The Time Thinkers were Admired

Why does society idolaters certain individuals above others?

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When asked which kind of individual shall be celebrated by society, what would be the correct answer? A second question comes to mind when a response is attempted to be given to the first one. Why does society celebrate the life of certain persons above others?

Nowadays the response to the first question is pretty simple indeed, musician, actors, supermodels, even internet content creators. All often are commonly know for the fame they possess as public figures. Some look up to them as models, others strongly criticise various aspects of their doing. It seems like personalities have lost most control over the private aspects of their lives.

Another interesting aspect is the fact they have gained a very particular power to influence over the tendencies reigning the cultural life that normally unfolds in contemporary communities. There is something that must be noted among the previously mentioned personalities: All of them are part of what on a big picture analysis can be named as mass entertainment. I don’t intend to disqualify their abilities, my goal is only to define them.

The picture shown above depicts a funeral that took place in 1980. It is possible to view large crowds accompanying the body of a very famous Parisian celebrity until the Montparnasse cemetery. It didn't handle about a famous cinema actor or a rock band singer, the body being paid homage by the public actually was Jean-Paul Sartre, the famous philosopher known for the existentialist movement.

Photo by Jacob Granneman on Unsplash

If someone is asked to guess the scene of the picture, I’d dare to say that it is very unlikely that the correct answer will be spoken. Nowadays, public intellectuals have gradually withdrawn into the comfortable walls of the universities, their social role is very much forgotten indeed. At the same time, society has stopped claiming for their presence, their opinion, which subsequently has distanced both agents in what can be described as two different bubbles.

It genuinely saddens me to realised that this link has been broken. Public intellectuals should be fundamental pieces in the mechanisms of contemporary society. The access to information has increased exponentially which means more people are keen to take part in various discussions, this is where public intellectuals might be of extreme utility. After all, the main role of their profession is to be educators, both for individuals and society. They are trained to see and identify the various nuances of humanity and while their opinion may not always be the last word, it is clear it can have an extra glance at the reality that anyone else is capable of getting.

Jean-Paul Sartre became a public figure right after France’s liberation from Nazi rule in 1945. In the Maintenant Cafe, he made a public lecture in which he introduced the core elements of his philosophy style which was called Existentialist. It was indeed a very persuasive style of thought, the milestone of its tenets were all constructed around what at first sight might seem like a pretty simple formulation: The Human Being is exclusively condemned to be free.

Photo by Ehud Neuhaus on Unsplash

This set of ideas fit perfectly in the context of post-war Paris, where freedom was the most valuable thing to have, it catapulted Sartre to the eye of the public sight. People, in general, would go cafe by cafe willing to take a glance a the intellectual during the long hours he spent reading, writing and discussing what he eventual made of his preferred working environment.

For almost 30 years, it is possible to say that Sartre impersonated the figure of the public intellectual, not only in Paris but around the world as well. As a matter of fact, he was no the last, many more took a ride in the new trend he had created. The global student protests that took place in May 1968 saw the rise of Michel Foucault as a new public educator consolidated. Many more were to be added to the public appraisal. Names like Pierre Bourdieu, Jacques Derrida, Noam Chomsky; among others; had something to say about the public debates and contributed to their own personal opinions.

Honestly, I feel jealous. I’d have loved to have the opportunity to live during those days that the type of persons that made it to the public eye transcended the field of general entertainment, the time when thinking was something fascinating and public debates were constantly tilted by academic knowledge. Today, the spectacle curse has grown so much that it’s already absorbed every single part of the public sphere, relegating experience by a mere cumulative of entertainment illusions.



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Matias Almeida Garzon

Matias Almeida Garzon


Historian. Traveler and polyglot. I like to inquire about Humans. Words are simple things, the magic is created depending on the order of them.