in the world of celebrities and increasingly in the world of ordinary people.
(Which makes me wonder if Daft Punk got it right. They sell buckloads of albums, have tens of thousands of people turn up to their gigs, get to walk around sans helmets like normal people and best of all indulge their boyhood fantasies to dress up in cool robot suits.)