Celebrities and heroes
To use the words of the late comedian and talk-show host Steve Allen, “The entire American people seem to have gone goofola about celebrities.”
I don’t know if the word ‘goofola’ is in the dictionary, but you know what he means. Our culture is weirdly obsessed with celebrities. Talk about “star-struck!”
Stand in the check-out lines at the grocery store and you will find a vast array of magazines trumpeting the latest tidbit of gossip about the likes of Lady Gaga, Oprah Winfrey or Justin Bieber – the top 3 celebrities named by Forbes magazine.
Publications like People Magazine, Us Weekly and the National Enquirer feed our desire to be in the know. Shows like “Entertainment Tonight” and “Dancing with the Stars” add to our adulation.
Hollywood, of course, is constantly giving birth to new celebrities worthy of our devotion (so they think!) and they market them mercilessly, parading them down the red carpet every year at Oscar time.
So why do we care about celebrities? Why do we need to know about Lindsay Lohan’s personal life, or whom Justin Bieber is dating? What is it that fuels this crazy drive to worship the stars?
Some of it is pure voyeurism: Part of us just likes to know everybody else’s business. We want to know how the “other half” lives.
Some of it is escapism – a diversion so that we don’t have to think about the sorry state of our own lives. Since our lives may seem humdrum, mediocre and even dreary in comparison, we are tempted to live vicariously through them.
We identify with these folks, fantasizing how it would be to live their life.
Beyond that, there seems to be something in our human DNA that needs a leader, an alpha male or female to follow, who can serve as a concrete example of what it means to live the good life.
Our celebrities are generally young, beautiful, healthy, wealthy, happy, so we want to follow them. We hope that some of their perfection, their magic, their good fortune, will rub off on us.
They become larger-than-life role models, and we allow them consciously or unconsciously to shape our perceptions and our values. Millions of people, for example, are taking their cue in life from the likes of Lady Gaga.
According to Facebook, Lady Gaga has more fans – 10 million of them – than any other human being on the face of the earth. Most of her fans are young people; she is shaping the values of a whole generation.
Many celebrities, of course, are genuinely good people. Rock star Bono, who is a self-professed follower of Jesus, has leveraged his fame to work on the problem of AIDS/HIV and the relief of third-world debt.
George Clooney is to be respected for his work speaking out against the continuing genocide in Darfur. Oprah Winfrey has given away millions of dollars to wonderful causes.
But with all our worship of celebrities, we dare not forget the true heroes who inhabit our lives.
It took 9/11 to remind us all of who the true heroes are: They the firefighters and the police officers and the military personnel who everyday put their lives on the line to save others.
Our true heroes are the parents and teachers and youth leaders and coaches who seek to provide a healthy and positive role model for kids. True heroes in our culture are the ones who lovingly serve others in great ways and small, when no one is watching.
As a Christian, true heroes are in my book those who truly follow Jesus in all they do, so that they reflect his character and his ethic of self-sacrificial love.
We have given way too much attention to celebrities and not enough to genuine heroes.
Someone has said, “Every society needs heroes. And every society has them. The reason we don't often see them is because we don't bother to look.”
Let’s look for the genuine heroes in our lives and follow their example, for they are the ones who are modeling the good life as God intended it to be.