...there is a new and profound cultural problem to contend with: as a society, we no longer understand power. The power of kings and dictators was always visible, tangible, understandable. The power of elected officers is by definition (if not always in reality) an expression of popular power. But the power of mega-corporations is as faceless and nebulous as it is pervasive. It hides in plain sight and communicates in code. Even the most powerful people in the world now seem harder to understand. George Bush is not the figure of gravitas, wisdom and trustworthiness we need a president to be. Bill Gates is not the charismatic, visionary egomaniac we expect the richest man in the world to be. They are ciphers, and they make their very power unintelligible. And so not only do we feel more powerless in front of a more absolute power, but we also feel unable to "relate" to it at all.
Celebrity trials provide people the sense of witnessing a form of history up close and personal. But the cultural dynamics represented in the trials always point to the fact that celebrities are ultimately "weird," and that mere mortals getting too close to them are (intentionally or not) inviting trouble -- which means they must also be weird. What we understand about celebrities is ultimately that we do not, cannot, understand them.
It's a tragedy of unknowing and incomprehension, suggesting the larger tragedy of incomprehensible power.
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