The Seduction of Celebrity

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Craig Detweiler is doing some great work in cultural analysis; as an example read his chapter on “Celebrity” in Matrix of Meanings. Here are some lessons to be drawn from highlights of that chaper with some supporting quotes.

1) Celebrities are influential

Richard Corliss celebrity is “possibly the most vital shaping force in society¢â‚¬¦Celebrities have become, in recent decades, the chief agents of moral change in the US.” Intimate Strangers

Peter Jennings. No country in the world is so driven by personality, has such a hunger to identify with personalities, larger-than-life personalities especially¢â‚¬¦as this one.”

Look at Oprah!

Vanity Fair said: “Oprah Winfrey arguably has more influence on the culture than any university president, politician or religious leader except the Pope.”

Christianity Today said: To her audience of more than 22 million mostly female viewers, she has become a post-modern priestess an icon of church-free spirituality.”

2) These days Celebrity is often “unearned”

Whereas historically being known involved substantial accomplishments, today celebrity is about “being known for being known.

Shakespeare divided great men into three classes: those born great, those who achieved greatness, those who had greatness thrust upon them. It never occurred to him to mention those who hired public relations experts and press secretaries to make themselves look great. Daniel Boorstin The Image.

Circus freaks, celebrities, it’s all the same thing.” Rosanne Barr.

3) These days Celebrity is usually manufactured.

The advent of mass media, photos, printing, electronic data transmission brought about new phenomena like pseudo events (press and media junkets) and pseudo celebrities like William Hung of American Idol who are achieving what Andy Warhol predicted, “fifteen minutes of fame.”

Novelist James Fenimore Cooper warned about the media’s ability to create new realities, “If newspapers are useful in overthrowing tyrants, it is only to establish a tyranny of their own.”

William Randolph Hearst brought this to pass with his belief and policy that to sell the news you must “invent the news” and to engage then public’s interest you must package issues in personalities. Today this has evolved into the personality becoming the issue.

4) Celebrity “fills a vacuum” in our lives once filled spiritually or through religion.

This is where modern celebrity gets really scary.

“The spirituality, the alternative reality, the easy transcendence, the celebrity homilies, the gospel’s inspired by celebritie’s deaths, the icons on their way to apotheosis all these edged entertainment, as incarnated by celebrities, ever closer to theology, in a way, turning the tables. If religion had become entertainment, entertainment was now becoming a religion.” Neil Gabler Life the Movie.

“Those of us who are fans, we see these celebrity lives in ways that transform our own. I sometimes think that these are our gods and goddesses. These are our icons, and their stories become kind of parables for how to lead our lives.” Amanda Parsons, a typcial fan.

Pascal’s God-shaped vacuum, Augustine’s “our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee? Once these provoked hunger for God, today they drive people to the need-meeting celebrity.

5) Evangelicals are drawn to celebrity

Beginning with William Randolph Hearst’s “invention of” Billy Graham, the star” in the 1949 “Christ for Greater LA Crusade, evangelicals have cozied up to the celebrity phenomenon with easy familiarity, Unaware of or unconcerned with the historical precedent of the media’s exploitation of religion for entertainment purposes, (See the1830’s Walt Whitman comment “revival meetings are our amusements”), evangelicals have rushed to the frenzied world of celebrity making with reckless abandon look at televangelism, the CCM star-making machine, Christian publishing’s concern for unit sales and author distribution-networks over content.

We ought to be running for the exits instead we’re standing in line like cultural lap-dogs trying to get our bone.

6) Contemporary celebrity poses a risk, especially for people of deep faith.

Malcolm Muggeridge (remember when Christians were witty and wise?) warns that the Christian use of mass media the “fourth temptation.” Why?

Here are some questions to be considered:

How do we produce deep faith in a “no there-there” culture?
How do we influence culture by playing a game the very nature of which entraps us in the superficial nature and practices of the game?
How do we influence culture without playing the game?

None other than the merry prankster (whose brain was fried for different reasons than mine) Ken Kesey (photo above) said this: “You have to remember, whenever there’s a spotlight, there’s always a cross hair built in, and notches in the barrel filed for luminaries.”

Amen and Amen.

Yours for the pursuit of God in the company of friends, Dick Staub.

PS. And remember, “these are the best of times and the worst of times, but they are the only times we have.” (For Now).

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    Posted in Staublog in October 15, 2004 by | No Comments »

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