A Return to Feudalism Part 1:
Feudalism has been defined, in its most general description, as a society that revolves around the three estate system. Those three estates: the clergy, the nobility, and commoners. Modernly, we can take the current state of the Union and break it down into three similar parts: entertainment class, political class and the people. You can probably already see where each of those classes fit in our society.
In part one of this three part series, we are going to focus on the first mentioned, and arguably the most powerful of the three estates in the feudal system classically and who the equivalent is in Modern day society.
In the three estate system during the Classic period until the founding of America, the clergy held huge influence over the people for both good and ill. The influence of the Church is much diminished modernly in Western Civilization, and the power of the Entertainment Industry is firm and widespread. Whether this is good or bad is not really the issue of discussion in this series, but how we have moved from a Democratic Republic back to a feudal society with the illusion of Democracy.
Looking at the history of Western Civilization, its art, its music and its architecture, we can see how the clergy had a heavy influence on society. It was the power behind the Crusades, leading to invasions of foreign lands, the Inquisition, targeting many people based on a host of circumstantial evidence that destroyed lives, careers and reputations.
Modernly, the Entertainment Industry (Industry from this point forward) is the power behind popular movements and their symbols like the pink ribbon and the fight against breast cancer. It is a motivation behind Aid to Africa, the ban on DDT, the anti nuclear movement, the anti fracking movement (despite the evidence that the three later are actually harming the people they had sought to serve), and several other popular movements that have had an influence not only on America, but had a major impact (almost universally negative like the Crusades must have been) on completely unrelated foreign countries.
The Industry is also not unlike the Inquisition. A celebrity, or a host of celebrities that collectively or individually comment on a public figure can literally destroy their lives, careers and reputation. You can see this in the George Zimmerman case most recently. No matter which side of the fence you are on when it comes to the verdict, there is no question that the perception of Zimmerman’s guilt or innocence was wholly formed through a series of comments through the Industry.
Another George was vilified this way. President George Bush, though relatively popular through most of his presidency, was derided and vilified in the media by celebrities who compared him to fascists and dictators.
But it works the other way around, too. Though President Obama has kept and has even accelerated the policies that President Bush did, he is venerated and exalted in the media, comparing him to none other than Jesus Christ, though his popularity is almost directly comparable to President Bush.
It was the Classic Church sponsorship of the most influential art of the time, from Michaelangelo to Leonardo Da Vinci, that inspired and motivated an entire continent. Almost every artist of any renown had, and indeed sought after, commissions from the Church in a chapel. The most respected and popular artists’ work was found in the most respected and popular Church buildings.
Likewise today you can see how the entertainment industry has a heavy influence on society from the art and what you can find in the most respected and popular industry buildings. Today we call those places of veneration: Stadiums.
Go to any news site and the traffic that is heaviest is always on the sports page. Many offices around the nation ban ESPN.com, any superbowl site, and anything with NFL, NBA, or MLB from the Network to ease traffic on their servers. A teams popularity is often brought higher or lower by the celebrity spotted in the front rows, who sings the national anthem at the beginning of their most important events, and even who sponsors their stadium.
When Enron entered into scandal, and celebrities vilified almost all Wall Street type businesses in the wake, the park in Houston, TX for the Astros suddenly changed sponsorship to Minute Maid. What could be less Wall Street than good old fashioned orange juice? This didn’t actually help the Astros win any more games, btw. (Locally, we call them the disAstros).
Stadiums are also the venues of another large and vocal population of the Industry: Rock stars, who are known for making the most blunt, outrageous and insane comments on the other classes in our three estate system. Almost weekly a political, social or theological comment spewed from the stage of a live concert makes the news. These comments have a power that is only rivaled by the Classic Church in its heyday. The most recent evidence of this is the gay marriage debate. Though polls show that most Americans happy with idea of civil unions, the idea of gay marriage is still largely unpopular. Yet with the voice of the Industry behind them, gay marriage advocates have managed to push the idea forward in the society. No matter your stand on gay marriage, the rapid, heavy movement in no doubt owes the bulk of the work to Industry comment and support.
In the classic Church, people feared to cross a clergyman, and the higher he was in the church hierarchy, the more the fear to cross him became. The politics of the church aside, if the commoners or the nobility crossed a clergyman, they faced a very real threat of retribution through public humiliation, a removal of church services or church support.
You can say the same today about the power of an actor or actress, producer or studio executive. Cross an actor and you may face a public humiliation that rivals the classic Church. Celebrities often publicly boycott a place where an event took place they do not agree with, with some going so far as to say they will leave America if such and such happens, or if some specific person gets elected. Though they rarely follow through on such threats, the announcement is carried and publicized widely, influencing the general public on such and such, or who to vote for, which is very similar to church support of nobility in the Middle Ages.
The Church’s power faded over the last two centuries, which becomes evident when you see how much power the Industry has to quash religious and moral norms/expectations, and struggles for even the smallest foothold in the heart of its once greatest seat of power and influence: Europe. The struggle for supremacy in the United States seems almost as futile. Public campaigns by celebrity to support or reject a political candidate reached it’s apex when a COOL, (that factor is very important in the Industry), but ultimately truly green senator named Barak Obama was elected President over a seasoned senator named John McCain, and solidified by President Obama’s reelection, his administration and the Industry involvement in character assassination by nothing more than a media blitzkrieg of pandering to celebrity and the Industry, over a decidedly (and probably self admittedly) unCOOL businessman and former Governor named Mitt Romney.
The Industry is a lot less mobile now than the Church was in history. A former slave became the patron saint of Ireland. A shepherd became the Pope. Hermits became venerated saints. Most of the actors you see on the silver screen have connections to Hollywood that make the Industry look more like an immobile caste system than even most modern caste systems.
The church is struggling to regain it’s ground back from the Industry and my advice to them is to use the same media and Industry infrastructure that is already available. Most people don’t trust the media, even if they trust celebrities. Modern Evangellical churches take advantage of this in several ways. Some, like Joel Osteen Ministries and Sherwood Baptist Church (the creators of “Fireproof“), have gained a sturdy but very small foothold in the Industry. Others have used smaller slice of the media. Campaigns like the “I’m a Mormon” from the LDS church on Youtube reach many more homes than their missionaries do and with recent revelations about missionaries and their service in the LDS church, you’ll be seeing more of those nice boys on bicycles too.
Whatever you believe about the Church or the Industry, their influence on society in modern and historical times is incontrovertible. Though the Church had much more power over the Industry in history than the Industry has over the Church now, their struggle for supremacy over the hearts and minds of the public at large, and even over politicians, is still as relevant now as it ever was. Where they will lie in the future is unknown, but where they lie now is evident.