Jul 17, 2020

What Does “Cult of Personality” mean? (Does it have to do with Trump?)

Samantha Kate Pollack, Feminist Copywriter at CultofPersonality.co

^^There’s me, wearing faux leather leggings (which are hotter than the real thing, btw) in St. Petersburg, FL, in the middle of June, about halfway through an all-day photo shoot. 🥵I had about 750 pounds of makeup on, which is about 750 pounds more than what I usually wear. Plus, heels. WHO EVEN AM I.


These fancy professional photos were taken about two years AFTER I bought the cultofpersonality.co domain.  

So. In the summer of 2016, I was working in a (very) sexist environment, where every time I submitted a piece of copy I was told some version of:

“Tone it down.”

(And that was the kindest version. Sometimes, there were actual tantrums and f-bombs. FROM MY BOSS.)

*Any* hint of edginess, originality, or wit — you know, PERSONALITY? — was called out, picked apart, questioned, scolded, and ultimately eliminated.

It sucked.

One day, about 2 months before I got fired (a long, drawn-out battle of the sexes that I sorta(?) won but am not allowed to tell you about), I was sitting at my kitchen table, having just received another slew of condescending, nonsensical comments on a REALLY GREAT piece of copy I’d submitted.

I was just so. over. it.

*Oh hi, I can feel a very long rabbit hole coming on in which I elucidate every shitty detail about working for men who feel threatened by smart women… but I’m going to restrain myself, because fuck those guys. It’s my turn to talk now.*

Anyway, this day. I was PISSED. And frustrated. And thinking that maybe this whole writing situation just wasn’t worth it.

“Why do so many businesses owners want their copy to be boring and sound like everyone else?”
Why do these smarmy, manipulative copywriters keep getting all the big-bucks, when their writing straight up sucks?”
Doesn’t anyone care about GOOD WRITING?” (<< I still have this question, actually.)
What would happen if we respected our readers, acted with integrity, and focused on actually helping people instead of just churning out ever-shoutier clickbait?”
“Why don’t these people value the way *I* do it?”

(If you’re asking questions like these, by the way, you should maybe think about going into business for yourself. 🤷🏻Just sayin.)

And — I know I said I wouldn’t go there… but the answer to most of these questions, at least in that specific scenario, was, “because you’re not a man.” But whatever.

Eventually, my ranty mental tantrum shifted from “these guys suck!” to “know what I’m gonna do? I’m gonna start my OWN website! And it will be ALL PERSONALITY! ALL the time! Harumph!”

via GIPHY

And, because I am an angsty teen of the 90s, this tantrum immediately reminded me of Cult of Personality by Living Colour, an amazing rock song that has been my unofficial theme song ever since. 🤘🏻🤘🏻🤘🏻

What’s the answer to an unimaginative boss (who can barely even read, let alone discern good copy from manipulative dreck) who fears any and all expressions of individuality or fun?

A whole entire cult devoted to it, that’s what.

Vernon Reid’s guitar riff is triumphant and undeniable. Corey Glover’s defiant growl is a rallying cry. This band was freaking groundbreaking, for so many reasons. Their irreverent, metal vibe was the perfect response to the oppressive environment I was working in.

via GIPHY
The song is actually about the “cult of personality” phenomenon, which (according to Wikipedia) is when a leader or a regime uses the media, propaganda, the “big lie,” and other social engineering techniques to create an idealized, infallible image of itself, often through unquestioning flattery, loyalty, and praise. Ahem. 🤨

And I knew all this at the time.

What I did NOT know, however, was that America was about to witness this very phenomenon during and after Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, or that CNN anchors would start dropping the phrase “cult of personality” on the regular. Whoopsie!

Before all that happened, I thought it was cool — the play on words, the repurposing of a popular expression and how that subverts your expectations, the weirdness associated with both *actual* cults (which are fascinating to me) and cult classics in pop culture.

^^ nods to both kinds of cults can be found in my site copy, the names of my offers, and throughout the design. 😉

And you know? I still think it’s cool. In fact, it’s even more cool now. Taking a phrase normally associated with a misogynistic autocrat and turning it into a cool-as-hell, feminist writing brand?

Hell yeah.

<<In email form, there’d be a link to my website right here. But, well, you’re already here. :)>>

Aaaanyway. I love it.


Sidebar: you know how I can tell when I’ve written a really compelling piece of copy?

The client freaks out a little bit. 😬

Because when you strip away all the “I believe’s” and “In a perfect world” and “Most people think” — all that qualifying cushioning you use to protect yourself from offending anyone, or getting in trouble, or all those mean people on the internet…

All you’re left with are the crystal clear contours of what you really think.

And, a question. “Can I really say this?”

It feels electric.

And it takes a minute for the shock to wear off.

That’s how I felt about my site design for awhile. Like, I can’t believe this is really me.

I’m comin’ around though. 😉

What do you think? Shoot me a reply and let me know. Or better yet, fill out my contact form so we can see if it works. Ha.Thanks for reading!

Samantha Kate Pollack, Feminist Copywriter at CultorPersonality.co

Samantha Pollack

About Sam

Samantha Pollack writes creative copy (mostly emails) for feminist companies and/or thought leaders who are working to build a fairer, more connected culture. She’s also the founder of The Highly Sensitive Entrepreneur, a 6-week course that helps HSP business owners create healthier, more sustainable systems in their work. 

She publishes frequent essays on feminism, privilege, pop culture, entrepreneurship, the creative process, and more on her website, cultofpersonality.co. She currently lives in Asheville, NC, and while she can *technically* work from anywhere, she prefers her adventures laptop-free.

Emails for cult thought leaders.

(Personality included.)

Want to learn how to craft emails that inspire action and engagement WITHOUT the “tried and true” (cough: patriarchal) norms we’ve all been taught?

I’m doing it, and I can show you how to do it, too.

(But sometimes, I also like to write about the books I’m reading, or the creative process, or the entrepreneurial experience, or why I hate Steve Jobs, or how I met my BFF. I’ll send you emails like that, too.)

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*Just kidding. It’s only an email list.

Interested in working together?