“These Celebrities Changed our Lives Forever.” Really?

A week or two ago I saw this headline: These Celebrities Changed our Lives Forever.

Really?

If that’s true, shame on us. But please let this be hyperbole.

I glanced through the “A” list of Hollywood big shots who wouldn’t have even made the “C” list of people who have changed my life forever.

Media has the biggest ego of them all. It’s as if they exist for the people can be happy. It’s as if they speak and we, in a collective gasp, can awaken from our effortless slumber to once again feel alive again.

Well here’s the shocking truth about celebrity: they, those A-listers, need us. We don’t need them.

Some of the masses might act as if their life means nothing unless they are sitting in front of the TV or reading the latest gossip blog, but everyone knows the secret – celebrity is a hollow shell, propped up by an endless cycle of ads and media conventions which tell us all how terrible our lives our. If only we could own the car that celebrity A has! If only we could live in the house that celebrity B has. If only we could have the problems of celebrity C.

So let’s be very clear here. Some celebrities may have moved us, but they haven’t changed us. Some actors are remarkably talented, and they have the means to, for an hour or two, delve deep into our hearts and make us think about the larger issues of humanity. But they don’t change us. Two dimensional celebrity figures do not have the power to change us.

But three-dimensional humans do have the capacity to change others.

My wife changed me.

The birth of each of my kids changed me.

My parents changed me.

My pastor changed me.

My friends have changed me.

These are the true celebrities in our lives, not worthy of worship, but worthy of a hearty “thanks” for what they have done for us. How they have molded us, moved us, and forced us to challenge everything we know about ourselves.

So, sorry Hollywood promotion blah-blah blog, I won’t fall for your trap. But I will turn off the TV and spend some more time with the people in my life.

Here’s hoping others follow suit.

Our Culture in a Headline: “Beyoncé convinced Jay Z is hiding things from her”

I saw this headline on a news site the other day. I simply have one question: do people really care? I’m serious. Are there people out there who will gladly click on that link to find the latest gossip?

I know the answer to that. I’ve come across Justin Beiber groupies and Miley Cyrus fans who certainly wouldn’t know who the vice president is. We really are entertaining ourselves to death, aren’t we?

I have nothing against entertainment. I’m a writer, after all, and I hope to entertain people with my stories. But when entertainment becomes elevated into the realm of obsession – to the detriment of having well-rounded citizens, then I start to fear for the future of the USA (as my home country) or any other country which follows suite.

The amount of entertainment that we consume is staggering. This is, perhaps, one of the reasons that the quality of the mainstream news has steadily declined – they have to compete with so much superfluous culture. They have to grab attention from a myriad of consumers who have their brains loosely connected to a thousand things at once. Therefore, stories become sensationalized and, perhaps, even embellished. (Brian Williams anyone?)

The frightening part about all of this for me is that there are many who really don’t care what’s going on in the world. They really don’t care about ISIS, or politics, or healthcare, or race issues, or Ukrainian conflicts. Many people are so consumed about their own business that many of us have lost touch with the outside world.

I’ve been recently re-watching Ken Burns’ “The War” and what strikes me the most about the Greatest Generation who watched the war from the home-front is how engaged everyone was in the process of war. It was an entire society that was completely committed, completely enthralled, completely wanting to know every detail. That didn’t make it a homogeneous society – far from it. America was then and is today extremely diverse, but there was a sense of unity, a sense of understanding, a sense of duty, a sense of collectiveness that is lacking in today’s society. There many be many reasons for this – one simply being our pluralistic society (which if you go back a few days and look at my post about pluralism you’ll understand how necessary it is), but one of the main reasons that many in our country don’t care what is going on is because they are wrapped up in the lives of Beyonce and Jay-Z. I hope we can wake up  before it’s too late.

What to do with all those Cosby videos? (The problem of celebrity)

I, like millions of people, have a large stock of “Cosby Show” DVDs in my house. Who wasn’t enamored with the charming Huxtables? I bought them several years ago to watch with my kids, and we all laughed along and enjoyed the ride tremendously.

Now with more than twenty women alleging sexual abuse at the hands of Cosby, dating back to the 1970s and continuing on through his entertainment career, we all have a different look at the man – perhaps one of the great con-men of our generation. While the luster on the Cosby veneer has certainly diminished recently, what about his body of work? What are we to do with his entertainment legacy?

This is a difficult question. Some may not think so and will quickly destroy every thought or whisper of Cosby’s entertainment career from their psyche. That is certainly their right, and certainly not without some merit.

But is it possible to separate a performer’s work from his or her private life?

This is a question with which we need to tread lightly. Let’s pose some theoretical circumstances and see where it takes us.

What about an evangelist who preaches moral perfection, but is discovered with a prostitute. (I believe this happened at one point.) He would certainly be labeled as a hypocrite. But let’s say that his preaching encouraged someone to make radical, positive changes in their life that saved their marriage or changed their family dynamics for the better. Is that positive teaching invalidated by the action of the teacher?

Here’s a completely different scenario. Let’s say that a paroled, convicted sexual predator gets a job in a bakery, making all the bakery’s cinnamon rolls. An undercover journalist exposes the man as a convicted sexual predator who had done hard time in the past, does that mean that we shouldn’t eat the cinnamon rolls he makes?

One more. Let’s say that someone uncovers a hidden diary by an old Hollywood Legend – Jimmy Stewart, for argument’s sake – and this diary details all of his “hidden sins” about which the public never knew. Does that mean we shouldn’t watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” anymore?

Does a good message become negated by the bad actions of the person who gave the good message in the first place?

I think that answering that question in the affirmative is a dangerous way to think because all human’s are flawed. This is not in any way to excuse illegal, degrading, and illicit behavior. Any person who uses their celebrity status to get away with evil certainly deserves the scorn and legal procedures that comes back upon him or her.

But again, what about the videos? Well, here’s a few ideas.

For those who can’t stomach the sight of him anymore, throw them in the trash.

For those who can focus on the story and not the man, use them as an object lesson for your kids (when their age is appropriate.) Show the shallow facade behind celebrity. Help your kids to understand the difference between real-life and fictional drama. Show kids how to not put people on pedestals, because that is a recipe for disappointment. Teach kids how to understand the message, but not to be sucked in to the glamour and hero-worship which our media constantly gives to Hollywood.

Someone might argue that by purchases the DVDs by a disgraced celebrity is in fact putting money into his pockets. Yes, that is true, and if you don’t want to do that, don’t buy the DVDs.

But the reality is, this happens everyday when we buy pretty much anything at any store. Our money is continually flowing through corporations and financial institutions to any number of despicable people of whose individual actions we would not support. In our homogenized and globalized society, if we wanted to cut ourselves off from everyone we disagree with or everyone we think is a bad person, then we would indeed be very lonely people.

If you can, keep the message, while not supporting the faulty messenger. There’s no reason to say, “You know all those wholesome lessons from the Cosby Show? Well they were all a bunch of crap because we now know that Cosby is a bunch of crap? So forget all of those lessons and do whatever you like!”

Can we keep the message and use the circumstances as a lesson for our kids?

If yes, great. If not, then burn those DVDs.

The Vain, Slim Thread of Humanity We Call Celebrity

Oh, celebrity!

The tortured souls they must be.

I happened to see some pictures from Miley Cyrus’ MTV performance (No, I didn’t watch the show), and my immediate thoughts were, “What kind of freakish person is this?”  This is what America celebrates? Yes, but not exactly.

Celebrity comes from the Latin root cele- meaning ‘honor’. Honor is bestowed on many individuals in American culture for a variety of reasons. We honor sports stars for their athletic accomplishments that the common sports aficionado could not replicate. We honor actors who are able to make us laugh or cry, connecting with our emotions and sensibilities as humans. We honor beauty which is beyond ordinary. A model is honored merely for her physical assets, and, once gone, is remembered only for how she used to be. We honor musicians, who have the ability to move us with their music, vocalists who can stretch multiple octaves into a spell-binding routine, and politicians who wield power and authority we could never grasp in our hands. We honor business innovators, who break molds and revolutionize society into their own image.

Why do we honor such individuals as these? Why do we have celebrity?

Celebrity serves as a fantastical, entertainment function in our lives. We’ve all seen the individuals who live vicariously through the minute-by-minute twitter posts of their flavor of the day.

Americans have disposable income, some more than others, of course. But all of us put out money down at the feet of celebrity in one way or another; But what do we want in return?

Joy? Oftentimes enjoyment does come from a sporting event, a blockbuster movie, or a gossip column.

Hope? Do we often hope that one day that could be us? And if not, can we just pretend for a minute? Can we not at least savor the thought that something we would do would last a tad longer than our life itself?

Diversion? Are our lives so bored and mediocre that a little glimpse into the ‘good life’ is enough to satisfy our cravings for another day?

Loyalty? Did you ever follow someone so far off the cliff just because you felt trust and loyalty between subject and follower? For example, how many bad musical albums have you purchased simply because you were loyal to the band or singer? (I’m sure you’ve heard a bad song by a well known artist and realized that this song would never have made the light of day if it wasn’t connected to a ‘brand name.’)

Celebrity is to be admired when handled graciously; but it should be greatly pitied when the gift that elevated the person to a position of societal honor becomes a mockery to the societal norms which gave rise to celebrity in the first place.

I pity celebrity. I have nothing against Justin Beiber. Actually, I don’t even think I’ve ever heard one of his songs from start to finish. But its funny how the name itself has become a  joke for many people. I hear it all the time. People cringe at the name Justin Beiber – not taking him seriously – showing disdain and hatred for the mere sound of his name. Who would want that?

I can’t imagine the pressure and the image which must constantly be created for someone like Miley Cyrus. I’m sure she was told, ‘Don’t worry, there’s no such thing as bad publicity.’

I’m sorry, but that’s not true. I feel bad for her. For whatever reason, she has chosen to present herself in a certain image, and that is certainly her right. I must commend her for the attention she brought to herself. I must assume that that was the point.

But I feel bad that someone has to look at themselves in the mirror dressed that way and are told constantly that they are beautiful and cutting edge and on-top of the world. They are told that they can be themselves and break the mold, but by doing so, they often only reinforce the same old worn-out stereotypes of celebrity that American has been retreading for the last fifty years. They are caught in a cycle of image – self-image – but not created by self. They often become the ones left on the outside of normality, a subject to be pitied, not revered.

What a shallow hole celebrities must find themselves in. It’s only natural that drugs and self-destruction follow after so many of them.

Celebrity is not bad. Bestowing honor on others can be a positive things for society. It galvanizes people together and it can show the very best of humanity.

But unfortunately, more often than not, celebrity shows the hollowness that humankind tries to fill with vanity, self-gratification, and self-worth.

Ecclesiastes 1:1 “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.”