Photo by Adalia Botha
The Balance of Love and Celebrity Worship
A Passage from my new work
"The Subtle Art of Suffering in the Balance of Love."
When America began producing television dinners and one hour prime time specials celebrities became a regular fixture in homes and began raising our children. It's sad but many of us feel closer and more fond of our favorite celebrities from childhood than our direct relations. My first experience with celebrity worship was when Vanessa Williams began wondering what was wrong with us and singing about Disney princesses. I had a massive crush on her until one of my relatives told me she was black. It was the eighties in Minnesota and I was suddenly amused that I was in love with a beautiful black woman, which still seemed a bit taboo for a small white boy. The fascination was no more than a song on the radio now and then or a photo in a magazine. It's difficult not to be enamored when a familiar face or voice follows us wherever we go. For young men and women it's especially confusing when they hit adolescence. Our first ideas of love are strangers, following us from room to room on the television and peaking out over newsstands and magazine racks. These memories follow us into adulthood and remind us of first love, sending a small jolt of electricity to our brains when we catch a passing glance on the side of a bus or billboard. We are constantly falling in love with the popular girl or boy in grade school, forever passing them in the hallways between classes. This is the proper way to worship celebrities. We have to become content with receiving nothing but the best part of romance, love at first sight.
To me, becoming an author is a small drink of poison. On one hand my ideas are circulated around the globe and disseminated into the population. On the other I lose my anonymity and become the beast in the gilded cage. The balance of celebrity can be heartbreaking for those who don't enjoy it. I would dread not being able to go into the gas station and chat up the attendant without it being a big deal. It's these small interactions that make us feel human and the difference tends to be measured in a boost to the ego and an air of guardedness and superiority. Celebrities cannot be friendly like that, lest they be stalked like a fox on the hunt. The perks of being famous are merely material if you don't have anything worth saying, save a stage to display your skill, your gifts or your art form. Why buy an expensive vase from a potter when you can throw one on a wheel yourself? The effort is worthwhile and creates value in your mind. With that being said, where is the fulcrum that shifts the balance from “I made this and I am proud” to “you should see this and admire my skill?” The value becomes the effort placed into the skill that takes a novice sculptor and turns him into a master. The value is always pain, time and shortcoming. Very few celebrities are born famous and remain that way. Little men and women must still earn their stripes and the difference of pain is their puberty on display in movie theaters. The hurt of celebrities is their highest commodity and even that which they inflict has value. I said once before that if the universe had a currency it would be suffering. A thimble of popular agony is sold at an exorbitant price.
Just as the wicked queen gazed at herself in the magic mirror, no one is as judgmental as a beautiful person who is looking at themselves. Their frustration and scrutiny with their appearance is what sustains us on their famous faces. A quick, contemptuous, painful look at themselves in passing could create the small ray of hope we see when we trudge by their posters on the street corner. They spend time and effort sculpting their bodies and preening their appearance to allow us to indulge in the fruits which they often eat but seldom enjoy. Every calorie is counted, each repetition of a dumbbell is measured, little bits of discipline, regret and irritation are the morsels we are fed out of popcorn buckets in movie theaters. We are a culture obsessed with the hurt of others as we gather around it like moths to a flame, so fearful to ever feel our own. Celebrities live in a state of constant annoyance. They are frustrated with fans, their employees, other famous people and hospitality workers. Nothing ever seems to satisfy them as the spoils of life make living an arduous task. The pleasure of satisfaction gives way to a yearning and impatience for something more. It is just a shame that nothing covers the expense of fleeting youth.
For the remainder of the wallflowers in the general population, celebrity seems magical. It casts spells of enchantments on fans and becomes the fairy godmother, granting prestige and prominence wherever that person wanders. Eventually that magic becomes manipulation, however, when the subtle flow of nature turns to desire and the grasping begins. The objective becomes more power, more independence or more finances when the goals should actually be more beauty, more creation and more love. Instead of drinking from the goblet of life and receiving boundless wisdom in the suffering they attain endless grasping for the ultimate and receiving nothing but false truths and empty promises. Just as Adam understood when he and Eve ate the apple, we cannot have ultimate pleasure without ultimate pain. The balance is important and the overindulgence of celebrity typically results in a series of calculated criticisms that famous individuals stab themselves with so that fans
might feel the warmth of their tears. These wounds can often be critical, especially if an actor is noteworthy, the pain and fear expounded on the world stage adored for weeks on screens in every country. Their insecurity, doubt and anger in harsh criticisms refreshes the outer coats of paint when the original shine of their torment fades.
The life of a civilian seems painful and unfulfilling. The generous hurt of the artist fills the void. We may become obsessed with their catalogs, their movements, their songs or their poetry. That specific brand of suffering might seem to be intoxicating pheromones, as though we have watched this person for countless lifetimes. In their dramas we view them live multiple lives. They play both heroes and villains who fight their adversaries across space and time, sometimes even silently in the background while we are vacuuming the carpet. We might not see them but they are always there and this constant knowing comfort can become like a drug. You can become addicted.
When a person is so hurt and downtrodden in life that they seem to constantly be surrounded by blood or mud, their own personal grasping begins. The celebrity seems like a beacon of hope, a light to cling to in the darkness. Like lady liberty she guides us into the new world, a land of opportunity where everything is possible. However, the mirage of celebrity is an oasis in the desert of society that disappears as soon as we find it, revealing an ordinary human, just as humble, insecure and awkward as we are. In life we are often sold an image, a version of reality that comforts and stabilizes us. In this way reputations and hearsay about famous individuals are a security blanket that we cling to. Fame is an archetype, a standard and something we can all aspire to. The famous are doomed to be flawless in a world that only wants to tear them down to become them itself. Unable to tell fans how they personally feel without fear of political repercussion, they forgo the luxury of being themselves for the opportunity to create art on a massive level. In this way they become points of reference, guides and shining celestial objects in the ocean of nothing that connects everything. To be caught in their gravity for a short time is a blessing but to remain there could pull us into their orbit and set us aflame. Just a glance from a distance is all we can handle. It's nothing but love at first sight. Anything more would burn out our eyes in the sustained sight of their painful brilliance.
- Sunday May 21, 2023 -