Please excuse the headline. I lied. Now that I have your attention, however, let’s talk about our so-called star system.
We live in a culture that is obsessed with stardom. People that find themselves designated as stars, regardless of their ability or desires are thrust into an alternate reality. A reality where the unthinkable becomes everyday and the everyday becomes unthinkable: a world where handlers and enablers define truth. Consequences are mitigated with large sums of cash and liberal doses of spin. The image becomes more important than the humanity.
A lucky few humans seem to be able to adapt to this circumstance, and even then we mortals may just be blinded by the light of their stardom. Howard Hughes, one of the richest and most famous men of his era, died looking like a homeless man, toenails uncut for so long that they’d grown back into themselves along with hair that was unwashed and uncut. By most accounts he was mentally deranged for years prior to his demise, yet the iconic machine created by his subordinates rumbled on, untroubled by its leader’s insanity.
Young men and women with extraordinary athletic ability are the most common victims of this insular insanity we call stardom. Many end up their lives in misery and poverty, their physical gifts destroyed by the myth of their own invincibility fed by an inner circle of associates who draw their inspiration from promises of shared wealth and fame. The never-ending sagas of steroids, sleazy sexcapades and substance abuse seemingly do nothing to deter each year’s crop of high draft picks and huge bonus recipients from repeating the mistakes of their predecessors.
The entire hubbub about Mr. Jackson’s demise seems to be based on the assumption that his considerable talents somehow justify his less than considerable lifestyle. Fame counts for more than the pain he inflicted on those around him. Or maybe it’s because many of these fans perceive fame as the antidote to pain. Millions of people sought tickets to attend his last fifteen minutes in the spotlight, not because they admired his talents-his albums in recent years have sold miserably–, but for the opportunity to somehow share a piece of his fame. It’s as if his celebrity-ness could somehow be shared and all their daily struggles with the real world would disappear upon fleeting contact with Michael Jackson’s alternative universe.
Life doesn’t quite work that way. And that’s the point of this essay. Our media induced glorification (and demonization-on the flip side) of performers, politicians and athletes serves as a useful distraction (and profit center) for the corporatist state we live in. Caribou Barbie up in Alaska lights up the news wires with her decision to quit, while environmentalists struggle to make us aware that our very existence as a species is threatened. A known pedophile’s funeral gets major media attention, while health care activists fight unnoticed to promoted legislation that would benefit millions of Americans.
I’m not saying that Ms. Palin’s message (as much as I disagree with what there is of it) or Mr. Jackson’s music should be ignored. It’s just the unreal expectations that people have about fame that need to go away. Turn off your TV and go hug your kid, because that’s the kind of influence that will make everybody’s reality a better one. Read a good book rather than logging on to a gossip website. And get involved in your world, whether it’s at the community level or with global issues. That’s change we should believe in.