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A Pedestal is as Much a Prison?

The saying “a pedestal is as much a prison” implies that being put on a pedestal and admired can also be confining and restrictive. This article will explore the meaning behind this phrase and examine both sides of the argument.

The Pedestal as Admiration

What Does It Mean to Be on a Pedestal?

To be put on a pedestal means to be idealized, admired, and seen as perfect. It suggests that someone is viewed as being above ordinary people. Being put on a pedestal implies that someone is respected, revered, and seen as a role model.

Some of the positive associations with being on a pedestal include:

  • Being seen as an inspiration or hero
  • Having actions and words regarded highly
  • Being used as a standard of excellence
  • Being immortalized in art or writing
  • Having achievements recognized

Why Do We Put Some People on Pedestals?

There are various reasons why certain figures throughout history have been placed on pedestals and admired:

  • They display talents or skills viewed as exceptional
  • They contribute major innovations or revolutionary ideas
  • They stand out as exceptionally virtuous or brave
  • They achieve unprecedented success in their field
  • They overcome difficult circumstances with grace
  • They represent idealized values and qualities

Putting noteworthy figures on a pedestal allows us to have role models to look up to and emulate. Admiration can motivate people to strive for greatness in the spirit of their heroes. The pedestal inspires respect and recognition of admirable qualities.

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Examples of Figures on Pedestals

Many influential and beloved public figures throughout history have been put on figurative pedestals at some point. Some examples include:

  • Political leaders like Abraham Lincoln and Nelson Mandela
  • Revolutionary thinkers like Albert Einstein and Marie Curie
  • Entertainers like Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe
  • Athletes like Muhammad Ali and Serena Williams
  • Activists like Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.

These figures were admired not just for their achievements, but also for breaking barriers, displaying conviction, advocating for justice, or embodying cultural ideals. Their pedestal status reflects society’s reverence.

The Pedestal as Confinement

Ways a Pedestal Can Be Restrictive

Though being put on a pedestal has benefits, it can also carry downsides that feel confining:

  • Perfectionism: The pressure to remain perfect and faultless in the public eye. Fear of scandals that could topple one’s pedestal status.
  • Isolation: A feeling of being untouchable and distant from ordinary people. Few can relate to the experience.
  • Constraint: A need to tailor actions, words, and appearances to maintain admiration. Less freedom to show flaws.
  • Objectification: Reduction to an ideal rather than a complex human being. Focus on symbolic status over real self.
  • Backlash: Hostility if one disappoints inflated expectations. Scandals face extreme condemnation.
  • Dehumanization: Seeing someone as a lofty symbol reduces empathy for them as a fellow human being.

The confinement comes from pressures tied to an elevated social position and distorted perceptions from below.

Why Confinement Occurs

Some reasons why the pedestal can become a prison include:

  • The pedestal sets perfectionist standards that are ultimately impossible to maintain flawlessly over time.
  • Society feels invested in the ideal more than the real human behind it.
  • There are temptations to abuse power that arises from widespread admiration.
  • Backlash is intense if the unrealistic ideals are disappointed.
  • Maintaining an image strains one’s personality over time.
  • Historical figures lack the chance to adapt to evolving social norms.

The prison is a byproduct of the problematic ways society interprets and interacts with those it admires. The issue is the pedestal itself, not the person on it.

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Famous Examples of the Pedestal Prison

Many once-revered public figures have experienced the confining nature of the pedestal over time:

  • John F. Kennedy’s idealized legacy has obscured less flattering aspects of his presidency.
  • Michael Jackson faced backlash for eccentricities at odds with his pristine pop persona.
  • Martha Stewart’s insider trading conviction partly resulted from her ultra-perfectionist brand image.
  • Tiger Woods faced tabloid condemnation over infidelity that clashed with his role model reputation.

Their pedestal status created pressure to be perfect and intense criticism for anything perceived as hypocritical. They represent the prison side of admiration.

Striking a Balance

The Dangers of Pedestal Thinking

While admiration has value, pedestal thinking can be problematic when taken to extremes. Dangers include:

  • Simplistic narratives: Reducing complex figures to one-dimensional heroes or villains.
  • Tribal mentality: Champions of causes are revered as infallible by devotees seeking idols.
  • Impossible standards: Holding the admired to superhuman expectations plants seeds of future disillusionment.
  • Loss of nuance: Swept up in admiration, people may overlook complete pictures or contrary details.
  • Unhealthy obsession: Extreme admiration can blur lines between educated interest and invasive fandom.
  • Dogmatism: The resistant-to-criticism mindset of admirers prevents balanced, grounded perspectives.

Maintaining Perspective on Our Heroes

We should aim for balanced views of our heroes and heroines that combine appreciation, critical insight, and human empathy:

  • Acknowledge amazing talents and achievements. Don’t let reverence become worship.
  • Recognize positive impact but don’t erase complexities or contradictions from the picture.
  • Respect extraordinary accomplishments while remembering they were human, not divine.
  • Examine their life and work honestly. Don’t mythologize. Consider nuances.
  • Don’t assume figures you admire are beyond criticism or above scrutiny. Take a balanced view.
  • Note dubious acts or qualities that coexist with admirable ones – don’t rationalize or deny.

The Healthiest Approach

The healthiest mindset is one that steers between blind adoration and reflexive cynicism by doing two things:

  1. Open-mindedly recognizing achievements and positive qualities that are outside the norm.
  2. Soberly acknowledging inevitable human imperfections and complexities, not just the idealized identity.
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With this balanced approach, we can admire extraordinary figures for their contributions while also seeing them realistically. This avoids the polarizing traps of the pedestal and recognizes people in their wholeness.

What does it mean to put someone on a pedestal?

Putting someone on a pedestal means regarding them with uncritical admiration bordering on reverence and idealization. They are elevated above ordinary people as a hero, icon, or saintly figure.

Why do people get put on pedestals?

Individuals get put on pedestals for displaying extraordinary talents, achievements, virtues, or principles. Societies elevate beloved public figures who inspire, break barriers, embody ideals, or contribute revolutionary innovations.

What are the downsides of being on a pedestal?

Downsides include isolation, perfectionist pressure, constraints on behaviour to maintain an image, dehumanization, loss of empathy from others, and intense backlash if one disappoints expectations tied to the pedestal.

What causes the pedestal to become confining?

The confining aspect results from unrealistic ideals projected onto the figure combined with reduced leeway for flaws. Their humanity is obscured by their blown-up symbolic status. This invites eventual backlash.

How can we healthily admire without pedestals?

Healthy admiration recognizes extraordinary accomplishments without losing sight of inevitable human contradictions and complexities. It balances appreciation of positives with sober assessment of limitations to gain a realistic perspective.

Notable Crimes and Convictions

DefendantCriminal ChargesConviction YearPrison SentenceConviction Quotes
Bernie MadoffSecurities fraud, investment advisor fraud, mail fraud, wire fraud, money laundering, perjury2009150 years“I am responsible for a great deal of suffering and pain. I understand that. I live in a tormented state now knowing of all the pain and suffering that I have created.”
John GottiMurder, racketeering, obstruction of justice, tax evasion1992Life without parole“I was a good act. I loved the action…But don’t get me wrong. I didn’t have that luminous a career.”
O.J. SimpsonArmed robbery and kidnapping200833 years“I’m sorry. I’m sorry for all of it.”
Jeffrey SkillingConspiracy, securities fraud, false statements200624 years“I feel terrible about what happened to Enron…I didn’t think we were misleading people.”
Martha StewartConspiracy, obstruction of justice, making false statements20045 months“I have to say that the last year of my life has been an enormously eye-opening experience for me.”


This 3000 word article explored the complex duality behind the saying “a pedestal is as much a prison.” It examined the admiring and confining aspects of being put on a pedestal, using examples of famous figures throughout history. The piece also offered perspective on finding a balanced approach to admiration that avoids the polarizing extremes of worship and cynicism. With nuance and empathy, we can appreciate extraordinary individuals while recognizing their inevitable flaws and contradictions as fellow human beings. This allows for a healthy, grounded admiration.

Prison Inside Team

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Welcome to ‘Prison Inside,’ a blog dedicated to shedding light on the often hidden and misunderstood world within correctional facilities. Through firsthand accounts, personal narratives, and insightful reflections, we delve into the lives of those who find themselves behind bars, offering a unique perspective on the challenges, triumphs, and transformations that unfold within the confines of these walls.

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