George Packer's latest book is The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America.
From his Q & A with JP O'Malley at the Christian Science Monitor:
You also speak about the shift in American popular culture, where celebrity worship became primarily about money. You use Jay Z and Oprah as two examples. When did it become almost acceptable to flaunt your wealth as your sole motivation as an artist or a celebrity in America?Writers Read: George Packer (July 2007).
I think celebrity comes to the fore of people’s consciousness in times of inequality, when they stand in for the old institutions that used to guide more ordinary aspirations. Modern celebrities were invented in America in the 1920s. Celebrity itself requires a machine-made diffusion. So celebrities grow in power and in influence. Today when I hear Jay Z at concerts, I get the feeling that he is telling his fans: Just give it to me. I will live it for you. And you can fantasize about it through me. But you are not going to get here, even if you wear my clothes, and flash my corporate logo.
Even Newt Gingrich did something to politics, where he turned it into an entertainment industry. He was willing to say anything, the more outrageous the better. He was willing to break down old taboos about what you could call your colleagues in Congress, and how much you could boast to a reporter, and how viciously you could try and tear down the president or [Congressional colleagues].
I guess what I am getting at is a collapse of taboos at that level of society that says: This is actually a rigged game. The old rules don’t work. If you are continuing to play by them, you are a sucker. Jay Z’s story tells you: Don’t hold down an honest job and stay in school, and hope that you move up. No, go for all of it, by any means, and then success will be its own justification. So that is why Jay Z interests me. I think he is a talented individual, but....[read on]