Kevin’s Conversations: A Defense of Celebrity
On this blog, we often like to denounce celebrity, especially Christian celebrity, most especially Evangelical celebrity. We are fond to criticize our culture of celebrity worship, particularly within the church.
We take pleasure in pointing out the stupid and wrongful things that Christian celebrities do, especially those that we don’t much like in the first place.
We decry how these celebrities can have such followings when they do such mistaken, if not even sinful, things. We bemoan how many people are being misled and are eating up and putting into practice everything their beloved celebrity says and does.
Some of our thoughts are based on genuine concerns of the dangerous effect celebrity culture can and does have on the church and Christians as individuals. Alternatively, some of our thoughts are based on making ourselves feel superior by pointing out how terrible these celebrities and celebrity-worshippers are. I can admit to both throughout the times I have made reference to celebrity culture issues.
However, is celebrity always wrong? What exactly makes someone a celebrity? How does it become a culture? Is celebrity sometimes unavoidable? And is it possible to have a healthy admiration for a celebrity without the danger of it turning into blind loyalty or worship?
I would imagine that Jesus was a celebrity of sorts during the last three years he spent on this Earth. His name was widely known. He had people following him all over the place. Not a Twitter or Instagram following, but a literal following. People were hanging on his every word and some uprooted their lives to follow after Him or to make the changes He called for. If there was ever a celebrity who was actually worthy of worship, of course, it was Jesus.
Now obviously Jesus walking this earth was a unique situation and so we’re not exactly comparing apples to apples when comparing His celebrity to anybody else. But it does make us pause when eschewing celebrity. Because it isn’t necessarily always all bad.
Celebrity can have good effects when one uses their position of influence to espouse love and truth and justice. Individual celebrities can influence the culture around them to take these virtues more seriously and to put them into action. They can help to mold the culture in a positive fashion. Even many of the celebrities we like to criticize have likely affected their followings in good ways from time to time. Maybe even many times.
If we find someone who we think is worthy to say a good word about for the good they are doing, do we just sit on our hands in order to avoid the possibility of them ever becoming a celebrity? Because what if the person I tell ends up sharing the same good feelings and they turn around and tell somebody else and that person then tells somebody else and so on. In today’s age of technology and social media, these things can sometimes happen in a flash. So is it better to hide the good they are doing to protect them and ourselves from the perils of possible celebrityness? Because, even if the chances of them becoming a celebrity are low, you just never know for sure.
So what do we do about celebrityism? I might be making up words here, but you all know what I mean. On one hand, there are many traps and downfalls and negatives to fame and celebrity culture. On the other hand, celebrityism can be used to result in much good. And on the other hand (I think I’m getting too many hands here, too), in today’s world and culture, celebrity may sometimes be unavoidable, even for someone who is completely not seeking it.
Sometimes the nature of a position is going to bring fame and celebrity. Everybody knows who the Pope is or who the President of the United States is. Other times some level of fame and celebrity is earned by a lifetime of consistent and extraordinary service and work that comes to be known by many others. Names like Mother Teresa and Corrie Ten Boom and J.I. Packer come to mind. (Excuse me while I wipe the brown mark off my nose. 🙂 )
Fame and celebrity come with a lot of pitfalls, but in and of themselves, I don’t think they are inherently wrong. It is a matter of what people do to attain fame and celebrity and how they conduct themselves once they attain it. And within the church, there are certainly things we can do and structures we can put in place to encourage focus to be rightly maintained on our Lord, and not ourselves. But I don’t think the avoidance of celebrity is something that should be administered at all costs. Because sometimes those costs, themselves, may be in the wrong.
We can denounce the wrongs that occur because of and within our celebrity culture. We can challenge ourselves and our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ to keep our focus on Jesus and not on our human superstars. We can work to put measures and systems in place that target bringing glory to God and not to ourselves. And we can resist the temptation to look down upon all things celebrity and speak well of those times when celebrities do good and to encourage the surrounding culture to do likewise. Because, just maybe, it is sometimes God’s will for celebrity to happen.