"A Stellar Performer"

The problem with “stars” and stellar performers in any field is that the description includes three categories, not one. The first and most obvious is the individual who is indeed stellar and recognized as such. The second is the individual who is recognized as stellar, but who is only competent, or even less. The third is the individual who consistently performs at a stellar level and is never recognized as such.

In some areas, particularly those where “popularity” comprises a large part of what determines “stardom,” which often includes not just cinema and entertainment, but many corporate CEOs, there’s often little distinction between the first and second category, especially when one of the factors that determines such stardom is appearance and “presence,” rather than performance.

In areas of what one might call more concrete achievement, or in the arts, recognition of stellar achievement is often either ignored or overlooked, at least until the achiever is safely dead. Caesar Augustus was the first ruler of the Roman Empire, but his success was largely founded on the technical support of Marcus Agrippa, who designed the weapons and built the fleets Augustus needed, not to mention masterminding the battle of Actium that destroyed Antony’s fleet… and building the original Pantheon and rebuilding and modernizing much of the city of Rome. Van Gogh never sold a painting in his life-time [except to his brother].

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was considered a gifted and highly competent composer during his lifetime, but others, such as Salieri, were the stars. Bach was thought to be a very good organist who wrote so much competent music that few in his lifetime recognized his genius. Jane Austin sold literally only a few thousand books in her lifetime — less than ten thousand, but today her works have sold in the millions and have spawned cinematic success after success.

In the corporate and political worlds, both in the past and today, image determines “stellar performers” more often than actual performance, as noted in a number of financial publications about a year ago where they documented that, on average, those CEOs who were less visible and less highly compensated tended to consistently outperform the “stars.” During his lifetime, Warren Harding was greatly beloved and popular, despite being possibly the worst president of the United States, and John F. Kennedy remains beloved to this day, despite a lack of any significant achievement, except perhaps avoiding war with the USSR, and in spite of his extravagant, if concealed, wide-spread philandering.

Then there are the stellar performers who are seldom if never recognized. Often these are teachers who produce outstanding student after outstanding student, students who achieve great success but seldom mention, or only mention in passing, the teacher who launched them. Some, such as Nadia Boulanger, are noted, but most are not. Sometimes, they’re authors who produce good or great book after great book, but who never catch the “critical” eyes of reviewers or scholars. At times, they’re in unlikely fields, such as Bob Lee of Colorado, who understood politics better than any man I ever encountered in twenty years in the political arena, and who mentored an entire generation of politicians and political operatives, and who died almost forgotten by so many whose careers he had made possible.

From what I’ve seen, the unrecognized stellar performers far outnumber the ones who are lauded and praised, and in many, many cases, the performance of the unrecognized stars is superior to those recognized. So why do we as a society tend to over-reward image, even when such images are so often based on little or no substance?

1 thought on “"A Stellar Performer"”

  1. hob says:

    First, value or worth is subjective. Does a hundred years of popularity become insignificant if in the next hundred years the same subject is considered trivial?

    Second, the artistic examples you have given fail to mention other factors for the rise in the subjects popularity-

    1.Rise in purchasing power of the traditionaly poor.

    2.The targeted marketing policies of advertisers and industry to show a link between traditional upper class lifestyles [or more accurately, the perceived lifestyles of the upper class] and good breeding despite the lack of blue blood.

    Third, I haved noticed a very strong desire on your part, through your various writings and compositions, that society should enforce facts not truths.

    Mr Modesitt, I respectfully disagree. Facts are very important for designers but useless for workers. All economic models are based on truths, for the simple reason that they provide very strong boundries and incentives, and offer a base on which we construct our various ethical philosophies, social groupings, and provide a space for higher thought development.

    Facts on the other hand are by their very nature variables. The base is wherever you want it to be, or more importantly the function you wish the base to execute.

    Everybody knows their truths, not everybody knows the facts. For your social model to work, everybody would have to be highly educated, but for such an investment in any economy you would have to factor in the truths which are allowing said social system to be functioning, the very truths you would have tossed out,
    uphold the economic system. Even if you where proposing a shift in the truths[everybody should know the facts-modesitt], they would still be truths, not facts.

    Last, I have over the years greatly enjoyed your works, and I thank you for diligence.

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