Movies, TV shows, and popular music all inspire us to want to “be somebody,” but in order to “be somebody” on that scale—in order to be a fast-talking Austin Powers government spy, Jack Bauer-type cop agent, or Beck/Bjork-style rock star—we have to accept society as it is and become its agent, an agent of society as it is, of the status quo. We must reflect its values, whitewash its failings, and invigorate its masses with more of the same.

To suggest that fighting comedic villains, countering “terrorism,” or acting cool and artsy is not enough for a public cultural figure to do, and rather she should be protesting some unjust aspect of society, is to expose oneself to criticisms like, “not EVERYTHING needs to be about politics!” The implication of this critique is that the figure in question would not herself be famous if she fixated on political issues or opined openly about injustice. Rather, she must remain focused on the key issues that drive sales: love, conquering bad guys, and “carrying on” in the face of how tough life is.

Life is tough, no questions there. But is it enough for artists to tell people to just put their heads down and power through it—look for love, hope for wealth and prosperity, and “fuck b****es”—rather than to try to spread some awareness of how things became “tough”? Once in a blue moon, in an Oscar acceptance speech for example, a famous person of color will speak openly about the struggles that she faced on her way to success. Yet, she works for the American film industry, the greatest propaganda machine in the world, that gave us Mickey Rooney’s character in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” countless African-American and Native American stereotypes, “sissy” targets of homophobic ridicule, evil Arabs in “Aladdin,” “Rules of Engagement,” and “True Lies,” racist whitewashing in “The Help,” religious fundamentalism in “Passion of the Christ,” consent-manufacturing for war “Casablanca” and “Hunt for Red October,” violence against women in countless action movies, and innumerable other messages and agendas that pertain to the reason an African-American winning an Oscar in America is such a triumph and such an innovation.

Is it, then, the purpose of “being somebody,” once one reaches a place of cultural influence, to *then* point out the inequities of that culture in such a way as to affect them? So let me get this straight: I’m supposed to use any and all connections with agents, friends-of-friends, and behind-the-scenes folks I can conjure in order to break into showbiz, to start in TV commercials or soap operas or jingles or to appear on commercial radio, to create a publicity blitz among press connections big and small, to pay a horde of people—agents, recording engineers, publicists, plastic surgeons, photographers, personal trainers, relaxation experts, clothing retail outlets, et cetera—a lot of money, and attract and maintain lucrative contracts from studios and record companies, ONLY to eventually come out and say that all of those mechanisms of achieving success are corrupt and morally bankrupt? If I’m going to do that and be cast out of the conformist inner circle, then what was all the work for? You can’t essentially model yourself after the oppressors if you hope to overthrow them.

Granted, if all famous people did it, things might change. But the stakes on achieving success on the scale of a Russell Brand (who is not exactly Tom Cruise in terms of household nameyness) are too great to expect people who have ultimately benefited greatly from that system to publicly come out against it. “I worked TOO LONG and TOO HARD to say that what I did either took TOO LONG or was TOO HARD!” If it was easy for the individual to possess a voice with the power of Hollywood, no one would do it. But that would mean something much bigger. In such a society, people would possess the power to be heard and affect culture without the billions of dollars that fund Hollywood and showbiz in general. The means of mass communication would be controlled, not by “the mass media,” but by the people. Everyone could “be somebody,” by virtue of being part of a society that values everybody, not just those who allow the system to suck them dry.

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