Sunday, May 8, 2016


 About celebrity: I think we celebrate the wrong things.

In the last few weeks months, we’ve read obituaries of people with famous names; famous for being famous, in some cases. The ones I don’t know about are mostly stars of some pop culture specialty: contemporary music, artists who have "thrown away the rules" of some art form or entertainment skill. Usually they receive kudos for "changing the way we hear/see/think about music, or painting or writing or ourselves. We worship at feet of clay, perhaps.

In the city where we lived for many years, there is a museum of art donated perhaps thirty years ago by a very wealthy individual. The collection included paintings, photographs, sculpture, furniture and a lot of other things, some quite ordinary in shape or purpose but unusual in execution or color or material. Almost all were by artists whose names were recognizable, even if the pieces on display were not among those usually associated with the name. They seemed to me to be examples of work nobody else wanted. At about the same time, another donor had given great stone and metal sculptures to be placed on public land. You may well have seen some of the things I mean: things that look at first glance as if they had fallen off the back of a truck and been abandoned. Some call them "art."

We tend to venerate the creators of "pop culture" and give them status beyond their raising, as they say in the south. Someone composes a song that catches the air and flies, and suddenly the lyricist or composer is elevated to someone we all are now supposed to admire. I don’t mean people who use their position to work for the greater good, for society and for some specific part of society. Those people make a difference that is often lasting and worthwhile. They succeed and they give back, going far beyond brightening someone’s day with a song. Pop Culture doesn’t go beyond that very often.

I’m being curmudgeonly, perhaps, showing my advanced age if you will. Still, I think that celebrating the lives of people we know only from some rhythm or acoustic assault on our brains is far too manipulative. Take the current trend of putting a truck-load of flowers at some public place by people who have never met the person being honored. Here is a phenomenon in which strangers metaphorically don sack cloth and ashes, in honor of a stranger with a famous name (and often an unhealthy lifestyle).

There are a few reasons, it seems to me, why we make heros out of entertainers and glorify them with dispensations even when they commit public follies. The first is that their public relations flacks can manipulate us so easily, removing the curse and stain some of these people bring on themselves. Another reason might be that the people who should receive the glamor clamor don’t give us anything to admire, professionally or personally. They simply do what the do, do it well, and go on to the next thing. Such adulation should not be given lightly.

For those whose claim to fame is fame, rather than some lasting, measurable contribution, often accompanied by shouting, foot stomping, screaming and swooning fans, there is the risk that they may take us along on their ride, ending in "sound and fury, signifying nothing."

One of them might even grow up to be president.

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