Jonah Goldberg asks “Why have movie stars and other celebrities become an aristocracy of secular demigods?” He goes on to say that
It seems to me an objective fact that virtually any other group of professionals plucked at random from the Statistical Abstract of the United States — nuclear engineers, plumbers, grocers, etc. — are more likely to model decent moral behavior in their everyday lives. Indeed, it is a bizarre inconsistency in the cartoonishly liberal ideology of Hollywood that the only super-rich people in America reflexively assumed to be morally superior are people who pretend to be other people for a living.
Once again, Americans have fallen into the fallacy that material wealth and popularity are sure guides of a persons’ virtue and fitness as a moral guide.
We find ourselves in this position because, as Goldberg writes, because of “the receding of religion from public life.” In its place “we’ve elevated ‘authenticity’ to a new form of moral authority.”
When authenticity is the standard, we “look to our feelings for guidance.” And it is as “feelings merchants,” actors have become our new moral leader. Yes, “they may indeed be ‘out of touch’ with the rest of America from time to time” but “actors are adept at being in touch with their feelings. And for some unfathomably stupid reason, we now think that puts us beneath them.”
The thing is, feelings lie.
Or maybe better, I tend to be confused about what I’m feeling. I entertain the conceit that I know my feelings and that the feelings I know are the only feelings I’m having.
The fact though is that at any given moment, I’m having a whole range of feelings even though I only focus on a few of them at any given moment.
So why do we look to actors for moral guidance? Because they allow us the luxury of only acknowledging some of my feelings and ignoring the others. Or, as (I think) St Augustine writes, I enjoy watching sad plays because I like to think of myself as compassionate without having to do the hard work that compassion requires.
Likewise, take I moral guidance from actors because they allow me to think of myself as a good person without having to do the hard, often frustrating, work that moral goodness requires.
In other words, we take our guidance from actors because fantasy is easier than reality.