Mark Twain once wrote to his friend “I am sorry for the length of this letter, but I did not have the time to write a short one.” It’s an apology that’s been often repeated in bloated ramblings because it’s wry, pithy insight. Typical Twain. ‘Cept it weren’t Twain. Blaise Pascal is the true author of the quote. He’s a far less well-known French thinker, who wrote it in letter to a colleague in 1657.
Have you read, or heard quoted, Einstein’s brilliant: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” Well, Einstein didn’t say it. The words first appeared in print in 1981 in a Narcotics Anonymous pamphlet. That was 25 years after Einstein turned up his toes.
Quotes are just so much more quotable when they come from individuals famous folk, aren’t they? And misattributing quotes is a perfect example of our tendency to give too credit, sometimes undeserved, to celebrities.
According to social anthropologist Jamie Tehrani, fame is a powerful magnet. Since humans gather most of our knowledge and ideas by copying – rather than through trial-and-error – we’re always on the lookout for the witty, the wise, the skilled whom we can imitate.
Tehrani focuses on the areas of cultural evolution and diffusion at Durham University and he believes our brains have adapted in ways the now leave us open to copying traits that have little value.
Back in days of yore, our imitating brains allowed our ancestors to recognize individuals with superior skills and knowledge and learn from them. Pages wanted to become knights; ladies in waiting imitated the speech and manners of their betters. Everyone was movin’ on up.
Today, our young’uns are imitating behaviours that have little to do with success. Instead they emulate over-indulged celebrities who have little else to do but strike a pose and party-hearty.
Television has played no small part in this. The Celeb Culture has made stars out of empty-headed hedonists who contribute nothing, achieve nothing (other than stardom) and become the role models to a new generation only because of their celebrity. How else do we explain the slew of Princesses who want to carry the same handbag as Kim Kardashian, despite making 1/1000 her income. These Princesses are willing to go into debt to wear the same shoes as Carrie Bradshaw. (You do know that no columnist in NYC could afford Carrie’s shoe fetish!)
Paris Hilton is little more than an heiress tease, celebrated for being “hot”. Mob wife Drita D’Avanzo is celebrated for being married to a hoodlum serving time. Gretchen Rossi is celebrated as a “real housewife of orange county” except she isn’t a housewife at all, she’s just a beautiful Texas girlfriend. And then there’s Rima Mella from Bad Girls Club: Mexico who is quoted as saying “I’m the first one taking off my shirt, I’m the first one to fight and I’m the first one on the speaker dancing.”
I’m not sure how parents can fight back against the celebrity culture short of banning television and internet from homes. I’m do know I’ve very relieved to not be raising a daughter through the early teen years today.