On Brett Cohen, Celebrity, and Social Conditioning

Somewhere around July 27th, Brett Cohen decided to prove something. Granted, it was probably nothing we will remember in a month or two, and I think I’m being honest when I say that we’ll probably forget next week. Brett Cohen tricked several hundred people into thinking he was important and, at the end of the day, that’s all that occurred here.

Let me backtrack here a little bit for you. (Check the video.)

In this video, Brett Cohen states that he was putting together a social experiment in which he would pretend that he was an important person who strangers would want to know. He gathered a fake entourage of security guards, assistants, handlers, and even photographers to follow him around and build up his hype. It didn’t take long, keep in mind, for the frenzied passers by of New York City to latch onto the possibility of a celebrity sighting. Suddenly, questions were being asked, photo opportunities were requested, and even without knowing who Brett Cohen was, the minds of a horde of strangers were wandering. He had all of their attention simply by showing he had the ability to pay the wages of a handful of individuals so, in our heads, we think “This man is important” and we fall for it. Hell, I know if I see someone with several thousand Twitter followers, I automatically think “WHOA. That’s several thousand people! You must be important!” without even contemplating how, why, or what occurred. Of course, after some reflection on the possibilities for so much attention, you start to realize what is at the core of it all.

We’re all desperate for connection.

In our day-to-day lives, we’re narrowing into our tiny communities and usually that is all that matters to us. We look at the people on television as if they are contained within the various boxes that house screens all over our tiny microcosms. Each screen in our homes, our offices, and even at bars, diners, and theaters will pump in information about people we’ve never met nor shaken hands with. We find it hard to believe that we live on the same planet, living the same types of lives and even taking the same steps as these people who we see on screens. True, there are plenty of us who think nothing of it and we continue our lives merely lifting our chin with a nod of recognition when we see a celebrity, but the rest of the world does not. We live in a world full of wide-eyed, hand-extended consumers who want every single crumb that we can give them that will shed some light, gleam some hope, and point a finger on how they can make their lives so beautiful.

When we see it is impossible, you find tabloids and newspapers ready to tear the angels we built right from the heavens and drag them through the street by their hair and we laud them as villains. How many people cheat on their significant others on a daily basis? A few candid shots of a girl from a Twilight movie making out with someone other than her highly publicized boyfriend and we’re ready to throw her on a cross and burn her at the stake, aren’t we?

I know what you’re thinking: “But I don’t care about these things. They’re trivial. My life is important.” but it is also safe to assume you’re lying. We’ve all cared at one point or another and perhaps it’s not widespread, but you have had a moment where you have looked at a celebrity as more important than the average human. We all have and that is pretty much why we have the culture in which we’re living today. It’s kind of like people who say: “Well, I recycle” when you know they don’t. If everyone were recycling as much as they say they are, we wouldn’t be here, would we?

Brett Cohen wasn’t changing the world by pointing out how massively desperate the world is for connection with its celluloid heroes. Was he making a statement? Maybe to him he was, but what he was really doing was pointing out how much a herd of people in Times Square needed to say they were somewhere important; they wanted to say they saw someone who — even though they weren’t recognizable — was as close as they might come to actual fame. I watched the above video and didn’t feel disgust as much as I felt pity for the people who didn’t realize they were flat out lying just to feel and say they were connected to something important for half a moment.

The problem lies in the fact we make our celebrities too important instead of looking at them as human beings, too. We did this. We brought this on ourselves, didn’t we? The second you lift up any human being higher than you, you’re asking to hold them to a level that you see as better than yourself. You will mindlessly try to obtain what they have and watch movies that are the Cinderella stories of people who went from unknown to skyrocketing success. We cannot blame Brett Cohen for pointing it out, but maybe we should start changing who we find worthy of occupying such pedastals of importance.

On Brett Cohen, Celebrity, and Social Conditioning

This look screams “Hey, baby. How ’bout them stars?” and I love it. (Image via @neiltyson)

Do you think Neil deGrasse Tyson ever worries about this? Do you think people ever see ol’ Neil wandering through Times Square and tackle the brilliant astrophysicist to get a picture of him? No, I bet they don’t. I doubt his suit jackets are filled with the panties of college girls who will breathlessly run to their dorms to scream out “I finally met Neil deGrasse Tyson! It was everything I dreamed!” to their awaiting sisters.

Isn’t that a shame? Sure, The Situation from The Jersey Shore gets money, fame, opportunity, and genitals thrown at him wherever he goes, but the men and women who make a difference? Where are their flash mobs?

What I have concluded from this video that Brett Cohen did (with some friends and co-workers) is that we’re grasping at a connection and recognition for said connection. I can’t fault a single human being in that video for being anything other than a living, breathing reminder that we’re all attempting to define ourselves through any means necessary. Drew Grant over at the New York Observer seemed livid over the concept, and I can see a lot of people following suit with his theories and frustrations with the world today.

What I ask, and this comes from me, is that we perhaps step back and honestly try to scour ourselves of the instant dismay and contemplate what part of ourselves was on that street in Times Square. It is always so easy to say “That would never be me.” But why not contemplate what parts of you would be there? Who would you rush to get a photo with? Why would you rush to have your photo of them? Is it about connection or having a memory for yourself? Why would you need that of someone you never met before? These are all questions I pose for the honest human being.

No judgment, my friends, I promise.

Article Written by

Mouthy with a broad vocabulary and a large imagination, I come in from a rather lengthy (7+ years) stay in video game journalism. While tech, gamer and geek culture has always been my strength, I tend to be right at home with whatever topic is thrown my way. I'm a mother, a multi-tasker and a maverick. ♥

  • Hayden Reinhart

    Wow, those people were truly convinced that they knew who he was.

    Well, I guess I know what I’M doing this weekend! :)

    Great video and great article.

    • http://www.facebook.com/thisisnotcandice Candice Cassandra

      Thanks so much, Hayden!

  • http://robertglenfogarty.com/ Robert Glen Fogarty

    I loved that guy in Spider-Man!

  • http://www.anthonyguidetti.com/ Anthony Guidetti

    I don’t usually idolize celebrities, but the people that make things work, like Ed Catmull of Pixar, and Woz.

    • http://www.facebook.com/thisisnotcandice Candice Cassandra

      Woz is a genius. You’re right to worship!

  • http://twitter.com/rvwrjb Noah King

    This is hilarious, amazing that people actually fall for this…
    (i commented on everything today)

    • http://www.facebook.com/thisisnotcandice Candice Cassandra

      NOAH! Thanks! I actually enjoyed the whole concept!

  • http://www.facebook.com/andrew.epperson Andrew Epperson

    I don’t believe in putting certain people above others but this is a great article

    • http://www.facebook.com/thisisnotcandice Candice Cassandra

      It’s not really about believing in it — I think it’s just human nature, you know? Thank you so much!

  • Griff

    I’ll admit that I will get excited to meet someone famous that I’m familiar with; someone whose work I’ve seen and thoroughly enjoyed. But there’s plenty of other celebrities who I know are widely famous that I could not care less about. If I don’t care about their work, I couldn’t care less that someone like Britney Spears is walking down the street. It’s baffling how engrossed most people are with pop-culture. None of it is relevant or important, and yet people can’t seem to get enough of .it

  • http://twitter.com/thatandylee Andy Lee

    Celebrities are just people like you, people! Nothing to get all excited about. They have bad hair days, pet peeves, and some of your favorites are probably just as weird as the smelly guy two cubicles down from you… just saying. 8/24/12

    • http://www.facebook.com/thisisnotcandice Candice Cassandra

      EXACTLY, Andy. I think that’s SO important for people to remember. VERY important.

  • Ryan White

    I found the interviews with people on the street the most interesting part. The guy with the microphone only suggested a reason for his fame (heard his music; seen his movie?) and they all spoke like they knew of his “work.” I feel like beyond our need for connections this speaks to our need to feel knowledgeable. I don’t know, maybe the two are inter-twined. My need for connection only extends as far as people’s willingness to be real and honest.

    • http://www.facebook.com/thisisnotcandice Candice Cassandra

      We’re all a little bit guilty of that though, you know? I think it’s honestly a vulnerability flaw in our character. I loved your comment though. It really made me think. Thanks so much, Ryan.

  • techguru

    People mind are able to play tricks and that is why they are failing for it. Once you watch the video he tells you that he is not celebrity.I think that almost everyone would have fallen for it.

  • http://ironiclee.blogspot.com/ Jentylee

    I was just going to mention the same affect with Twitter followers before you mentioned it; proving an old psychological theory. More attention-more important. I am one of those that just nod my head, realizing as you so perfectly put it, we all walk the same number of steps; ok, you caught me. If I saw George Clooney on the street I would faint-hopefully in his arms. But I do recycle. And yes I’ve always thought it unfair that an astrophysicist would not get as much attention as a ‘superstar’. And now I wonder how much of me is in that Times Square video. Boy am I pompous in my lack of pomposity.

    • http://www.facebook.com/thisisnotcandice Candice Cassandra

      Jen — that is just the kind of thing I’m talking about and can I say — THANK YOU for that honesty. See? I think that kind of reflection is SO refreshing. It’s good to kind of look around and go.. “Am I capable of this and why? Why do I need this?”.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Dilemma509 Mike Dilemma Fix

    I have though about this type of thing before… the results he got are pretty crazy though

    • http://www.facebook.com/thisisnotcandice Candice Cassandra

      The results are SO telling.

  • http://twitter.com/AlkhatriM moahammed alkhatri

    me to

  • Mohamed Hisham Hadjazi

    I defently should try it.

  • Daniel Mraz

    That…..is….freaking…..HILARIOUS! I almost wan’t to do that. Of course, I would be one of the photographers since I am one but hey….

  • http://twitter.com/AcFreeman Andrew Freeman

    This is very interesting. I find myself always despising tabloids and shows like ET simply for existing. I don’t really understand why anybody cares. I, however, realize I would probably go crazy if I saw once of my favorite musicians walking down the street. Everyone has their cup of tea.

  • http://twitter.com/coolfreak87 Coolfreak87

    The fact is most people would fall for it, people just want an autograph from somebody famous

  • http://twitter.com/uthmanbaksh Uthman Baksh

    The only time I met a celebrity was in college. I met John Hodgman while a TV was being shot on campus.

  • Daniel Muriuki

    Haha Neil is awesome and i would totally want to try this :p it would be pretty funny to see peoples reactioncs if i did this:p but it goes to show that people are easy to trick -_-

  • http://my.opera.com/geekgirlfri/blog/ Melinda P

    That was – the meaning of the word “incredible” keeps rotating inside my head.
    Literally, “not credible”, yet the vernacular “amazing!” His credibility was nil, yet his illusion of fame gave him complete credibility with hundreds of strangers. No, not fame – his illusion of importance, with the “entourage,” gave him the illusion of fame as more and more people bought into the illusion of importance. The mind boggles.

    Your article was very thought provoking also. Yes, I have people I’d stop and stare at if I saw them on the street, actors or musicians or astrophysicists :) (Go, Neil!) – people who I’ve either been entertained or inspired by. Probably never would approach them, as I’m too shy by nature. But for me, I think it would be more of a “I can’t believe our paths came that close, what are the odds?” than “OMG, I am so much more special now because I’m near them!” Maybe I’m wrong – I’ve never been in that kind of situation before, so who knows? :)

  • http://twitter.com/allenb53 Allen Barnett

    Do we really want to deceive people? Ok to do for a prank but there are so many ruthless people out there that could turn this into something vile.

  • tones

    que tristeza la gente