OK, so apparently William Shatner’s campaign to make Vulcan the winner in the “contest” to see what to name Pluto(not a planet!)’s moon, has been wildly successful. Read about it here.
I “follow” Mr. Shatner on Twitter (@williamshatner), and I’ve watched his campaign with a bit of smirking amusement. But thinking about it a little further, I realized it showed me a few things.
- The power of social media is real. Mr. Shatner didn’t go on the talk show circuit or air commercials. He went to Twitter and Facebook (note: not Google Plus) and swayed the vote to his whim.
- The dangers of populism are exposed in social media. Keeping in mind his appeals were all limited to 140 characters, or brief Facebook postings, mixed in with his moments of fan engagement, he was still able to sway the opinion of a large number of people who basically went along with what he was saying based on the fact that they have an emotional attachment to him. Not a cause, mind you, but a person.
- We support people based on cults of personality. Mr. Shatner enjoys his cachet of good will from people who never have met him based on the fact that he made a career pretending to be someone else. His appeal is based primarily on the fact that he’s a great self-promoter; he knows exactly why people even listen to him (emotional attachment to the mythos of Capt. Kirk) and he is unafraid to use that appeal.
- No one has made the connection that this is not necessarily a good thing. Imagine a politician, who has built a mythical “character” about themselves, and enjoys goodwill based not on their causes per se but on the fact that he/she can sway people to support said causes based on their ability to sell the myth of what people want to think about them. Mr. Shatner leverages Capt. Kirk, a politician is in a better position than ever to craft a legendary history and turn it into support for whatever they want.
See, it used to be that myths were built around people after they had earned their place in history. Apocryphal stories grew out of George Washington’s unwillingness to lie even to cover his own ass. Mythical stories have grown out of FDR’s ability to ignore Hitler and Stalin until the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. I think that social media is exposing an uncomfortable truth that now the myth can be created first and then the place in history is created from the fact that it’s leveraged to get what the person wants.
Think Kim Jong Il but on steroids.
Either way, it’s cool that Vulcan might be a moon of Pluto. It wouldn’t make sense for an alien species to name its homeworld after a sub-deity in a defunct human mythology anyway.