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On the Phenomenon of Celebrity Ego

It’s been said that the largest uncontained entity on earth is that mass of plastic garbage and debris (estimated to be the size of Texas) floating perilously in the Pacific ocean. Arguably, the second-largest uncontained entity could be Kanye West’s ego.

Not to pick on Kanye, but even if he was just spoofing us with his intention to run for U.S. president in 2020, his staggering sense of self-importance is going to provoke those with gentile sensibilities to ask, What the fuck happened to “modesty”?

Not that Kanye is alone in having an overinflated opinion of himself. Far from it. For one thing, let’s not forget that the man is prodigiously talented. And upon closer inspection, compared to what Steven Segal and Jesse Ventura have said about themselves, we might conclude that he comes off more as “absurdly conceited” than “nauseatingly egotistical.”

In an interview with the “London Sun” (4-12-00), Steven Seagal, an action-adventure screen actor, declared, “People the world over recognize me as a great spiritual leader.” Mind you, this is a former martial arts instructor and limousine chauffeur talking.

Even to those who admire his work (I liked him in “Under Siege” and “Hard to Kill,” not so much in “Machete”), that was a loathsome remark to be coming from a pampered, pony-tailed, second-echelon movie star. Indeed, the Pope and Dalai Lama (genuine “spiritual leaders”) wouldn’t have the balls to stand on their hind legs and spout something so nakedly self-aggrandizing.

Moving from Hollywood to politics, let’s consider Jesse (“The Body”) Ventura, the ex-Navy SEAL, ex-professional wrestler, and ex-governor of Minnesota. Like literally thousands of politicians before him, Governor Ventura had a tempestuous relationship with the media.

Accordingly, at the conclusion of his last official press conference, on the Friday prior to leaving office, Ventura said to the assembled group of reporters in his most menacing, Navy SEAL voice, “Beginning Monday [his first official day out of office], you will fear me.”

Aside from its rancid machismo and overweening sense of self-importance, Ventura’s remark was hilarious. Can we imagine another politician saying that? Can we imagine Jimmy Carter, in 1980, after losing to Ronald Reagan, telling the White House press corps that after January 20, they will “fear” him?

Politicians don’t talk that way. On the other hand, your average pol isn’t an ex-SEAL capable of beating the crap out of any reporter he’s likely to meet. After losing the California gubernatorial election, in 1962, Richard Nixon told the media they wouldn’t “have Nixon to kick around anymore.” Unlike Ventura’s pompous threat, Nixon’s final words were appropriately wimpy and self-pitying.

And then there’s all those stories about celebrity singers having stipulations in their contracts forbidding any of the little people (staffers, roadies, ushers, craftsmen, etc.) to “make eye-contact” prior to a concert. While we don’t know if it’s true or simply an urban legend, the two names you hear mentioned in that regard are Madonna and Barbra Streisand.

Insisting that no one make eye-contact seems wildly egotistical. We can all appreciate the need to prepare oneself for a big performance, and not have some star-struck stagehand pestering you for an autograph, but forbidding people to even look at you? That seems extreme.

As for objecting to Kanye West thinking he should be president, perhaps we should revisit that. Considering that in 2008 Sarah Palin believed she was qualified to be vice-president (and was able to convince John McCain of it), Kanye believing he’s qualified to be prez makes utter sense.

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David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is How To Win Friends and Avoid Sacred Cows.  He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

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