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Celebrity Epistemology

By Douglas Groothuis


What theory of knowledge (epistemology) is shared by contemporary America’s ubiquitous celebrities? They, too, must know their way around their worlds, so let us hazard a guess. You may have heard of “virtue epistemology.” This is “vice epistemology.” (The following are generalizations. There are a few celebrities whose epistemology is less debased.)


1. Celebrities must master the art of being well known for their well-knownness, as Daniel Borstin put it in The Image. This elusive quality is known to the celebrity alone. Think of Kim Kardashian. On second thought, you cannot think of her, since she inspires no thought. You can only visualize her, and that’s bad, too.

2. The celebrity must be ever-watchful for cameras. One’s entire perceptual equipment must be attuned to the possibility of being photographed.

3. When a camera is perceived, the celebrity must discern whether to pose or seek cover. Unwanted photos end up on the covers of tabloids. There celebrity is made to look far too human, even unattractive, even un-posed. Therefore, the celebrity must recoil from these photographic intrusions. However, if the camera is wielded by a high-class magazine or television show, the celebrity must comport oneself accordingly. I will not go into this, since it would require another essay on celebrity ethics. Here is a clue: egoism.

4. The celebrity must have a keen sense for image-makeover. All the celebrity’s intellectual and perceptual powers must be trained to know just when the public is getting tired of their image. Holding on to an image too long may mean death: the lack of celebrity! That means low ratings, loss of fornication partners, no magazine covers, no new movie deals, no appearances on hot TV shows or podcasts.

5. Celebrities must never—repeat never—appear intellectual or reflective. Celebrities have no time to cultivate the so-called “life of the mind,” since they are too busy entertaining the masses with their visages. How can thought be photographed anyway? It cannot be done. The action is in the image. And the money is in the image. The celebrity knows the difference between her paycheck and that of a professor, after all. When was the last time you saw a philosopher or theologian on the cover of Glamour or People Magazine? Thus, celebrities must not cerebrate.

6. The celebrity, unlike the unwashed herd, knows the meaning of an esoteric and entrancing quality: glamour. They not only recognize it—their heroes are, of course, other celebrities, who specialize in glamour—but the celebrity embodies glamour far more than mere mortals. They know how to do it. Glamour impresses without edifying; it excites without ennobling; and it stimulates without educating. It is amazing how much glamour can do—for the celebrity.


Such is the epistemic world of celebrities. Let us celebrate them not.

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