Is the World Too Much With Us?
Celebrity tweets from the marches. Super Bowl ads. Golden Globes acceptance speeches. Where does free speech end and our right to ‘just be entertained’ begin?
Big brands are celebrities of a sort in a consumer society, so when they wade in using the commercial ‘bully pulpit’ available only to those with $5 million to spend to articulate their message in 30 seconds is that fair? Or simply an invasion of our right to eat guac and drink beer unencumbered for one Sunday night by the unremitting onslaught of political controversies, moral dilemmas and philosophical grievances careening towards us daily. The nation seems split on this issue, as on virtually every other. Just what was needed: One more thing to be divided about.
World class entertainers capture our imagination through their mercurial talents, performing as a tightly wired fashion magazine editor one moment, a British prime minister the next, then a stern and severe nun, then a holocaust ‘survivor’ who didn’t really survive, then a spurned lover, then a…you get the drift. Amazing performances that, when lashed together, craft a reverence that confounds politics, until it doesn’t. Key moments of our lives have played out within the context of the way stations of her career. Until our projection of a lifelong relationship with the actress is shattered – or reinforced.
A line from a Wordsworth sonnet haunts me now:
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers
With so many of the basic premises of what it means to be an American in spasm, it seems only fair that all voices be heard on issues that confound. Protestors, for sure. But also brands and celebrities. In an ecosystem which values meritocracy, let’s not penalize great businesspeople, entertainers, writers or athletes by demanding they sacrifice their brains on the altar of our opinions. One of the great powers of a consumer society is our aggregated ability to transmute belief into attention getting financial impact. Thus, the getting and spending doesn’t always lay waste. We may ‘vote our pocketbook’ in elections, but we ding revenue forecasts through our ability to boycott or support businesses and celebrities with whom we disagree or agree.
When angry debate about the building of walls is what confronts us now, I say the breaking down of ‘the fourth wall’ is to be relished, late and soon.