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Celebrity meets Reality

05 May
NYC signing September 1,2009 Nintendo Store - NYC

Justin Bieber: Not worthy of idolatry

Today I’m writing about reality TV and the celebrity phenomenon. These are both related concepts in my view, and are both more popular now than they have ever been. I’m not particularly opposed to reality TV shows, I do enjoy some of them, but there are some sub-genres that I detest, particularly the voyeurism and the over-dramatic types.

However, my biggest beef is with the celebrity concept. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all in favour of having role-models, admiring admirable people who can inspire us to do and be better. Today’s celebrities, though, rarely display any admirable qualities. The world (at least the Western world) seems to be absolutely obsessed with the fame, influence, power and wealth associated with stardom. The main criterion for being considered a celebrity seems to be to possess or have done something so unique and noteworthy that it becomes the envy, admiration or pet-peeve of enough people to become a matter of international importance. It has nothing, absolutely nothing to do with personal virtues and qualities, unless these are somehow extraordinary and extravagant.

Of course, most of us have dreamed, some time in our lives, about being famous, and wondered what it would be like. I think that part of the general public’s attraction to shows like “the X factor” or “America’s got talent” lies in their secret dream to be on that stage, receiving that standing ovation, and being admired by millions of avid TV watchers. There seems to be some kind of vicarious experience happening when we watch these shows. They often have a story of rags-to-riches, or nobody-to-celebrity, somehow giving the illusion that these participants’ amazing gifts have suddenly been discovered by the world, and that their life is about to change forever for the better. Obviously that is appealing. I’m sure that some of the pleasure derived from watching these shows also comes from appreciating fresh artistic expression, although much of it seems to be unoriginal. Finally, there is also the large portion of the show that is designed to ridicule and insult those who do not satisfy the judges’ and the crowd’s insatiable thirst for goose-bumpy entertainment.

These shows obviously mix the concepts of celebrity and reality TV. They are based on the premise that regular people like you and I can be plucked up from the crowd, as if by the invisible hand of some whimsical deity, and be endowed with the all-coveted Mantle of Celebrity. I can see the appeal in that, even though I know the whole premise is flawed, because this magical Mantle always fails to confer happiness, and often even prevents it. These young singers, dancers and other performers who receive ephemeral international recognition are mere puppets in the hands of the rich getting richer, and most eventually break under the pressure of the media, the fans and the self-destructive lifestyle offered to them.

What I really don’t understand is the groupies. The Justin Bieber fans who talk, think and dream only of one inaccessible young barely pubescent boy as if he were their boyfriend, those who go to the concerts and scream and faint and tattoo their idol’s full name on their public and private body parts as if nothing else in the world mattered more than a baby-faced, helmet-haired, voice-autotuned adolescent. What goes on in people’s minds that leads them to obsess so much over completely trivial things? I really don’t understand. I think I may have idolised a few people when I was a little boy, but never to that degree, and I certainly don’t idolise anyone today.

Perhaps I’m different. Although I deeply respect people, I don’t tend to respect titles, positions and authority for its own sake, and I have got into trouble for this in the (not-so-distant) past. I feel that people’s character, not their position, should attract respect and admiration. Character is what you do with what you have when you think no one is watching, it’s your integrity, the thread that runs through the tapestry of your life, the foundation of your ultimate destination as a human being. I don’t believe anyone deserves to be admired, especially not me, any more than a person should be hated. You may admire someone’s actions and ideals, and you may equally abhor them, and that is how I try to look at people.

I think this is the only way to fully understand that every living human being has the exact same intrinsic worth, no matter what they do or say.

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