I believe in the power of celebrity pop culture to create for us a greater sense of community, even to provide a virtual tour, if you will, of self-actualization taking place in our society. I know that sounds completely unliterary, especially in the aftermath of Paris Hilton’s recent prison meltdown and refusal to finish out her sentence for violating probation on a drunk driving charge. But I do believe that when the mistakes of the rich and famous become part of the ongoing public dialogue over morality, we transform them into a roadmap that leads to atonement. Deep down, we are all estranged from one another by our personal demons. When we witness the spiritual and psychological struggles of celebrities, we realize how completely fragile and human we all are. The result is forgiveness, the building of bridges, and the development of the self.
I am a secretary at a mid-sized university in East Tennessee, and some of the deepest conversations I have had with coworkers have revolved around the tragic, personal lives of people we’ve never met but who we feel we know – celebrities. The prevalence of television and the Internet has brought these people and their problems into our lives whether we like it or not. And just like our own family members, we must deal with them. When we talk about them, it’s as if they are directly related to us, like our own cousin Tommy who couldn’t beat that cocaine habit, or our sister Debby who got pregnant at the age of 15.
When I was a kid, before cable television and so much media madness, celebrities were still somewhat pure and separate from the rest of us, like gods. I remember day-dreaming that someone just like Erik Estrada on “Chips”, or Henry Winkler on “Happy Days” would sweep me away to live happily ever-after. But, you know, that never happened to me, and the longer I live, the more I realize that there is the definite possibility that it never will.
Celebrities who become victims of their own success and a ravenous media culture force us to take time to look inside ourselves and consider who we are as individuals, what we value, and what we are becoming as a society. They help us realize anew that the human heart is extremely vulnerable and in need of shelter and the fact that we oftentimes fail to be that shelter for each other.
Maybe needing our celebrities to be perfect and god-like is the tragic flaw that all of us have. Perhaps as we let go of that need to idolize them, we will finally become them (hence the dawn of You-Tube?). Yes. We will become our own gods, save our own society and secure our children’s future ourselves.
I believe that we can all act in a way that is larger than life, to build better communities, to love each other, and to, ultimately, forgive.
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