What’s ‘er Name? part one

“Say my name, say my name,” is the catchy chorus to a Destiny’s Child song (1999) about a cheatin’ boyfriend.  The remaining lyrics have nothing to do with this piece, but that chorus certainly does.  I could add a relevant lyric of my own: If you want to hand me fame, say my name, say my name.  Repeat, again and again as many times as possible.  A few famous first-name celebrities, whose names we’ve all heard a few million times, include:  Exhibit A: Beyoncé.  Exhibit B: Cher.  Exhibit C: Adele.  Exhibit D: Madonna.

Honestly, have you ever checked a box on a ballot, one of twenty choices running for office, lets’ say for judge in the 419th district court, because you’ve heard or seen that particular name somewhere?  I’m truly and civically sorry, but I have.

His or her name rings a bell.  Factoid, I think this saying derives from Pavlov’s experiment with a salivating dog, behaviorally-trained to respond to the sound of a bell, with a hunger reaction.  Can we be manipulated as easily as Pavlov’s dog, to want what we’re told to want by a powerful media master?

I recognized the name and none of the others, so I checked that box.  Maybe it had a ring to it, that name.  Maybe it sounded sophisticated or ordinary or smart or the charming kind of ethnicity that tickles my fancy.

It didn’t matter that perhaps I saw the name in the Criminal Court column in the newspaper or I saw the name in a smear campaign from his or her opponent’s political commercial on television.  The name was familiar so I checked the box.

If your name is familiar enough to enough people, you might just be a celebrity.  I’m no Jeff Foxworthy, but when a name has been repeated three trillion times, I may feel like I know that person, in the familiar but not really, “I know you from…somewhere, but I don’t know where…” kind of way.

It’s a fact of social science that the more people who know your name, the more famous you are.  Thus, the “no publicity is bad publicity” mantra of the fame-machine; the get your name out there in public, campaign of every Hollywood publicist worth her salt (can you say Kris Kardashian?); and every person whose goal is more followers and more friends on social media, are all publicity techniques in the game of how many people can I get to know my name.

Yes, it’s a game that celebrities strive to win at all costs.  And, they pay.  Sometimes they pay with real dollars.  Other times they pay with their privacy.  But often they pay with their dignity, and a moral compass gone haywire.

Why?  Power?  Clout?  Ego?  An antidote to poor self-esteem?  Or, is it as base as mo’ money, mo’ money?

Do you know the name, Alissa Milano?  First there was a television career, back in the 80s-90s.  Lots of acting roles followed, including hosting a fashion-design show.  Then she emerged, quite vocally in the “me too movement,” paving the way to a visible stint in political activism.

Besides a name, who is she?  And, why should anyone listen to her political or social opinions  as opposed to those of my neighbor or yours, or a preacher, scientist, therapist, attorney, plumber, doctor, teacher, barber, or bartender?

Why would we listen to a celebrity about anything other than the substance from which their fame originated?  Certainly, if I want to know something about acting, I should consult Meryl Streep, or Robert De Niro, and hear them out.  If I’m pursuing a career in vocal music, the popular version, or need to know what it feels like to wear a meat-dress, Lady Gaga is the one to see.  If a professional quarterback is my goal in life, then it wouldn’t be a bad idea to consult with Terry Bradshaw or Tom Brady.

However, if I need help to decide who to vote for in the next election, should I seek the opinion of an actor, singer, or athlete?  Moreover, would I even consider their opinion as valid if they tell me in no uncertain terms, that I’m stupid, unfeeling, unchristian (or too Christian, whichever is more pejorative), deplorable, an unsophisticated degenerate hick, hateful of minorities, gays, women, illegal immigrants, and any number of others if I don’t vote the way they say I should?

On the other hand, might it be better before casting my vote, to consult an historian (or history book), a political scientist (or poly-sci journal), a retired lawmaker, with little to no vested interest in my decision?

I’ve seen memes (sayings) on Facebook, throughout the pandemic period, saying in essence, who’s essential now?  It’s not professional sports figures, actors, musicians, entertainers, artists and celebrities of every ilk (can you say celebrity-politician?), whose names we know without even tapping into our long-term memory.

It’s, guess who?  Retail workers, nurses, police officers, first-responders, doctors, and so many of us out there, with names unknown but to a handful of loved ones, friends, or maybe some hundreds of acquaintances we call Facebook friends.  We’re just going around doing our jobs, unsung, and not living in the realm of privilege, that celebrities call normal.

In the sociological literature, celebrity is boiled down to renown, literally the sum of all the people who have heard a person’s name.  “Herd dynamics,” and the “bandwagon effect,” perpetuate celebrity, upping the public discussion of certain individuals, exponentially.  Did you hear about…?

However, the “knowing your name” thing can backfire.  Like with most things, there are exceptions.  For example, Jesus is quoted in the Bible books of Matthew, Luke and John as saying, “no prophet is accepted in his home town” (paraphrased). 

Why? Maybe the thought goes something like this: “That’s JUST Jesus, the aimless, illegitimate, carpenter’s son who’d rather sit around outside the temple listening to esoteric meanderings of the priests than help his dad make a living.  Why would I listen to the stuff he’s spouting?”

It’s about HOW you know that person.  For example, when I say the name, Dolly, do you imagine Dolly Parton, Dolly Madison, or Dolly, the advertising animated-cow?  Could you readjust your imagination to elect Dolly, your president, when you knew her as the four year old kid that ate her boogers or the teenager that the popular kids called a slut, or the drunk college girl who streaked the coed dorm and would have been charged with a sex crime hadn’t her powerful mom made the charge disappear?

It begs the existential question, “can anybody ever really be ‘known’?” and William Shakespeare’s equally philosophical question, “What’s in a name?  that which we call a rose.  By any other name would smell as sweet.”

(stay “tuned” for part two…)


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