Occupy Wall Street and the Danger of Celebrity
The protesters in Zuccotti Park have now been occupying Wall Street for almost a month. Although at first they suffered from a lack of coverage, now the mainstream media seems to be more or less on their side. With great press comes problems, however. As awareness of the protest is increased, it seems that the message of the protest is diluted. Over the weekend Kanye West and Russell Simmons stopped by Zuccotti Park -- two men famous for their wealth stopped by an anti-capitalism protest... and it wasn't a joke. Is the parade of celebrities stopping by Zuccotti Park (during the safety of the daytime of course) good or bad for the movement? Can celebrities ever truly help a counter-culture protest?
Slavoj Zizek, the famous philosopher, however, is an exception that proves the rule. He is a celebrity who will always be welcome at any protest. Zizek stopped by Zuccotti Park on October 9th and addressed this problem. He reminded the protesters not to "fall in love with yourselves, with the nice time we are having here. Carnivals come cheap - the true test of their worth is what remains the day after, how our normal daily life will be changed. Fall in love with hard and patient work - we are the beginning, not the end." Most importantly Zizek warned them to "beware not only of enemies, but also of false friends who pretend to support us, but are already working hard to dilute our protest." The power of celebrity is a double-edged sword; although they bring more press and more awareness to the protest, at the same time they "dilute" it, as Zizek says. The protesters cannot, obviously, prohibit celebrities from participating. But perhaps they should. When Kanye West, whose very image is based on his role as a conspicuous consumer and arbiter of the zeitgeist, walks around Zuccotti Park in gold chains and gold teeth, he is controlling the language and the message, not the protesters. He is diluting the protest, robbing it of its power, claiming its relevance for himself, to up his cool-quotient rather than to commit to any outsider political views.
Although the "Occupy" movement has truly taken off and spread across the country in only a couple weeks, its lasting power and influence remains to be seen. According to OccupyTogether.org, there are 1,471 "occupations" currently underway across the country, with the largest being Occupy Denver, Occupy Phoenix, Occupy San Diego, Occupy Los Angeles, Occupy San Francisco and Occupy Portland.
If the protesters at Occupy Wall Street (and the other occupations around the country) continue to let celebrities participate in these protests without commenting, critiquing, or using the juxtaposition to their advantage, they risk becoming nothing more than a pop-culture punch line.
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