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Reverend Wright and the Frenzy of Renown

Written By mista sense on Sunday, April 27, 2008 | 3:27 PM

So what's going through Jeremiah Wright's fevered brain? What led him to go on Bill Moyers' show on Friday, there to damn Barack Obama with faint praise--and loud publicity?

And what inspires Wright to speak before the The National Press Club in Washington DC on Monday? It won't be just Cable Gamers on hand tomorrow--although they will lead the coverage; I wouldn't be surprised if one or more of the cablers goes live tomorrow. And let's face it: What reporter in that media-node city won't want to go see Wright, to see what he'll say next?

Doesn't Wright understand that he is hurting Barack Obama? As liberal Democratic pundit Susan Estrich wrote today, with friends like Wright, who needs enemies?

The Cable Gamer predicted all of this nearly two weeks ago--Wright would seek to demolish Obama, to vindicate Wright's own black-nationalist/Afrocentric worldview. As I wrote on April 14, "If Obama loses, then Wright is 'right' about America." And that's happening.

But in addition, there's another dynamic at work here: the hunger for fame. If love is a drug, then so, too, is name ID, the hunger to get a "fix" of fame, to see one's mug on TV--no matter what the long-term cost to oneself or to one's putative friends.

Wright was a reasonably well known preacher in Chicago these past few decades, but 99% of Americans had never heard of him until six weeks ago. Now, anyone who is the least bit paying attention has seen the video, on cable or YouTube--which has become a kind of auxiliary most valuable player in The Cable Game. Wright is famous. The system, one might say, works. And there's every reason to think that Wright will continue to "work the system" for as long as Obama is in the public eye--that is, until the November 4 election, or even longer, in the event that Obama wins the White House.

Obama's election is increasingly unlikely, of course, thanks in large part to Wright and his non-stop gusher of angry words. But that same word-gusher makes it a cinch that Wright is on his way to being "elected" as a major go-to person for the media, a guide to African- American opinion in the 21st century. Because it's worth noting that Wright clearly has a base among the Farrakhan crowd, plus those who simply like a little bit of white-people-bashing rhetoric on Sunday morning, or any day, for that matter.

Two decades ago, an academic at the University of--where else?--Southern California sought to explain this system. Leo Braudy wrote a brilliant book with a useful and evocative title: The Frenzy of Renown: Fame and Its History. Braudy chronicled all the ways that the quest for fame had formed--and deformed--people across history. It was a fascinating book; one can only wish that Braudy would update it to include the the rise of reality television, as well as real-people contest shows such as "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire" and "American Idol."

And so where does it all lead? One grim answer came from a 2005 comic book series called 7 Days to Fame which imagined that fame-crazed people would agree to kill themselves, live, on the air, at the end of a week-long immersion in cinema verite.

So far, at least, American culture hasn't gone that far. Nobody has killed himself or herself (see pic above, from 7 Dayscomic) on the air, yet.

But the Obama people must be getting pretty desperate to put the kibosh on "The Jeremiah Wright Show." Which reminds me: Anyone remember the 1976 movie "Network"? Especially how it ended?

So watch your back, Rev. Wright!

Because the Obamans know that your rant-and-rave show is threatening to kill their presidential show. And death, even death in the "ratings," is something that politicos very much want to avoid. So we might soon soon see how much the Obama people want to win this election.

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