Celebrity Workship, by Hal O’Leary
From the time I was a young lad of eleven or twelve, I have always wondered about the intense fascination certain people show for anyone who, by whatever means, has gained a certain amount of fame or notoriety. Of course, it may be interesting to read about them and what it was that brought them to a celebrity status, but to sacrifice one’s precious time and effort simply to see or be in the presence of whoever it might be seems foolish to me. To see or hear an artist perform, or to hear a knowledgeable individual speak is one thing, but to scramble in an effort to touch them or to obtain an autograph, is quite another. Indeed, I strongly suspect that in many cases, such behavior may have been the only reason for the idolater’s presence. It then raises this question. Why? The only answer I can imagine might be that it affords one an opportunity to boast of having done so. But is this an achievement that should elicit pride? For many, it does indeed, but the tragedy is that in many cases, such an achievement becomes that person’s only source of pride. Their own lives are spent vicariously in the shadow of others accomplishments.
As that young lad of eleven or twelve, my father would insist on dragging me to any event that involved the presence of anyone, but most particularly politicians, who happened to have a modicum of notoriety. Was he a politician? No. With a six grade education, it was unlikely that my father could ever have pitched his hat in the ring for even the most menial of offices. He was what was known then as a ‘ward healer’. On the day of the election, I was expected to do my part by helping to fill two ounce medicine bottles with the cheapest whisky available. These would then be used to buy the votes of any who might have thirst greater than their patriotic duty to vote. I must say, however, that his political fervor did pay off in the end. My father was, for his ward healing efforts, given the post of county road Commissioner. As a Democrat, the job was shared with his Republican counterpart depending on who was elected Governor that particular year. The point is that this experience has served to inure me against the folly of celebrity worship.
In this age of mass media, the situation has gotten much worse simply because there are so many more idols to worship. They are found not only in fields like politics, sports, and entertainment, which provide an unlimited number of stars to idolize; we also find them in the vast field of crime. Yes, I said crime. I immediately think back to Jessie James and Billy-the Kid, and later, John Dillinger and Bonnie and Clyde. Even more recently, the mafia has generated celebrity worship among those who would be criminals but for a lack of courage. These people became heroes whose adventures were followed daily with fervor by people who subconsciously wished to emulate them. It was a vicarious existence that allowed them to share in the excitement and adventure that they themselves could never find the will to engender. In this respect, of course, the dangers to society of idol worship become evident, but I am more concerned by the drastic effect such behavior has on the psyche of those who fall victim to its deceptive lure.
I am convinced that every person is born with a propensity to be happy. While I do acknowledge masochism as an illness, it occurs post natal, the result, I believe, of self-denial… So, it becomes a question not of whether to be happy but of how to be happy. I am further convinced that each person is born unique with differing interests and talents, and that true happiness is derived from the recognition and development of those very assets. Without such recognition, we become confused as to who and what we are or were meant to be. This failure to know ourselves can often lead to the self-denial I spoke of in which we reject our intrinsic desires for those of a society or of our peers whose favor we curry. Think of all the people you know who have this problem to one degree or another. In examining their lives, you might do well to examine your own for comparison. How much of what you think you want is determined not by you but by others? There is simply no way you can achieve the happiness you deserve without the fulfillment that comes of simply becoming the predetermined but unfortunately ignored person you were meant to be.
I have a granddaughter whom I love and of whom I am now most proud. This however was not always the case. At fifteen, this beautiful child dropped out of high school to become what was known then as a ‘dead head’ or a groupie for the Greatful Dead rock band. And dead head was a most applicable designation. When asked why she chose such a ridiculous life, she would simply reply, “its fun”. This fun she equated with happiness, and when I would try to explain the difference, my efforts would fall on deaf ears. I tell this story only to stress the extreme danger of idol or celebrity worship. As for my current pride, I must explain that six or so years later, after becoming an unwed mother, this beautiful child obtained her GED, graduated from the University of Massachusetts summa com laude and Dickenson Law school to become a public defender, by choice.
As I believe her determination to become one who lives in the shadow of celebrities was nothing short of a form of self-denial, it also became a denial of any hope for the gratification that comes of realizing the unique capacity one has for the fulfillment of those intrinsic desires and interests we bring with us at birth. With such denial, we become James Thurber’s Walter Mitty whose only happiness comes from living vicariously the adventures of characters found only in his imagination. In our imaginations and minds, celebrities become magnified, when in reality they are often much less than we, even with our lack of identity, perceive ourselves to be. As the gossip columnists often show us, the celebrities we rush to see are not always the ones we should emulate. Along with all the products they sell us with their endorsements, they also sell a way of life that can be most destructive. We owe it to ourselves to be ourselves.