Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Michael Jackson, Billy Mays, and the Cult of Celebrity

I think the Michael Jackson circus (aptly now that Ringling Brothers is occupying the Staples Center at the same time... how ironic) is evident proof that we as a culture are so fascinated by our celebrities and identify ourselves with them in such an unhealthy way. I was struck at the absolute lunacy people were exhibiting when they were being interviewed at Neverland. Many of them came just to get on television (another great product of reality TV, people who are famous simply because they are on TV - Speidi, this means you too), or to deal with their phantom grief over someone they never met, never knew, and only seen through binoculars.

The ancient world used to have paid mourners who would wail behind funeral processions, and the grief exhibited by many of the passers-by in LA is about as superficial. This is different from when Elvis died, and even as recent as Princess Diana. People came out by the throngs, but the cult wasn't quite as established as it is now surrounding celebrities.

Which brings me to Billy Mays, whose passing is probably indicative that Americans love everyday guys. He wasn't a flashy celebrity, and his claim to fame was a beard rivaled only by Chuck Norris. He was loud, he was excitable, and most of his products probably didn't work. But there was an appeal to Billy not there with MJ. Michael commanded attention because of how off the wall he was (Steve Harvey comments here), and his musical genius and talent was only surpassed by how just weird he was!

Our fascination with celebrities and being identified with them simply because they're famous is interesting. What if the church held as tightly to Christ as the throngs in LA have held on so tightly to MJ? What kind of message does it send to the world when tickets to the funeral are going for $20,000 on EBay and our churches are in serious decline. America has its god, and it lives in Hollywood and walks on red carpet. We chose fame over holiness, and excess over self-denial.

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