Incite by Design

Caustic visions and shared thoughts on design, marketing, creativity, philanthropy, pop culture and business philosophy by Toronto design firm, Ricksticks Inc.


Smug Celebrity - The New Nihilism

Everywhere you look there's Paris Hilton in the news, coupled with an onslaught of screaming teenage girls. I happened to catch a brief segment on Paris recently. Upon her arrival in some unknown city, a local teen was asked why she likes Paris so much. The girl replied without pausing, "Because she's so hot and she just doesn't, like, care ... She doesn't care about anything or anyone."

Elsewhere, ongoing talk continues about Lindsay Lohan, touted star of Mean Girls, and her rivalry with Hillary Duff. Mean Girls, by the way, encapsulates the back-stabbing, rivalry of teen girl life in the way that 1980's Heathers did. I confess, I will never watch Mean Girls, but have overheard young gals discussing the movie and the point they seem to be missing is that it isn't good to be a nasty person.

Parents and media continue to focus their righteous censorship rhetoric against acts like Marilyn Manson or other neo-punk bands for their influence over kids, but ignore when their kids are watching Paris and Nicki act like spoiled brats by mucking up the most basic forms of responsibility - suggesting that it's funny and cool to be incompetent.

The underlining values being challenged by 70's/80's punk nihilism were materialism, capitalism, and allegiance to country. The nihilism was rooted in Marxist thinking, taking it to the next level - antisocial behavior as the benchmark for challenging political and social constructs.

Now nihilism has been replaced by simply having enough money and fame to not give a shit. I'm not suggesting the previous punk ideology, or lack thereof, should be the better of the two; I am simply arguing that Marilyn Manson is only one example of irresponsibility as chic. He's just easier to spot in a crowd.

Bad behavior in and of itself is not what's important for us to examine. What's more intriguing about this blend of bad behavior is that it is coming from those who are supposed to dazzle us - the entertainers of mainstream media (Paris, Lindsey), the pirates of capitalism (Donald, Martha), the "normals."

Of course we expect the fringe scene to embrace odd, antisocial behavior. This has always been the case. I am certain that every generation had its odd mix, the artsy fringe, the controversial folks who threatened the status quo. Parents and media have lived to talk about these people and how they threaten to corrupt our moral fabric.

But what's happening now is the bad behavior, once reserved for only the antic of the rebels and artists, exists in the mainstream celebrity world. And what's worse, there's no real underlying social or political message - They are bad because they can be.

Our fascination with Michael Jackson's ongoing trial is a good example. Whether innocent or guilty, Jackson obviously has lived with the arrogant notion that he is above the rules society follows. Celebrities are, after all, often served by the legal system. Whether dealing with drug, tax evasion or murder charges, most celebrities have a less than harsh sentence. When they do get time, it's not at the big, bad, ugly prisons of notoriety.

But bad behaviour is generally displayed and celebrated in attitude more than in action. The nonchalance of the wealthy or the mean spiritedness of the stars is the typical headline of the day. Shows that support nasty behavior and rivalry are commonplace (America's Next Top Model, Survivor, etc.) Mean, manipulative behavior is rewarded - Every man/woman for his/her self. But we hate it when our kids listen to rap or punk.

I know most young people are hungry for the bling other people seem to have, and the wealth that forgives everything - even crime. There's an air of "I made it on my own" superiority going on that really makes me want to crank up the Clash.

Perhaps the best lesson we can give our youth is that it is cool to be both driven and socially accountable at the same time. It is possible to work really hard to make it and not lose your ability to give a shit about other people and the world; That the best among us are humbled by success and use wealth and experience to better serve humanity.

And a bit of advice for parents: Don't assume the images, although wrapped in pretty packages, are positive ones.