Celebrity: More Thoughts

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March 10, 2013 by lucieromarin

I did wonder, briefly, if writing about celebrity was of any practical use. I decided, though, that it was, because even if issues such as bullying, vocation, or chastity have been more immediately wounding, understanding a related subject can be helpful, too. Understanding its place in one’s subculture can, if nothing else, arm one (‘one’! That sounds so posh. But ‘you’ sounds as though I’m not including myself in the idea) against bullying, against being too influenced by marketing, against wasting time. It also equips us to understand a little better those situations in which a revered orthodox celebrity does an about-face, and is suddenly unable to obey the Pope (since, he’s, like, an anti-Pope) or the local Bishop, or the ninth commandment.

So, knowing that it’s not always easy – or right – to categorise people, and that the distinction between greatness, renown, fame, popularity, authority and celebrity can be blurred at times, I’ve created a defintion of celebrity for myself, which is this: a man is a celebrity when he receives an adulation disproportionate to his achievement and an obedience disproportionate to his authority.

I’m sure this definition leaves something out, but I’ll defend it on these grounds: if I write ‘celebrity priest,’ no one thinks of the Pope. He hasn’t marketed his way to top; we don’t obey him more than his state in life warrants. Likewise, if I write ‘celebrity apologist,’ no one thinks of St Thomas Aquinas, and if I write ‘celebrity housewife’ no one thinks of Our Lady. (In fact, if you’re like me, then putting Our Lady in the same sentence as ‘celebrity’ makes you feel a little squeamish.) In other words, when I write ‘celebrity-anything’ – you know exactly what I mean.

Well, I’m not advocating a policy of tall-poppy syndrome; we can’t refuse to praise other people’s legitimate achievements or refuse to promote efforts that might do someone real good; there’s nothing holy or healthy about attacking everyone mildly famous, looking for their faults, or bad-mouthing their works – in fact, that kind of behaviour is basically just envy tricked up as piety, and it’s evil. What I am suggesting, however, is that prudence must go both ways. We’re not supposed to be idolators – and, while it might be a little extreme to talk about celebrity culture as a form of idolatry, we do have to ask ourselves if a culture in which people want to be well-known, a culture in which people believe – with the best of intentions – that fame is a sure sign that one has been a servant of God, is getting this attitude from God, or from the celebrity culture of the world.

So, having made this pronouncment, I should follow it up by asking what actual use it is. I’ll suggest this: if you’re feeling like you’ve wasted your life, you can ask yourself how much of that sense of waste comes from being trained to believe that success in the service of God is measured by how many books one has sold and how many speeches one has given. If you can hear fanfare for what it is, you’ll never waste your time chasing it, and that means great peace of heart; no feeling like you have to shake the right hands, aspire to b-grade gigs on Catholic television, name-drop at fundraising dinners, and so on. Not only will you be spared the trouble of chasing celebrity, you’ll be able to relate better to those who possess it. You can still read all their books or listen to their talks and enjoy everthing good about them, but you never have to wonder if you’re a bad Catholic if you don’t. And you can also spare yourself the genuine and compassion-deserving grief that people experience when the celebrities in whom they’ve invested trust, time and money suddenly go crazy and produce illegitimate children or churches of their own.

And this is a serious point. Okay, the crazy people are grown men, and accountable for their own sins etc etc. However, it’s only fair to point something out, which is that if you feed a man a drug, you shouldn’t be suprised if he ends up an addict and starts trashing his own suppliers. Think about it. Say you’re a convert. Within weeks of your entrance into the Church, lay Catholics everyone are hanging on your every word, setting up speaking tours, demanding essays and talks and books, and generally treating you like the best thing ever…what’s that going to do to your understanding of yourself, both as a Catholic and as an authority on matters theological? This kind of treatment has got to be a bit of a buzz. Say you’re a priest; you’ve spent years building up a following of thousands based on your amazing talks about faith – including the virtue of obedience – and then you have a run-in with your bishop and find yourself unable to submit to his authority. What was it, or who was it, that taught you that you knew everything? (And what must it be like for any man to be surrounded by adoring women?) Don’t tell me that having people semi-venerate you isn’t a bit a of high; it must be really, really hard to kick that habit. I’m not saying, “Oh, diddums, poor celebrity, unable to kick the habit,” – but a habit is exactly what it is. Think of secular celebrities who pull crazy stunts when their popularity is threatened. Well, we have to understand that Catholic celebrities are on the same drug.

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