oblivious self importance and the cult of celebrity

My title here conflates two things, whereas my thoughts are about these as quite distinct — coming out of attending a well funded and institutionally supported conference (following on from a more grass roots one without any funding or institutional support beyond the participants themselves).

I am reflecting on two different people speaking early on. One being an organiser of the event, another a keynote speaker.

The former felt a need to talk about themselves, how many of these conferences they have attended, how they had been involved, what they had done in being so involved, what they had achieved. It seemed they were quite oblivious to the implications of such (public) statements as an address to the audience. Were they seeking some form of recognition? Did they feel a need to self assure themselves of their own value and importance? If the latter, there are bigger social issues at stake (i.e. what have they experienced/suffered through to lead them to the feeling this way and a need to do so?). Is this emanating from a position of privilege, which is often the location from which obliviousness it rooted?

These are difficult questions to address, especially without a specific awareness of the context from which they emerged. They can be rooted in destructive experiences, and can lead to their own somewhat destructive implications. In trying not to be disappointed in the actions of this specific person—given their position of privilege and obliviousness, and my experiences with them over a couple of years—I am finding it a little difficult to emphasise with them…

Empathy is the common thread here, which was the focus of the keynote speaker, a well know and respected author about the lives of animals. As I sit listening they are quite engaging and have developed communicative ability. In short, quite a good amount of the gift of the gab.

I would not go so far (being perhaps overly critical) and pull in the cliché that they love the sound of their own voice. In mentioning one of their well know books, in what came across more to indicate surprise at how it seemed to be interesting to people (‘sold 1 million copies in the USA’), the subtext being they are significantly well off (understatement). To give this some context, they are also the guest speaker at the conference dinner, with tickets being $90—far from accessible and inclusive.

In the context of all of this, I sat there listening to some interesting ideas, and conveyed in similarly interesting ways: emanating from a self-assuredness and self-confidence. They are have put significant time and thought into these ideas.

Whereas I don’t think there is an oblivious self-importance, how much self-importance is there? Bringing this back to the cult of celebrity (another cliché), where is the intersection? The latter is about perception. Yet how much of this emerges from the former?

To return to the first speaker, and to bring gender in, is the first speaker’s (a woman) inferences of self-importance part of this trajectory (and the context of patriarchy—the keynote speaker was male) and how much is it rooted in (class, race/ethnicity) privilege?


as a side note, the first questions at the end of the keynote—from women—started with an explicit attempt to frame their own (self) importance through an outline of what they had achieved. Such statements are common in academic environments/at academic events. Which opens up a lot of further questions about status, privilege, class, obliviousness and arrogance… and of course patriarchy-gender

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