A World Run by Celebrities in Save Us from Celebrity, a Speech by Clive James

Categories: Sociology

The world today, as it seems to have been for the past few decades, seems to be ruled and run by celebrities. We hear and read about them everyday like they are the most important people in the world, but in reality, they are just people like us. But unlike us, they have done something significant to set them apart from everybody else. This is the point that Clive James argues in his 2004 speech, “Save Us From Celebrity.” In this speech, James uses countless examples and analogies to argue that the world is run by celebrities, and that we pay too much attention to them.

James seems to be effective in his articulation, and the point he argues is a very valid one. It is clear from the title of the speech, and the language he uses that he is attacking the celebrities. James also exploits pathos to invoke imagery, and by using honorific and pejorative language to appeal to the audience.

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He does not do much to establish ethos, but as he states on the inside cover of his book, “The Recognition of Meaning,” he is “… a man (and master) of many talents, and as an essayist is widely regarded as one of the finest of our time.” Also, it can be noted that he establishes ethos through the experiences that he speaks of, and the people he has met.

As he delivers his speech, James begins by recounting his meeting Andy Warhol, and how ghastly he seemed. He then really begins to dive into his speech by recalling Warhol’s “prediction that everyone in the future would be famous for 15 minutes,” and “if somebody did something they had a right to be something” (349).

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Warhol’s prediction seems to be where the popular phrase ’15 minutes of fame comes from, yet some of us, like celebrities, have achieved more of a lifetime of fame. This fame is achieved by accomplishing something on a grand scale, like starring in a critically-acclaimed movie, or releasing the next big song. These ’15 minutes’ could have a different meaning however; this amount of time could be in proportion to our whole life, and perhaps he means we are only famous for part of our lifetime before disappearing into the shadows. This introduction is a good example of pathos, because James is appealing to the audience by telling us what we want to hear, which is that we will all (hopefully) ‘be famous for 15 minutes.’ This is just the first example of pathos that is used by James, and there are plenty more to come.

One of the rhetorical devices that James uses throughout his whole speech is pathos, more specifically, the kind of language he uses to persuade us that celebrities are the main focal point in the world. That is, we seem to think about celebrities more than we should, and instead of thinking about them and acting like them we should be more concerned with things such as politics, war, and current events. In his speech, James uses mostly pejorative language to attack the celebrities, but does insert a dose of honorific language here and there. The first example of his pejorative language is when he attacks George W. Bush in his debate with John Kerry. He states that “Being more articulate than George W Bush is no challenge. So is my cat” (351). James implies that almost everyone has the ability to choose their words more wisely then President Bush. He goes on to criticize his word choices, and how he shows emotion in the words that he chooses. James also inserts a bit of logos when he says “Almost always, the word he finds is the wrong one, but his look of relief arouses sympathy in the audience, as when a child, sent to fetch a spoon from the kitchen drawer, comes back with a fork” (351). Here, he inserts logos with his analogy of analogy of Bush choosing the wrong word. It is a strong example of logos, because he is able to insert an image into the audience’s mind, of a boy holding a fork rather than a spoon. As he discusses President Bush, James uses all pejorative language, but as he moves on to discuss Senator John Kerry, his language fluctuates between pejorative and honorific. His first statement is that “Kerry, even with his opponent disappearing into a semantic black hole, still managed to win only by a hair. In fact he won only by a hairstyle” (351). James’ first comment about Kerry is honorific in that he has great hair, perhaps better than George Bush’s hair, but the fact that he had to rely on his hair to win the debate is more pejorative, because it supposes that other aspects of Senator Kerry, like his answers to the debate questions, or his articulation, were not sufficient. From this point on, James continues his pejorative attitude towards John Kerry, saying that he has hair on his head because there is no testosterone in his body (352). His final comment toward the debate caps off his summary, when he says that “President Bush may be without a brain, but Senator Kerry lacks a gland that most men would agree is even more vital to existence” (352). James finishes his rant by not criticizing Bush and Kerry separately, but in the same breath, something he had not done in his whole summary.

The next example of pathos that is used by James comes from an issue of Vanity Fair that he had been reading. He talks about seeing “a two- page spread devoted to Ralph Lauren himself. A man of certain age, he could be sad to be wearing well…. His hairstyle, an extravaganza in spun silver, looked as if it had been lowered onto his head by a crane” (352). Here, James openly criticizes the clothing choices of Ralph Lauren, and implies that celebrities do not have to be wearing anything overly stylish to get noticed. He follows this up by saying that “The message being that if you buy clothes with his label on them you will look as casually stylish as he does” (352). His point in saying this is that celebrities, and what they do and wear, have a strong impression on us. Here, the impression is that if we wear Ralph Lauren clothes, we will seem more attractive, but this is not always true. James substantiates this by saying that “very fat American men who can swallow a Big Mac like a canapé wear shorts and trainer shoes in order to seem athletic” (352). What James is essentially saying is that when we try to imitate celebrities to impress others, we are really fooling no one except ourselves. James provides some excellent examples of pathos in his speech, but he also uses historical examples and analogies to help prove his point.

The first imagery that is exploited by James comes from a game show that he had been watching. From the way he describes it, it is very much like one of today’s reality game shows, where teams are competing for a prize, but every episode, a team is ‘kicked off the show. The imagery is this: “Basically the format is a re-run of the Nazi atrocity but without the machine gunners waiting outside. In the future, and probably the near future, the machine- gunners will be waiting outside, but we haven’t quite reached that point yet” (355). The imagery that is provided comes from one of the worst years in the history of the world, but it is fits perfectly into this example. In this case, the machine- gunners represent the media ready to move in on the game show participant as soon as they are released.

James’ next historical example comes from the same context as the first, the British game show. Only this time the image is of Jesus on the cross, one of the most powerful images in history. His illustration is as follows: “Nobody looks at a photograph of Jesus Christ on the cross and asks “Why not me?’, because they know the answer: you haven’t been crucified yet” (356). This representation of fame is a righteous one because he relates the death of Jesus to our hopes and dreams of fame. If we were to look at a picture of a celebrity, we aspire to be in their position, and be noticed by the paparazzi, but we are not. Furthermore, just as there is a very small chance that any one of us will be crucified, there is a very small chance that any one of will achieve the fame that we desire. There is a small chance, however, that one of us may become famous, because there an innumerable amount of celebrities in the world, and that number seems to be perpetually growing. Overall, this example of Jesus on the cross is a very powerful one, and invokes much contemplation.

The final mechanism that is implemented by James is a display of his credibility throughout his speech. The credibility that he uses is mostly invented ethos, because he refers to real-life celebrities, such as Andy Warhol, George W. Bush, and at one point, the late George Harrison of The Beatles. The doses of situated ethos that are inserted by James do not specifically state what he has done, but where he has been and who he has spoken to. Some examples of this are: “I met Andy Warhol once…” (349), “When he [Luciano Pavoratti] guested on my New Year’s Eve show in England…” (361), and “…I was invited to tea by the governor of South Africa…” (365). It is clear that Clive James is a very diverse man, with a quite elaborate background, and he shows it throughout his speech.

Throughout the entirety of his speech, Clive James tries to convince us of the power of celebrities, and attempts to persuade us to not pay as much attention to them and their activities. It seems that he is convincing in his argument, because he uses numerous, analogies, historical examples, and imagery to support his argument. He also inserts pejorative language into almost every example he uses, attacking the celebrities for their actions, and the influence they have on us. James does insert a bit honorific language here and there to praise the choices of celebrities, but more often than not, he is attacking them.

Works Cited

  1. James, Clive. The Meaning of Recognition: New Essays, 2001-2005. London: Picador, 2005. Print.

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A World Run by Celebrities in Save Us from Celebrity, a Speech by Clive James. (2021, Sep 21). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/a-world-run-by-celebrities-in-save-us-from-celebrity-a-speech-by-clive-james-essay

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