Special Notice 28

Celebrity Idolatry – Media Love Fest Over Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter Is Sickening

By William J. Dodwell    June 10, 2014

            Sports fanaticism is nothing new in this country but the endless encomiums to New York Yankees Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter following their announced retirements strain tolerance.  In your face promotion with 40 page special inserts in general newspapers and repeated front page coverage is foisted on the public as if everyone is a sports nut.  Even the Wall Street Journal features a Jeter trivia question on its sports page about his having registered a regular-season hit in 42 stadiums - the ultimate “Who cares?”  And it’s not just a New York phenomenon.  Jeter is presented with gifts and awards by opposing teams at away games nearly a year in advance of his scheduled retirement.  How much of this hype is in response to authentic reverence for skills and persona, and how much is contrived in the self-interest of the league, media and politics?  While both men are decent men of distinction to be sure, enough is enough. It’s time for pushback.


            As a “closer”, Rivera, who retired at the end of last season, has the distinction of “saving” games by completing the eighth and/or ninth innings while his team is ahead without giving up the lead.  All teams coveted him for this ability which exceeds any pitcher in history.  But hypothetically, might any number of good starting or relief pitchers accomplish the same if put in the position of a closer?  Is the ability to get batters out consistently in the circumstance of protecting a lead in one or two innings a special skill, performing in the clutch, or just happenstance?  Is this akin to the sanctity, but meaningless, of Joe Di Maggio’s 56 game hitting streak in that a hitter theoretically could hit in all162 games and bat only .250.  So what?  Would the streak specialist be preferred over a .350 hitter with a normal distribution of hits over 140 games?  In any case, a byproduct of Rivera’s celebration and some indication of genuine interest is his current best-selling book titled, “The Closer”.


            Jeter’s accomplishments as a lifetime .311 hitter and first rate shortstop are more definitive, but so far in his last season he’s a shadow of his former self.   Would Lou Gehrig, Joe Di Maggio or Mickey Mantle, perhaps with better records, get the same media treatment if they were retiring today?


Profits and politics


            Indeed, the love fest serves the media, professional baseball and politics.  It sells tickets, advertising, newspapers and memorabilia.  And it promotes a sports primacy as a leftist diversion from public consciousness permitting government to impose itself with less electoral resistance at the expense of individual freedoms.  But the Rivera/Jeter hero worship also upholds a liberal racial agenda.  Since the media are hellbent on racializing almost every issue, one has to wonder whether there is such motivation to this hysteria.  Would the media have elevated Rivera and Jeter to deity status if they were white?  Has a comparably accomplished white figure been similarly venerated?   Cal Ripken Jr., the Baltimore Oriole, was feted lavishly for a distinguished 21 year career ending in 2001which included playing in a record 2,632 consecutive games.  And some hockey legends were lionized upon retirement.  But nothing like the ad nauseum tributes to Rivera and Jeter. 


The Rivera/Jeter coronation follows in the spirit of anointing Jackie Robinson and Tiger Woods in the last dozen years or so for breaking racial barriers in their sports.  The hype helps to establish sports, along with entertainment, as a preserve for minorities that produces role models in the absence of their significant representation elsewhere.  Excess sports promotion reinforces political correctness regarding race.  Rest assured, when Muhammad Ali dies the liberal media will go wild in eulogy mode.  He has always been a darling of the left for going to prison in defiance of the draft during the unpopular Vietnam War and liberals are eternally indebted to him for that.  All this adulation might sooth racial relations but it skirts truth as to what real greatness is.


The hero standard


            What is a real hero? They are men and women who have distinguished themselves in their fields as models who display extremely distinctive talent, especially to the benefit of the commonweal, be it in science, technology, business, the arts, politics, the military, religion, the academy, the humanitarian arena, and yes, sports.  But the degree of achievement is the elusive criterion.  Obviously, the standard is relative but some arbiter should uphold it against dilution by self-serving media which today try to create mass interest for their economic and political purposes where hype trumps truth.  Of course, there’s nothing wrong with celebrating achievement if the honor is commensurate with the deed and not based on ulterior motives. 


            We used to honor real heroes, such as Thomas Edison, Dr. Jonas Salk, and Albert Einstein who distinguished themselves for highly technical expertise acquired through innate ability and hard work that yielded achievement that benefited humanity.  Steve Jobs and Bill Gates are contemporary counterparts, who are additionally heroes of the masses celebrated by the media because of the universal utility of their innovative products. In addition, Warren Buffet is celebrated because of his longstanding acumen selecting investments, a trait with mass individual and institutional appeal.  (To be sure, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet are also embraced by the media because they support the liberal agenda in some of their opinions and philanthropic activities.)  Time was when distinctive individual achievement was honored too.  In 1958 Texan Van Cliburn was given a ticker tape parade in New York City after winning the Tchaikovsky Piano Competition in Moscow.  Historically, the untimely demise of the famous through assassination, accident, disease, suicide or self-abuse is particularly poignant eliciting public shock or sorrow that prompts extravagant media coverage.  Witness the deaths of President Kennedy, Martin Luther King, John Lennon, Princess Diana, Rock Hudson, Ernest Hemmingway, Judy Garland, and Philip Seymour Hoffman, to name a few.


            Today, the media aggressively exploit the masses in the economic and political interest where image takes precedence over truth and substance in creating, promoting and branding a celebrity culture.  This modus operandi might have been particularly encouraged by the baby boom demographic coming of age.  In the past, not even black baseball greats Hank Aaron and Willie Mays got the Rivera/Jeter treatment in sports coverage.  Now entertainment figures are more than ever lionized in life and death to bolster Hollywood as an institution with all its liberal bona fides.  Witness the overwrought reaction to actor Philip Seymour Hoffman’s recent death.  And consider the uber-tributes accorded Princess Diana when she died, a foreigner no less.  Coverage in the U.S. was grossly overdone as a reward for her liberal friendly activities embodied in grandstanding her supposed concern for Africa’s poor, and besmirching the royal crown through her extra marital relationships, particularly with Egyptian Dodi Fayed, a union verboten among the British elite for the prospect of tainting the royal blood line.  Perhaps the historical partnership between the U.S. and Great Britain also had something to do with the media fawning.  Additionally, the media deified Nelson Mandela for his political significance in the black community, ignoring his murderous background as a leader in South Africa given to “necklacing” opponents in horrific immolation.  To be fair, the mass media feted Ronald Reagan well for two weeks following his death.  But that tribute was probably an expedient sop to the political right to deflect charges of liberal bias.  Of course, the fact he was a former President compelled special attention.


            Today, genuine excellence founded on meritocratic achievement is largely suppressed as it undermines the egalitarian narrative of the liberal order.  Rather, media promote politically innocuous accomplishments in sports and entertainment, except that their racial significance is played to the hilt.  The media celebrate the lowest common denominator to promote mediocrity as an antidote to excellence that truly threatens the liberal establishment.  Unfortunately, the public responds with alacrity.  Utterly undistinguished figures become famous simply for being famous, such as the Kardashians and other reality stars.  Indeed, the masses are easily manipulated.  They’re persuaded to wear ragged clothing and embrace noise as music, even the better off and educated among them     


Public passivity and the nature of celebrity


            It takes two to tango in that the proactive media require a malleable public to succeed.  What is the nature of celebrity?  People respond to well accomplished practitioners of self-identified interests such as music, sports, business, etc., even embracing them as role models.  Many relate to their heroes vicariously or through peer pressure; some are attracted by personality traits; others might identify on the basis of gender, race or ethnicity.  Yes, pop culture is a legitimate way of momentarily escaping life’s rigors.  It also functions as a social equalizer.  But most participants are susceptible to media stimulus that creates and exploits receptivity to celebrities through repetitive ubiquitous presentation that etches the tabula rasa, transforms a casual interest into an obsession, sometimes irrespective of talent, or otherwise contrives public sentiment.


            Music heroes are especially revered.  Their popularity is rooted in a generational emotional and psychological attachment established in adolescence and collectively carried forward throughout life.  Regrettably, “rock star” has become a metaphor for having great status in any field, suggesting that those characters are universal models. Sports enthusiasts childishly don their favorite player’s jersey in admiration, and revel in solidarity with likeminded fans that gives them a certain identity, and perhaps even an escape from their isolation.  Fans project a personal desire for popularity through adulation, even obsession, for celebrities who have, of course, achieved the ultimate popularity.  This phenomenon extends to speaking fees, for example, which are directly proportional to popularity based on name recognition.   Today, quality of accomplishment is measured by popularity.


To be sure, commercially and politically motivated media largely dictate the culture and its heroes for the docile masses while promoting an agenda.  Money and power await those that garner the Everyman.  This dynamic produces the frivolity surrounding the retirements of Rivera and Jeter.  Indeed, growing sports fanaticism is an exponent of a dumbing down of America that plays into the hands of a politically predatory mass media.  That hysteria is even widespread among women now.  While many fans lead accomplished and engaged lives, too many substitute sports for personal achievement and civic interest, hence the low information voter.


It is hoped that society would become more grounded in the realities of life, including the political, to resist the allure of the herd instinct and its media enablers.  But that requires immunity founded in seriousness and knowledge that endows the ability to discern relative importance.  That education, which starts in the schools, is increasingly diminishing with grave economic, cultural and political implications as evidenced in the election and re-election of one Barak Hussein Obama.
©2014 William J. Dodwell

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