By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   January 24, 2023

Our society is obsessed with popularity contests of various kinds. There are competitions for being the most beautiful, making the most money, and having a best-selling product. But the most prevalent type of such contention is called an “election,” which, in effect, means being chosen by the most people, usually for an office or position of some responsibility. And ironically, the more important the post, the fewer the qualifications that are officially attached to it. As extreme examples, to secure the position of a licensed barber or manicurist, many jurisdictions require a course of training, and passing an examination. In contrast, to be President of the United States, the only legal requirements specify age and place of birth and residence.

But being chosen has a longer history than just being the preference of a particular electorate. In fact, the Jewish People have a biblical tradition of being chosen by God, although exactly for what purpose remains unclear. Some unkind critic has commented:

“How odd of God
To choose the Jews.”

As a member of that group, I have never personally been aware of any sense of choice or mission. But unfortunately, the separateness which such a concept engenders has for millennia aroused the animosity of other groups. Hence, the phenomenon known as “anti-Semitism,” which might manifest itself in a “pogrom,” or even a “holocaust.” 

But, getting back to elections, one way to get elected is, or has been, to pay the voters, either by direct purchase of their ballot, or by making promises about what you will do for them once you are in office. In England, until the reforms which began in the 1830s, it was, in many districts, standard practice for candidates for seats in Parliament to give out free drinks at the polling places. There were whole constituencies containing very few people, or even in some cases, none at all, which could be controlled by a single landowning family. These were known as “pocket” or “rotten” boroughs.

But nowadays, especially here in the U.S., the way to become popular enough to win elections, starting with local elections for seats on town councils, is by proving that you already are popular. How do you do that? By circulating and distributing yard signs, posters, and other literature, with your name on it, the same way it will appear on the ballot. Do people say to themselves, “This person must be very popular. I see their lawn signs everywhere. Obviously, they’re the one I should vote for”?

(When the election was over, I used to collect some of these signs, which were easily removable from the wire hoops that held them in place. The signs were made of cardboard, and the backs were plain white, which could be used for many purposes, especially in my card business. Now, however, they’re made of some kind of stiffened plastic, which is printed on both sides, and have become totally useless to my form of “recycling.” Is this progress?)

But yard signs are only part of what must be a huge election industry offering all kinds of material, such as door-hangers, campaign buttons, potholders, and oven mitts (which latter items are not bio-degradable, and are therefore considered highly collectible). There is even political candy – little chocolate bars with a candidate’s name and message printed on the wrapper. The manufacturers of these items generally have no interest in the outcome of any election. They are in it for the money. And the money is there, because every serious campaign knows that it needs funding, which comes especially from supporters.

And the media are well aware of this. Even the local press, at least in my community, headlines its election reporting with emphasis on how much money each competing campaign has raised – which is generally required by law to be made public.

But, apart from winning elections, popularity is also credited with winning hearts romantically. In school and later in life, the best-looking people with the most attractive personalities are most likely to be the most popular and acquire the most desirable mates. This seems to be a law of nature, prevailing, in various forms, throughout the animal kingdom.

I myself have never been very popular in person, but only through my work as an artist and writer. But in that form, I have at least had an outlet for my feelings on this subject, as in this example:

Popularity is no proof of goodness – 
And goodness is certainly no guarantee of popularity.  


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