What do Donald Trump, King Rama X of Thailand, and Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain appear to need? I would call it celebrity recognition. But the reasons they would try to defend that status are complicated.
First, consider what is involved in being a celebrity.
“Celebrity-ness” is measured by two factors: recognition and reputation. Being a celebrity is also defined by time and population.
RECOGNITION If a person is a celebrity these days, fame is the key factor. The measure of one’s celebrity status is from zero (no one knows who you are) to universal (almost everyone recognizes you). Even so, one’s celebrity status is contained within a given population and period of time. A future heir to the throne of Great Britain is automatically guaranteed of greater recognition than his distant cousin the heir to the throne of Luxembourg. The golf winner of the Master’s green jacket is going to be more famous than the winner of the trophy for a Dublin Snooker championship. Territory matters and so does the size of one’s fandom.
REPUTATION Sports and entertainment stars are celebrities who outshine others in the same fields. There are also celebrities in other fields including politics, military, religion, and (for lack of a better term) adventure. Examples: politics – Gandhi; military – Ike; religion – Mother Theresa of Calcutta; adventure – John Glenn, astronaut. We like our heroes to have accomplished great and noble things while overcoming formidable odds. Although we prefer “good” celebrities, reputation is measured on a scale between famous and infamous. Jesse James is about as famous as Mark Twain, but they tend to be on opposite ends of the reputation scale.
Celebrities stand on a slippery stage. How they get there in the first place probably has to do with talent, luck, support, or birthright. How they move from the shadows into the spotlight does, too. But fame is a fickle friend.
Recognition can rise and fall. Ozymandias was once (according to Shelley) the most famous, powerful, and feared man in the world but by 1818 all that was left was just a shattered statue sunk in the desert. Adolf Hitler remains the most reviled person in history, on most lists, although he too will disappear in time. His rise and fall along with the Third Reich he created is the most studied mystery of the last 200 years.
Loss of standing as a celebrity can be troublesome. It is pretty agonizing, one would imagine, going from adulation to denunciation. A celebrity can even lose a job that way, as Johnny Depp seems to have done. It is worse when the collapse is the loss of public respect as well as interruption of ability to perform, as happened to Tiger Wood (due to revelations about his personal life and physical conditions that prevented him for several years from being able to play golf well). Tiger has apparently recovered a measure of his prowess. Recovery for Oscar Wilde came too late to save his life, although he died with his talent undiminished. Van Gogh also died too young to know he was going to be acclaimed his century’s greatest artist. A great many painters are far more famous dead than they were alive. In fact, dying drives up the value of their work.
Recently I have been considering the esteem of several well-known persons, Donald Trump, Queen Elizabeth II, and the King of Thailand in particular. From news accounts, I have deduced that something is important to them in addition to their official status and duties.
As Donald Trump reluctantly relinquishes the office of President of the United States, analysts are scrambling to name the reason he is behaving in a way no previous president has done after losing an election. The media have noticed how HM QE II’s relationships with members of her family and her government have depended on some obscure factors. As HM Maha Vajiralongkorn has returned to apparently take up residence in Thailand, the palace has been aggressively renewing his public persona.
Let me suggest it is valuable (for various reasons) for these otherwise famous and powerful people to be celebrities as well. It is assaults on this aspect of their status that have impelled responses. Even when elections are not a factor, kings and queens last longer if their recognition and reputation remains stellar. Republican movements are only a generation away, perhaps less. But royalty are concerned for oncoming generations in their families as well. They are better off if their place in public esteem is high and positive. It may be difficult to get accurate information, but this need does explain quite a bit.
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.