If you look hard, or even not so hard, there is a very clear fascination with celebrity in modern popular culture. There are whole industries dedicated to creating, following, photographing, blogging, building and breaking celebrities.
And we lap it up, buying the magazines, reading the blogs, watching television shows that examine the minutia of celebrity life in nauseating detail.
Right alongside this cult of celebrity is the desire for fame. More and more prevalent in our culture is the unspoken idea that if you are not famous, if people beyond your immediate circle of family and friends are not following your every move; then somehow you are not worthy. At least in part I think this is behind the staggering growth in popularity of digital media such as facebook and twitter.
We see it in reality television shows (as an aside, I’m yet to see a reality show that has anything that could genuinely be considered ‘reality’) such as big brother – ordinairy people trying to gain fame (and fortune) and become ‘someone’.
There are two classic examples playing out in our ‘news’ media at the moment.
The first is the case of the bizarrely named ‘Chk Chk Boom’ girl Clare Werbeloff – the 19 year old Sydneysider who saw an opportunity to grab some airtime with a false description of a tragic shooting in Kings Cross. Werbeloff has grabbed fame with both hands, generating a staggering number of media interviews, job offers and more.
The second is the tragedy of Susan Boyle, the middle aged songstress catapulted to global celebrity via UK television show “Britain’s Got Talent”. A person who at first seemed confident and strong as she starred down the show’s celebrity judges now just a few weeks on appears fragile and ill-equipped with the stardom created by the show’s producers and eagerly lapped up by both media and consumers world-wide. Boyle is now in danger of meltdown, and its fair to imagine that the pressure of instant fame is a lot to do with that.
Both of these examples could be looked at in quite some detail (for a great insight into what’s going on, check our the always thought provoking Mark Sayers on Boyle and Werbeloff) and the exercise would be a fascinating insight into popular culture today.
I suppose the question I’m particularly interested in is what does the Christian story have to say in cases like this? How does the gospel speak into a world drowning in manufactured, plastic celebrity that comes and goes as quickly as the morning dew? What do we say to a culture consumed with the never-ending cycle of creation, consumption and abandonment of celebrity?
At least part of the answer I reckon comes from two scripture passages that draw me in time and time again.
Micah 6:6-8 refers to God’s call to us to a life characterised by commitment to justice, attitude of mercy, and a humble journey with God. That’s about as far from craving for fame and self-worth through the lense of a camera as I can imagine.
The second comes from Jesus story (recorded in Matthew 25:31-46) about the sheep and goats. One of the things that fascinates me about this story is the response of the first group – the group whom the King honours as having fed, clothed, visited and cared for him. The response is the telling “Lord when did we…?”
I guess its always in the eye of the beholder, and the tone of voice its read with, but to me the response reeks of commitment ot justice, attitude of mercy, and a humble journey. I get the sense in which those respondents had no idea of the magnitude of their actions – just getting on with business. In today’s vernacular the response might read “geez we had no idea we were doing that!”.
The cynic in me finds it difficult to believe the intentional lusting after celebrity, and often self (or media) destruction that follows could never be truthfully characterised by the statement “geez we had no idea we were doing that”.
Its a funny old world we live in.