What’s ‘er Name – part two or Celebrity Idols

My mental discography may not hold up forever, but here goes another song lyric: “Why do you build me up (build me up), buttercup baby, just to let me down (let me down), and mess me around.…” – Tom Macaulay & Mike d’Abo, 1968, The Foundations.

What I’m talkin’ (I’ll soon get away from lyric-speak and write in English, but I’m on a roll) about in this piece, is not another bad girlfriend, but antithetical celebrity.

We build up idols only to savor tearing them down; the very definition of antithetical (two aims, in opposition to one another).  How many statues of former idols have been torn down in recent years because we no longer feel comfortable with or like the history they represent?  As energetically as we generate fame, we just as abruptly replace celebrity-idols with new versions

Can you say Megxit from the U.K. to Canada and Megxit2 from Canada to Los Angeles, no less?  From the noble insularity of royalty to the base familiarity of celebrity.  It’s like moving from a castle to a theme park.  Shouldn’t we know their names for their greatness, not for their fame?

When I think of celebrity idols the most obvious reference, for me is the “reality television” series, American Idol.  The mechanism involving the audience to “vote out,” these entertainment wannabe’s, vested the public with the power to vehemently judge strangers, like we’re experts.  “We kicked out the right guy, he can’t sing for anything.”  “We don’t like her; she was such a bitch.”

Idols are objects.  Celebrity-idols are not born, they’re made.  “They have mouths, but do not speak; they have eyes, but do not see; they have ears, but do not hear, nor is there any breath in their mouths” Psalm 135:15-17.

Although our celebrity-idols are human beings, living, breathing, seeing, hearing persons; we regular people who make them, treat them like nothing more than mannequins.  They just look like people.

We behave like we know celebrities because there’s such an overload of information, true or untrue, about them available to us, at the wave of a finger over a screen or a glance at a magazine in the grocery store checkout line.  But even though we know their names, we don’t know them.

Celebrities are well-crafted idols, familiar but unknown to us.  They’re not living, breathing human beings.  They’re a green screen over which someone speaks.  I’m a Weather World watcher (WPSU on PBS).  I’ve seen their behind-the-scenes making of a weather broadcast.   The maps we see on air, are projections, not unlike the Star Trek holodeck.  The forecaster is really standing in front of a blank, green screen.

Another example of the mirage of celebrity is in Advertising, ironically another media-driven concoction.  I used to show a film in my Introduction to Sociology classes about the manipulation of the public mind by Advertising.  It showed the elaborate make-up that is applied to that hot, juicy-looking fast-food burger that we’re enticed to consume.  The milk in cereal commercials is most-often glue because real milk looks blue on camera.  Roasted turkeys/chickens are minimally cooked and inedible, but they are painted brown and shellacked, to a delicious- “looking” shine.  You get the idea.

Just like painted-on abs, the media in all of its forms, tells us what to want.  We want those abs even though they aren’t real.  We want “that” hamburger even though the real ones don’t look like that – in fact, they look downright anemic, compared.  “Why isn’t my taco big like the one on TV?”

“I use the high-end hair conditioner and my hair doesn’t look like Jennifer Lopez’s.”  But what we don’t know is, Jennifer Lopez likely sat in a make-up chair for six hours before being shot by a professional photographer/filmmaker, for several more hours to produce that 30-second commercial, we so admire her in. In real life, she’s still “Jenny from the block.”

We want to be her, until we “learn” something real about her that doesn’t fit the image she projects.  Then, we accuse her of being fake.  This is antithetical.  We like the perfection of fake until some aspect of it is revealed to be painted or glued on.

Personally, I’m not enamored with celebrities.  Is any columnist?  There’s something about the analytics of celebrity that rankles the logic of an essayist.  This doesn’t mean I’m numb to their impact on popular culture.

I appreciate certain actors’ acting finesse in a select few films or television shows.  But I find it annoying when a celebrity actor, about whom I’ve “heard” something disturbing in their personal life, appears in a favorite film.  What used to be entertaining is now muddied, just a little bit.

Tidbits of extraneous personal information about actors is none of my concern.  I don’t care.  Furthermore, I didn’t want to know about their personal business in the first place, but one can’t avoid popups on news-feeds or the checkout-line-media at the store.

Curiosity about celebrity doesn’t just kill the cat, it kills our rationality too.  We get all worked up about nonsense.

Talented actors, musicians, athletes, artists, authors and entertainers make a valuable contribution to a culture.  Is it possible to appreciate the works of these individuals without knowing gossip about their personal lives or cluttering our minds with their opinions?  I prefer to imagine actors in character.  Celebrity fame, for me, gets in the way of their job performance.

I mean, how absurd is it that Gwyneth Paltrow made and marketed a personal body part-scented candle (the scent of HER personal body part), AND IT SOLD OUT!   Come on people.  I now have a bit of a problem watching her performance as Emma, in the Jane Austen film of the same name, with that v-scent loitering in the air!

The “halo-effect,” wherein we think that if a person is good at one thing, is successful at it, maybe acting, then they must be good at everything, say lifestyle-coaching, product-selection, or personal counseling, is utterly daft.  If we’re conned into thinking a celebrity’s knowledge about society is above the average individual, for example, in political, environmental, scientific, or social causes, then we need to do some research into their educational background and the experiential basis of their in-your-face opinions.

Because she is deemed by some to be a good actress, makes me want to buy Gwyneth Paltrow’s v-scented candle?  I think not, mon ami.  You can’t make this stuff up.

“Time makes heroes but dissolves celebrities” (Daniel Boorstin, American historian & educator).  Might the new normal following our time in the throes of pandemic, include some dissolution of a few celebrities, and highlight a few heroes?  Hopefully so.

Those celebrities who’ve attempted to insert themselves publicly into the discourse of the pandemic have been mostly and embarrassingly cast aside, as irrelevant to the discussion.  How they shelter-at-home in their multi-million-dollar mansions, along with their household help, might impress one of their tribe, but just doesn’t hit home with most of us.

Because a real celebrity is typically an oxymoron, maybe the small circle of people who know who we really are, should be the ones to whom we look for advice, appreciation and acceptance.  It shouldn’t be necessary to fabricate who we are with glue and paints, all for the want of being celebrated, famous, wanted, appreciated, or placed on a pedestal to be admired. 

Maybe our handful of “you guys” who know our hearts, and not just our names, will do just fine.

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