One of the major themes in my articles over the years has been the role that Trump has played in pulling people out of their numbness. His abrasive behavior, attitudes and ideas are very stimulating and help people to separate themselves from the experiential vacuum that is omnipresent as a result of the growing influence of modern technological society. However, there are many other charismatic people with whom people are identifying and merging, people who have little or no connection with politics.
I am talking about the people in the world of entertainment. And because of social media, the connections people are making with personalities in the worlds of television, movies, music and sports are stronger than ever. Social media allow people to draw closer and closer to these personalities than was ever possible before.
At the same time, social media also provides the means to expand the opportunities these personalities have to become rich and famous. This is because the social media provide greater accessibility for fans to psychologically merge with the stars and, in so doing, to pay for the stars’ music, buy tickets to their concerts and purchase their swag. A singer-songwriter-musician puts out a song on YouTube, gets an extraordinary number of hits on the song and is on his way to becoming extraordinarily successful. These musicians today no longer initially need lucrative contracts with well-known record companies in order to succeed in the music business. They can make direct appeals to their potential audience marketing their music through the different social media. And people respond to these intense in-your-face musical presentations, by coming under the spell of the personalities who make them. The ability of fans to psychologically separate themselves from the stars they worship keeps diminishing as social media grow in influence.
For the stars, the growth in influence is psychologically very satisfying. If their fans merge with them, it is the fans who end up psychologically losing their senses of self in the relationships and not the stars. The fans sacrifice their individual senses of self in order to rise above the numbness and feel alive amidst all the abrasive stimulation being generated by the artists, particularly when they are on tour.
Presentations of the very successful artists today are no longer in intimate music clubs but rather in humongous concert halls and sports stadiums where the roar of the crowds and the push and pull and tug of the crowds becomes a part of the abrasive experience of the star that pulls the fan out of his numbness. These enormous concerts today are made possible by the generation of tickets from the modern technology of a monopolistic company like Live Nation. The numb fan submerges himself in the collective experience that surrounds the star.
One of the problems of a fan maintaining this kind of a relationship with a star is that any individual imprints that the fan might make in his own daily life seem totally trivial in comparison. The fan is looking for some way to pull out of his numbness and thinks he has found it by participating vicariously in the life of a famous star. But two things are happening simultaneously. On the one hand, he is participating in the star’s life by buying the star’s music, tickets to his concerts and his swag. But unlike the believers in Trump, who promote him for his political purposes, there is little that a fan can do to actively promote a star for commercial purposes. Trump followers can do all sorts of things in promoting Trump. Organize and go to all sorts of rallies, volunteer for campaign committees, work on the Republican convention. Stars have fan clubs, but it seems to me that they mostly serve the needs of the fans rather than the stars. So, they represent rather trivial imprints. Imprints that promote the narcissistic needs of the fans.
And, in the end, these imprints are not very meaningful imprints in that they do very little in terms of creating preserved individual imprints that allow a person to create a personal surrogate immortality and, in so doing, to prepare for death. It’s the experiential equivalent of empty calories.
And as one of many collective surrogate immortalities based on different people psychologically merging with a star at the same time using social media, the merger with the star by the individual fan is not very meaningful in terms of any major influence the star may have on the fan. It certainly doesn’t result in the strengthening of the sense of self of the fan. It doesn’t result in strengthening the life narrative of the fan in any meaningful way. On the contrary, in the process of temporarily being pulled out of his numbness as a result of his merger with the star, the entertainer, an individual fan loses his sense of self and his individual life path which pushes him right back into the numbness from the experiential vacuum.
© 2023 Laurence Mesirow