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Theories of “Celebrity Contagion”

By Joe Householder

Fascinated by a recent story in the New York Times that used the public interest in an auction of old Eric Clapton guitars, amplifiers and other equipment to explain theories of “celebrity contagion.”  You can read it here.

Basically, it says that we attribute certain qualities to the objects used or worn by celebrities and the desire to own them is – at its core – a desire for those qualities to be transferred. It also points out, though, that we do the same things with objects owned by or used by bad guys.

You have to assume the same would be true of ideas, hence the validity of using celebrity endorsers to back a product or advocate for a cause. This is also the essence of retail politics.  The greater the celebrity status you can build around a candidate, the greater likelihood that candidate has of political success.  He or she becomes more contagious.

Meanwhile, it also serves to explain negative campaigning.  If you can convince people that Eric Clapton is unworthy of his celebrity status (yeah, right), fewer people will want to buy his old guitars.  You have inoculated against his contagion.

Of course, all of this is obvious, so what’s my point?

Unfortunately, my point is that one of the things most of us wish for when it comes to controversial public policy or political issues just isn’t possible. You know what I’m talking about.  You’ve said it yourself. “I wish these things were decided based on ideas and reason and logic.”

Yes, the old plea to have a “campaign based on ideas.”

It’s a noble thought. It should be the way we make all of our important decisions as a society and as a community.

Too bad. As the research shows, we’re just not wired that way.

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