“Cult Of Personality” by Living Colour (1988)

In the entry for “Bi”, I discussed how the emergence of Living Colour was the first indication I had that hard rock music could be played by folks that looked like me (and the first indication, tacit as it was, that it was okay for me to enjoy hard rock music awkwardness-free). So I won’t rehash that experience.

I also won’t talk a lot about the song “Cult of Personality”, because it’s fucking dope and most of y’all are familiar with it. If you’re my age, you know it because of MTV and the press hoopla and if you’re from the generation after mine or even two generations after mine, you know it because of wrestling. I stopped watching the WWE for good maybe fifteen years ago, but the internet tells me that it’s CM Punk’s theme song. Which is also dope. I hope those royalties are keeping Corey, Vernon, Muzz and Will’s pockets fat.

I will talk for a minute about the actual phrase cult of personality and how it’s affected (and maybe still affects) my life and probably yours too. I feel like some people are desperate for saviors to offer a ray of light out of their own unsatisfying life situations. Some people are brought up with the idea that there are institutions that will never fail you (family, the church, God).  Popular figures in the arts, athletes, and of course politicians create a cult of personality around them. Some of them do it actively. After all, what are “fan armies” these days if not glorified cults? What about the lynch mob mentality that pervades social media?

I am/was not immune to this phenomenon. Let’s check in with 17 year old me. Say, for example, I heard you talk smack about Michael Jackson, I would not have just defended him from whatever argument you had loudly and forcefully, but I might have punched you in the face. OK, it’s very likely that I wouldn’t have punched you in the face. I would have thought about it, though.

Eventually, I got some real world experience, took some hard knocks and gained at least a semblance of objectivity regarding people worship (in addition to a healthy dose of cynicism towards people who did the worshipping as well as the people encouraging the worship). By that point, I was also pretty aware that you didn’t have to be famous to develop a cult of personality around you. All you had to do was be mildly charismatic and in some kind of leadership position somewhere.

Perhaps I was spoiled from the illusions of sycophantism early because the family members I was supposed to idealize turned out (in some cases) to be not very-great people. I understand that the cynicism and distrust I have in most people might be a little unhealthy (but not as unhealthy/confusing as the blind faith that’ll turn into something really fucked up when the person or institution you worship inevitably turns out to be less than perfect),  but my imaginary God, am I glad to have that semblance of objectivity I mentioned at the beginning of this paragraph. Because there’s nothing cool about being a sheep.

Doesn’t matter whether you’re enraptured by the aura of Donald Trump (may the force be with y’all, though), Barack and Michelle, Bill and Hillary, Michael Jackson, Beyonce, Cosby, Louis C.K., LeBron, the host or panelists on your favorite podcasts, your parents, your partners, your pastors (whose whole existence is predicated on a cult of personality existing around them, really), or the leadership of your community organization. If anyone or anything is held up as an arbiter of perfection or an object of worship, use your brain and question that shit. We all have faults and insecurities and those tend to play out the most when there is power, adulation and/or control involved.

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