Celebrity Thinkers - where have they gone?
Updated: Jun 15, 2020
Celebrity thinkers – where have they gone?
Growing up, I remember being transfixed by those ideas espoused by thinkers and philosophers, their celebrity and/or notoriety taking over the media and often being discussed round the dinner table or late into the night in student housing…generationally, if not always inter-generationally.
I remember picking up a copy of Germaine Greer’s ‘Female Eunuch’ in my very early teens – I think an older sister had brought it home from University – and it changed the way I viewed the world. Rape of course makes anyone’s blood run cold but Greer made it so obvious that rape was a political as well as physical act of violence, domination and abuse.
A little later in life – late teens and early twenties – it was an endless feast. Along with the intellectual thinkers of bygone days who were ‘celebrities’ of sorts: Aristotle, Socrates, Kant, Marx, Sartre, Beauvoir, Neitzsche, Toffler and everything in between, there were also those international, public thinkers who were a source of inspiration and stimulation. Susan Sontag, Umberto Eco, Naomi Klein, Michel Foucault, Jean Baudrillard. The latter thinkers changed the way we ‘read’ forever, for can we ever read a book or see an advertisement now without thinking about who wrote it, why they wrote it and for what purpose, along with everything they actually did write…Not a bad way to view the message today when so much manipulation takes place both in the virtual realm and in the material.
So, who do our young ones look to for inspiration? Who turns their young heads on or inside out, who stimulates those late night conversations that were as sexy as any dating ritual to my generation. I wonder if we just don’t know where to look anymore, or maybe they have been drowned out by the social influencers more into plastic surgery and ‘likes’ … Maybe they have they just hopped mediums. Ted Talk anyone? Where is that shiny voice that rises up and changes how we see the world?
It does appear to be about shifting media platforms. Once upon a time a challenging thinker put his or her ideas in a book, or wrote an article that triggered debate. An exponential echo effect was produced in mainstream media that made us aware of that person, that view, that shiny concept, that argument … that maybe produced a shift in the way we viewed the world.
Nowadays, as much as You Tube really does make all the world a stage, the ubiquity of those messages makes it much harder to sift through the offerings and find those expressions that surpass the others.
For that reason the following are a small sample of thinkers that some young and not so young voices have suggested to listen to today:
Brian Cox: rock star physicist and a bit of a dreamboat. Professor of particle physics in the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Manchester. Here is Cox on Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence. (*Disclaimer: Cox is more about delivering the cutting edge scientific idea in understandable terms than coming up with it. This means he doesn't quite fulfill our criteria of paradigm-shifter, but his use of You Tube and social media has created a strange hybrid of the 'influencer'/academic personality which maybe has.)
Andy Clark: not quite the rock star status of Cox but getting there. Clark gives us the Extended Mind Theory; that is, that the boundaries of our brain go far beyond the membrane of our brains.
Elon Musk: (see this interview with Joe Rogan, two personalities who are influential in our young ones lives as well as many of our own). More here.
These last two young activists are more modern day Joan of Arcs but have definitely marked our attitudes not just about education and the environment but also to the political clout of children. This latter point, children as effective political agents, in itself is a shift in paradigm.
Malala Yousafzai: Heroine, activist, an extraordinary feminist. More here.
Greta Thunberg: again, not so much a celebrity thinker but more a celebrity activist. Wonderful for all the obvious reasons including the fact that she can make grown men cower. More here.
There are many more of course, but these individuals have both the international fame and the celebrity frisson that seems to accompany those truly influential 'changers' of our world view.