There are many things in pop-culture that often leave me confused, but I tend to ignore it. After all, I’m not someone who really keeps up with those aspects of American culture. I don’t generally read celebrity gossip, who’s dating or who’s breaking up, what a musicians favorite food it, and so on. When I see someone has his own reality show I tend to think, “Well that person must be famous for something.” So when I saw the Kardashians had a reality show, I figured that one of the daughters or someone did something that displayed talent. Turns out, the Kardashians are simply famous for being famous; they’ve done nothing, except work as an OJ Simpson defense lawyer. The most famous one, Kim, is famous for a sex tape and for being friends with someone who is famous (who was likewise famous for being friends with people who were famous). In other words, the Kardashians didn’t save a Haitian village, raise money to help the poor, or drop a few coins in the Salvation Army pot around Christmas time in order to garnish this fame; they simply existed.
There’s nothing wrong with being famous. Some people come into fame by accident and not searching for it. But often we find people seeking fame. They want to be famous and not always for the wealth that comes with it or invites to exclusive parties. They want to be famous because it means they’ll be known. To be famous plays to the fountain of all human sin, it plays to our pride. But like any sin, while it might bring pleasure in the moment, such pleasure is temporary and will soon subside and fade away.
For instance, ask anyone under the age of 15 about Macaulay Culkin or Kurt Cobain. While some astute youth might know who they are, most of them wouldn’t recognize the names or know what each one is famous for. But if you ask them about Justin Beiber or Paris Hilton, they’ll know exactly who you’re talking about and can say quite a bit about them. Most kids and adults can name the celebrities of their time and culture without hesitation. Generally, those celebrities are famous for being able to play a sport very well, perform music very well, or act very well. In American culture, some people are famous for existing very well.
How many teenagers can recount the lives of Jason Durham or Michael Monsoor? Most will never recognize the names, much less what they did. Both of these men earned the Congressional Medal of Honor for diving on grenades to save people in their squads. They both did this in Iraq (they are 2 of 4 winners, all of whom died for their actions of sacrifice). These men epitomize the idea of self-sacrifice – to die so that someone else might live – yet are completely unknown. How many know Vernon Burger who with his wife has established orphanages in Sudan? He didn’t just go on a telethon to raise money for Darfur; he went there and established orphanages for the people there, putting money into action. There are many more people who had given up their lives in the service of others, either by dying or by sacrificing their dreams and desires in order to serve other people.
Yet, we don’t make these people famous. We don’t lift up the founders of orphanages or the champions of the homeless on pedestals. Our role models aren’t those who sacrifice themselves for others, but those who sacrifice others for themselves. When we model ourselves after selfish people, we become selfish and lose our identity.
Look to the life of Christ. If anyone had a reason to proclaim celebrity and make himself famous it would be Jesus of Nazareth. Here he was, God in the flesh, performing miracles, healing the sick, and teaching lessons that baffled the most educated members of society. Yet, for all intents and purposes, Christ was the anti-celebrity and relatively unknown even within His own territory. In fact, as he became more known the leaders conspired to kill him; it was Christ’s growing celebrity that got him killed. But in all of it, he never sought out celebrity. He never said, “Check out what I can do” and then requested an invitation to a VIP event. Rather, he acted humbly in all that he did and that’s the key.
We look to the life of Christ and the lives that model his own and see that there is no celebrity to be found in leading such a life. The reason is that such a life requires humility. The desire for celebrity, however, is built upon pride, which is the antithesis of humility. As we become more prideful we become more lost. Thus, the greater our desire for celebrity is the greater our pride is, and the greater our pride is the emptier we feel. Is it any wonder that those who are famous for being famous and seek to become even more famous often meltdown? Brittany Spears, Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, and whoever will continue to face meltdowns and turn to drugs because ultimately they are empty. They have a giant gap in their lives that stems from not having an eternal purpose, rather their purpose is for themselves, which is temporal and subject to rapid change.
Look at those whose lives are dedicated to God. They suffer no emptiness and don’t try to one-up each other so that they can be known. Rather, their desire is that God gain all the glory. The celebrities of the early Christian church were those who died for their faith. Just below them were those who served the poor and undesirable. Coming in third were those who were skilled both in rhetoric and knowledge to defend the Christian faith. If someone happened along all three, then that person was generally considered a saint. But their celebrity didn’t get them into special functions or make them money. Instead, for many, their celebrity came after their death for the manner in which they had died. For others, their celebrity caused their death. In all of this, however, people were told to use such martyr’s as role models because it would help them lead a Godly life.
The end goal for a Christian martyr wasn’t to be lifted up on a pedestal and worshiped as a living god. Their entire goal was to live a life that emulated Christ’s life. Though they became famous they did not seek out fame. All of this requires humility and humility goes against our desire for pride. But the irony is that in seeking pleasure we don’t find happiness. This is why those who are famous because they sought fame are rarely happy or content with their lives. They always have to find a way to gain more followers. They always have to up the ante in their lifestyles in order to be on the ‘cutting edge’ of popularity.
The followers of such people are more unfortunate because they are empty shells of personalities. They often lead vapid lives that are consumed with the cult of celebrity, wanting to know what so-and-so is wearing and what the latest fashions are so that they too may be popular. They emulate the lives of these empty celebrities and in the process empty their own souls. Is it any wonder that anorexia and bulimia are problems in society? Both are indicative of pride problems, not self-appreciation problems. The only reason they don’t appreciate their bodies is because pride drives them to look like someone else. Is it any wonder that STD’s are a major concern among America’s youth or that kids are experiencing sex at younger ages? Is it any wonder that we’re in the middle of one of the greatest moral crises since the days of Rome? A man who lives for himself lives for no one else, which is hardly a foundation for morality. This cult of celebrity has helped to erode morals, which in turn has eroded society. Whereas children used to be brought up to strive for a virtuous life and to be moral, now children are told to do what makes them happy, so long as it doesn’t hurt anyone. Such a hedonistic morality leads to a jejune life.
It used to be that people would ask the big questions, such as “Why am I here,” or “where am I going,” or “what am I supposed to do while I’m here,” but anymore the big questions are never asked and are often criticized. Who needs to know why you’re here when Hollister is having a sale? Who needs to know where you’re going when Cindy just got a better pair of shoes than you, indicating that your celebrity status is at risk? It seems that the big questions could be answered by our celebrity society in the following way:
Why am I here? For myself.
Where am I going? Wherever I choose.
What am I supposed to do while I’m here? Whatever pleases me.
If you press anyone on these questions and get them to seriously consider them, the conversation immediately becomes uncomfortable. The reason is that if we’re not prepared, these questions will expose us and reveal us as empty. We cannot skirt around these questions as their answers dictate how we live our lives (or should dictate how we live our lives). To someone who obsesses over celebrities he will lack any answer to the big questions. He will refuse to ponder them because by recognizing that there are huge issues out in this world, he will realize that his obsession with fashion and celebrity is miniscule in importance and superficial.
The Christian, however, can answer these big questions with relative ease and if he takes the answers to heart his life will be the good life. A Christian looks at those questions in the following way:
Why am I here? For Christ.
Where am I going? To Christ.
What am I supposed to do while I’m here? Live like Christ.
Notice how for the Christian the answer is focused on the eternal. For those who buy into the cult of celebrity, the answer is focused on the temporal, but that which is temporal has not always existed and will cease to exist at some point. That which is eternal has always existed and will always exist, offering an absolute foundation to built our lives upon. For Christians we still seek to conform to someone else, but it is in this conformity that we become better individuals. We seek to lose ourselves to Christ in the hopes of being found. For those who obsess over being famous, they seek to find themselves in themselves, but end up being lost.
As Christians we must abandon our obsession with celebrity. Even in Christian culture we tend to lift up our musicians and Christian actors over our missionaries or those who lead simplistic lives. This is why there’s clamor and turmoil over setting up the soloist schedule and why everyone wants to be a soloist or in the choir, but a great struggle to find volunteers for the homeless ministry. Everyone wants to be in the praise band, but no one wants to clean the toilets. Everyone wants to be on stage, but no one wants to go to the alleys and help those in dire need. Christians must not let the cult of celebrity infect the church. Rather, we should continue to model ourselves after Christ and after those who served and humbled themselves like he did. It is only in losing ourselves in Christ that we become someone worthy of fame, but even then we will not seek it out or fret when fame does not find us. What ultimately matters isn’t whether or not many people know you, but whether or not God knows you. No amount of fame can equal being known by God and being conformed to his image.