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since 1997 | by maryann johanson

question of the day: Does anyone really trust celebrities?

This week Forbes magazine published its list of “The Ten Most Trusted Celebrites”. They’re talking about trust when it comes to marketing:

Consider this: Before his late November car crash, the world-class golfer was a marketer’s dream–a consummate professional on the course and guarded family man off. Brands from Nike and Accenture to Gillette and AT&T threw millions at his (seemingly) squeaky clean image. But as time has passed–and the laundry list of alleged mistresses has grown–many of Woods’ sponsors have suspended their campaigns, if not dropped him altogether.

So, consumers suddenly don’t “trust” Tiger Woods’ paid-for recommendation on sneakers or razors or cell phones because he likes to fuck blondes who aren’t his wife? How bizarre. If we’re going to “trust” celebrities merely because they’re famous, how could their behavior possibly have any impact on that “trust”? It’s not like Woods was lending his name to, say, a chain of drive-in marriage counselors.

The names that Forbes reports “Americans rated the highest in for trustworthiness, awareness and appeal” include names such as James Earl Jones and Tom Hanks. Even if it is all about basic perceptions, why on Earth would the voice of Darth Vader be trusted?

What the hell is this all about? Does anyone really trust celebrities?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)



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  • funWithHeadlines

    Do I trust celebrities? No.

    Do I trust Forbes reporting? No.

  • Lisa

    trust them to do what exactly?

  • Bluejay

    Even if it is all about basic perceptions, why on Earth would the voice of Darth Vader be trusted?

    Maybe people have an affection for Vader, the way we sometimes love great movie villains. He’s the most iconic thing about Star Wars.

    Then again, people love Gollum too, but I don’t think Andy Serkis will be using that voice to plug, I don’t know, wedding rings or something. Maybe it’s just the authoritative Voice of God thing that Jones does. Triggers the “TRUST ME” response in our psyches. It’s actually very fatherly in an archetypal way: Viewers, I am your Father!

    Or maybe it’s because he’s Mufasa. Another father figure.

  • Bluejay

    And only one woman (Sally Field) in the bunch.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    This is Psych 101 stuff. Humans are genetically predisposed to seek authority figures. Actors and sports figures are seen as high achievers, so they tend to fill that need.

    Humans are also predisposed to distrust anything which does not conform to our own values and preconceptions. In American culture today as a whole, marital infidelity = very very bad thing. Hence a drop in Tiger Woods’ “trustworthiness”.

    As far as James Earl Jones, two factors come into play. First, time (and not Hayden Christiansen) has softened our view of Darth Vader. He’s no longer scary, but now familiar and comforting, to most of a generation. And secondly, go watch Star Wars again, then watch anything else with Jones. Pay attention to the timbre of his voice. Darth Vader’s voice and James Earl Jones’ voice are quite distinct. Probably a result of post-processing of the looped dialog by Ben Burtt, to make Vader sound more menacing.

  • Bluejay

    Pay attention to the timbre of his voice. Darth Vader’s voice and James Earl Jones’ voice are quite distinct. Probably a result of post-processing of the looped dialog by Ben Burtt, to make Vader sound more menacing.

    Very true. But the menace also comes from the actor. His voice-work as Mufasa in The Lion King and as the villain Ommadon in The Flight of Dragons is probably post-processed similarly in both cases, but he’s warm and fatherly in one, and absolutely chilling in the other. He’s very versatile.

    I personally like Jones because I admire him for getting over his childhood stutter (and how!), and, more shallowly, because he went to my alma mater. (I think there was some talk of petitioning the university to hire him as the voice for the automated phone registration system, but it didn’t go anywhere.)

    I don’t know that the feeling of trust automatically translates to buying whatever he’s plugging. People are more self-aware than that, right?…right?…

  • bats :[

    I trust Sally Field and her Bone-iva about as far as I could kick her (yes, her sham earnestness makes me cringe, along with her sham children/grandchildren on various and sundry ads).

    Give me Darth Vader. Cruel, but fair.

  • LaSargenta

    Vader/shmader. James Earl Jones is an actor and I think people know that. He is also know really widely for a lot of other things. At the lowest point on the scale of “art” is those Verizon commercials he did for years (and maybe still does). Actually, for a very long time, if you needed to use a payphone on the streets of NYC, chances are it was owned by Verizon and after depositing your coins, JEJ thanked you personally for using Verizon! (Really? Lil ole ME?)

    When I think of James Earl Jones, I think of his one-man show about Paul Robeson and his tiny role in Dr. Strangelove and his amazing Othello to Christopher Plummer’s Iago on Broadway back in the early 1980’s — Seeing him live puts any thought of Darth Vader onto a distant backburner. Besides, it wasn’t Jones’ body in that suit.

    Why do people trust celebs? I think Dr. Rocketscience covered that in the first two paragraphs of her/his post. (Hey Doc, which gender pronoun do I use for you?)

  • JoshB

    Does anyone really trust celebrities?

    Yes, because people are morons. Is this news?

    I don’t know that the feeling of trust automatically translates to buying whatever he’s plugging. People are more self-aware than that, right?…right?…

    If people were even slightly aware then the entire advertising industry would have never existed. It’s a business founded on gullibility.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    They’re not, that’s what I’m saying. This trust, and the resultant behaviors, is instinctual. Now, if one possesses a well developed brain (in terms of both nature and nurture) then one applies critical thinking to the situation, and perhaps concludes that one’s trust of the supposed authority figure is not, in fact, based on any objective evidence. (See what I did there? ;-> )

    Also, James Earl Jones is a remarkably talented actor, with outstanding elocution. He can absolutely infuse a great deal of menace all by himself. (For a good example of Jones’ range, see Field of Dreams.) But there’s something, for lack of a better word, metallic about Vader that you never hear anywhere else.

    I also heard a tale once that Jones would record an outgoing answering machine/voicemail message for anyone who asked… for the small fee of $10k… donated to one of his favorite charities. That’s cool.

  • Victor Plenty

    drive-in marriage counselors

    Would love to comment on this story, but first I have to go file the paperwork for a patent right away.

  • Michael

    Hey, when Darth Vader tells you to buy something, you’d better darned well buy it if you know what’s good for you! And no returns due to buyer’s remorse, either! (“Your Visa has been credited, Captain Needa…”)

    Then again, people love Gollum too, but I don’t think Andy Serkis will be using that voice to plug, I don’t know, wedding rings or something.

    Oooh, there’s a thought. He can replace the Geiko gecko.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Oops, last post was directed to Bluejay.

    LaSargenta, use any pronoun you like, so long as you buy me a drink first. :-P But I am of the XY chromosomal variety.

  • Bluejay

    …objective evidence. (See what I did there? ;-> )

    Haha! Touche. :-)

    I have not seen Field of Dreams. Yeah, I know. Boo, me.

  • Bluejay

    …his amazing Othello to Christopher Plummer’s Iago on Broadway back in the early 1980’s…

    Daaaamn. That, I would have loved to see.

  • amanohyo

    The performance of a good actor reveals fundamental truths about the human condition. Sadly, much like politicians, musicians, and professional athletes, the primary job of actors these days is to make people believe entertaining lies. I’m sure some celebrities believe their own lies, but outside of the context of their best performances or close personal relationships, paid entertainers should never be trusted. It takes real skill to make the often bleak material of the truth entertaining – any hack can string together a bunch of diverting lies.

    I agree with DocRock that we all want to trust our authority figures, or wish that we could, but I don’t think many adults do anymore, not when it comes to paid entertainers. The source of the disillusionment with modern politics that Obama want to move past (and is a major part of) is not simply the realization that politicians are paid entertainers (everyone always knew that), it’s the realization that their performances are not even about the truth anymore. In other words, not only are they actors, they’re lousy actors.

  • Jurgan

    But there’s something, for lack of a better word, metallic about Vader that you never hear anywhere else.

    That was most prominent in the first one, though. In Empire and Jedi, his voice was considerably less metallic. I assume the reason was that Lucas knew they were building up to the big reveal of Vader as Luke’s father, which would humanize the character, and so they decided to humanize his voice some, too.

    (“Your Visa has been credited, Captain Needa…”)

    Now that- is simply hilarious.

  • Paul

    Yeah, people believe in celebs. People want to look up to people, this lure of the alpha, and in a capitalist society in which an actor or athlete can make millions makes them alpha, plus they have the advantage of instant recognizition that most people with billions don’t. Plus, they’re good looking, so we want to look at them. If people cared about the intelligence of the spokespeople, we’d have the people who wrote the movies they starred in speaking for products, not the actors. How many people would recognize Stanley Kubrick or Charlie Kaufman if they saw one of them in a commercial? (Then again, I hear the actors who played Rick and Victor in Casablanca played some pretty mean chess to kill time between shots, and as did the actors playing Neo and Morpheus in the Matrix, God, I’m drawing a complete blank on actor’s names this morning, and one of the first supermodels had a masters in engineering)

    This was not a problem when alpha males weren’t expected to be virtuous, too, which was most of human history, right up until Gary Hart, the first presidental candidate derailed by his sex drive. One theory is that virtue is tied to economics; the rich and poor gain nothing from virtue, so don’t bother. The middle class can rise or fall on their virtue (the consumers most ads are directed at), so worry about it very much.

    So anyway, we take a guy from a situation in which he was rewarded for hard work and then throw lots and lots of money at him and lots of people throw themselves at the alpha male and we’re surprised when he falls to temptation? I wonder how many of the wealthy exes who are taking Woods of their ad campaigns have mistresses. I really would like to know.

    Trust me, I’m not an intellectual, but I play one on the Internet.

  • This was not a problem when alpha males weren’t expected to be virtuous, too, which was most of human history, right up until Gary Hart, the first presidental candidate derailed by his sex drive.

    Actually, if you want to get technical about it, it probably started some time between the British Profumo affair in the 1960s and the American Wayne Hays scandal in the early 1970s.

    Though Gary Hart certainly qualifies as the first American presidential candidate affected by this change in expectations.

    Then again, Mexican politicians still seem to get away with having mistresses and yet I don’t see anyone in the U.S. seriously arguing that we should adopt their approach to politics…

  • Just because you like an actor/celeb doesn’t mean you trust him anymore than the next bloke. You only build trust by getting to know someone and so for something intangible as a celebrity to be deemed trustworthy because of their public profile or on screen persona is a joke. We all know that most of the time a celebs public profile is orchestrated so there is no way any celeb should be taken as being a trustworthy person just on what we see or fed to us through the media.

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