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Our Celebrity Culture

It seems like these days, we’ve become so obsessed with celebrity.  Not just celebrities, but celebrity– “the state of being well known.”

Not only do we have these: (TEST YOURSELF!- GUESS WHO THESE CELEBRITIES ARE, THEN HOVER THE MOUSE OVER THIS PICTURE)

If you guessed more than 5 of the 7 answers, then… Congratulations? Or I’m sorry?

But we also have these:

I’m guilty of 4 of 5 of the above- In fact, you are probably either reading this via Facebook or on my WordPress blog.

What’s worse?  Our obsession with the famous people or our obsession with being famous?  With everyone knowing about our delicious lunch, with everyone seeing our latest cover of Katy Perry, with everyone reading our insights about celebrity culture?  (Ouch.)

In one way, we try to live vicariously through our celebrities.  Like stage moms getting a performance high from their kids getting in the limelight, we feel like we are with these famous people on the red carpet, at the hottest party, in the multi-multi-million mansion.  We see them on the Internet, on TV, in the tabloids and we can imagine ourselves in their place.

In another way, we try to form friendships with people we’ve never met (and will never meet).  We can feel bad for them when their marriages don’t work out, or celebrate the birth of a new child, or gush over their latest movie, as if we are close friends and not merely the odd pair of stalker and celebrity.  We are so good at bad relationships.

It seems to be either a desire to KNOW or a desire to be KNOWN.  That’s Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, YouTube, blogs, websites, etc.  It’s Andy Warhol’s prophecy– 15 minutes of fame.  But it seems our fifteen minutes are always ending and restarting.  We have to grab their attention again and again, or else we will be forgotten.  If no one is reading about our lives, is our life worth living?

Celebrity is a disease that has infected the human race from the beginning of our story.  The first man and woman in the garden ate from a pomegranate (or banana?) so that they might KNOW as God knows and be KNOWN as gods.  Ancient Israelites had a deep desire to be like everyone else, crying out to Samuel: “Now appoint a king for us to judge us like all the nations!”  They wanted to be KNOWN as a powerful nation and to KNOW their king, see him walk through the streets.  Their God as King was too abstract a concept.

All throughout history, we have had our celebrities.  Kings and Queens.  Writers and Artists.  Musicians and Athletes.  Sometimes they have done work that is worthy of attention, often not.  Before Kim Kardashian we had Paris Hilton.  Before Paris Hilton we had Pamela Anderson.  Before Pamela Anderson we had Twiggy.  Before Twiggy we had Elizabeth Taylor.  And so on and so forth, going back who knows how far?

Celebrity is a disease that afflicts and perverts two natural dispositions in the human– just as gangrene eats away a body part or cancer infects an organ, Celebrity invades and turns two of our deepest, God-formed desires: the desire to be KNOWN and the desire to KNOW.  Nothing is wrong with wanting to know another person– but when our knowledge becomes a never-ending pursuit or the person is as unknowable as a stone idol, it is wrong.  Nothing is wrong with wanting to be known– but wanting to be known as a hero, a visionary, a model, it is the pursuit to be God.  Nothing is wrong with being a hero, visionary, model– but when such a desire rules over all other aspects of your life, then it is wrong.

I must constantly remind myself that it is okay if I do not become known as the greatest writer of my time, the guy with the interesting blog, the wonderful musician, the life-changing minister– though I might become any of those people.  Reputation is not what matters, it is character.  “‘If I take care of my character, my reputation will take care of itself,” echoes the voice of DL Moody.  It is fine to become an important person, but not to purse that as an end-all goal.  It is fine to be a celebrity, but what are you a celebrity for?  A celebrity for being a celebrity?  Or for changing the world?  Helping others?  Living the gospel life?  Creating beautiful art?  Living faithfully?

Celebrity- “the state of being well known” – is a state that will never last.  Both in terms of history– time will leave you unknown– and media — there’s always a new face– but also in terms of God’s glory.   As Isaiah wrote:

Indeed, you will be ashamed of the sacred trees you desired,  and you will be embarrassed because of the gardens you have chosen. 
For you will become like an oak whose leaves are withered, and like a garden without water. 
The strong one will become tinder, and his work a spark; both will burn together,  with no one to quench the flames. (Isaiah 1:29-31)

All will burn.  But those who place themselves as kindling for God’s glory will burn with delight, giving all they have that he may be “well known.”  Our preoccupation with celebrity is misdirected love for God, the greatest “celebrity” of all existence.  In a camp fire, there are the sparks that float and fly for a second or two then vanish in the darkness– and then there are the coals, grounded and glowing with the glory of mysterious fire.

 May you be a coal, not a spark, and be the light of God in this dark world.

May you be surrendered kindling, that God may be known throughout all of Creation.

May you Know and Be Known.

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3 comments

  • Wow! That is well-said. We were just reading 1 Thessalonians this morning, and studying God’s will for us to be sanctified. That just dovetails with your thoughts here.
    Thanks for the blessing:
    May you be a coal, not a spark, and be the light of God in this dark world.

    May you be surrendered kindling, that God may be known throughout all of Creation.

    May you Know and Be Known.

  • You nailed it, Evan. Celebrity and self-centeredness are the main characteristics of our culture right now- and forever in the past- it’s called sin. I’ve been way less on fb lately- are those real relationships? Is it good use of my time? not really. I love 1 Thes 4:11 – “that you also aspire to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands.” Working on it.

  • Thank you both for sharing– I’m glad to know that we’re not alone here, but joining a tradition of seeing the brokenness in our culture. The hard part is being a part of the culture and being holy, being “in but not of the world”…

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