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Unfortunately celebrity endorsements really do matter

5 May 2015

5:06 PM

5 May 2015

5:06 PM

Whoever comes top on Thursday, Labour has won the only poll that really matters – that of Britain’s beloved celebrities, with recent endorsements by Steve Coogan, Delia Smith, Robert Webb, Ronnie O’Sullivan and Jo Brand, among others. The Tories in contrast can only muster a few self-made businesswomen and Peter Stringfellow.

Labour’s most important conquest, however, has to be comedian-turned-people’s poet Russell Brand, who previously suggested that voting was a waste of time, but now backs Ed Miliband. When it comes to this 21st-century political colossus, no one can better Rod Liddle’s words from a few months ago:

‘That’s why I enjoy my mornings in bed with Russell. It’s like a condensed version of a particularly bad edition of the Guardian, filtered through the veins of an imbecile. Russell told the world not so long ago that there was no point in voting because it changes nuffink, innit. The sort of thing you hear not from the pub bore, but from the bedraggled halfwit in the corner with his half pint of Guinness, who even the pub bore finds insuperably tedious. Incoherent faux-left conspiracy theories that would have made even the late Tony Benn blush with embarrassment.’

Unfortunately, though, Brand’s opinion really does matter, as does the opinion of Coogan and actor Martin Freeman, who have both appeared in political broadcasts for Labour. Why? For the simple reason that they are high-status individuals.

I have a soft spot for Freeman, not just because of The Office and Sherlock; back in my younger days and before I completely went over to the Dark Side, I had to doorstep celebs at pointless events to ask them stupid questions about mundane things, and Freeman was by some distance the most polite and humble (and as I was a men’s magazine journalist, he would have been well within his rights to cough phlegm in my face). So when he argues for Labour’s values of ‘community, compassion, decency’, I believe him.

But while I can’t say whether Freeman is well-informed about politics, it is fair to say that politically-active celebrities generally aren’t very knowledgeable about the issues. They’re often quite clueless, in fact. However, like Brand and Coogan, Freeman is a high-status individual with prestige and therefore his arguments carry weight. For as Ara Norenzayan points out in Big Gods, his study of the evolution of successful religions, societies tend to follow the faith of high-prestige men and women:

‘People also care deeply about what the prestigious or successful individuals in their local societies believe, and often selectively adopt beliefs or behaviours from these potent cultural models.’

Faiths, therefore, ‘get a big boost in the cultural marketplace if they are already endorsed by (1) the majority opinion, and (2) the high-status opinion-makers in a group’.

We don’t just follow the clothes celebrities wear, but also their belief systems; religions succeed when they are endorsed by high-ranking individuals: in the case of Roman Christianity – the affluent, educated urbanites; with Islam, the warrior elites.

Left-liberalism is today’s prestige faith, which is why it has almost universal support among successful celebrities, as well as the top people in academia (some 84 per cent of Harvard political money goes to the Democrats).

Part of Left-liberalism’s success is that it offers the moral system already established by Christianity (generosity, equality, universalism, compassion) but without the sacrifices; celebrities who endorse Labour and tax redistribution can do some convenient ‘virtue signalling’, no matter what their own personal behaviour is like. It is the perfect religion for actors and comedians, who tend to be quite egotistical and keen to appear moral, but who also have many temptations placed in their way (especially wealth).

Ideas don’t flourish necessarily by being right, but by being fashionable, and political beliefs can thrive even when there is very little evidence they work, although there must come a point when the ideas are so unshakably bad – and obviously based on scientifically inaccurate beliefs – that fashion cannot keep them afloat. One hopes so at any rate.

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