The Fourth of July in postmodern America

More to the point, for those Americans stripped of their nation’s history or taught to hate it, celebrities and television personalities fill a hole. Sports and show people — historically they have had the status of gladiators, jesters, and prostitutes — command vast audiences and loyalties. They are exempla. Not surprisingly, the pick-up is different from Plutarch. Marilyn Monroe is more of a national icon than Martha Washington.

Who are today’s models of probity? Is probity what Americans really go for?

Tom Brady and LeBron James at least offer something wholesome. Eminem and Kanye West do not. Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez, Beyoncé, and Rhianna are models for millions. Pole-dancing and spread-eagled in a 2013 video, stuffing dollar bills into her hotpants, Rhianna draws 250 million YouTube hits, a staggering number.