Celebritism: “The Celebrity, You Will Always Have In Your Midst” – Part 1

Every so often I think about the idea of celebrity and what it does to us, to society and to the individual him/herself. Being a pastor, this eventually brings me to the idea of the “Christian celebrity”. Initially, I think the term is ridiculous but by the end of the thought, I find it somewhat normal, unavoidable, maybe even necessary.

In light of this year’s Mark Driscoll drama, last year’s Rob Bell hoopla and the countless others that have and will happened, we need to put “celebritism” in its place. This series of posts will hope to offer a perspective on that.

For the purpose of these posts, I am simply defining “celebrity” as a famous person; one that has recognition.

It happens on every level. At the summer camp I went to, I remember hearing someone saying, “John is like the ‘camp celebrity’ here”. Until then, I didn’t know we could simply create one. Though I never formally inquired, I figured there was paperwork involved and the signing of petitions, applications and a celebrity ordination council of some sort. Turns out, when enough people think it and say it and it affects social behavior, you become one.

Susan and I saw Jimmy Fallon walking through the Theater District in NYC and while neither of us are fans of his (Fever Pitch sucked!), it’s not every day you see a celebrity and we probably talked about it for a few minutes and told people when we got home that we saw Jimmy Fallon and muttered ‘hey’. “No, we don’t think he heard us.”

I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I got excited about seeing certain people. You would probably be lying too. Maybe you can’t think of anyone in your “bored moment of life” right now but if you have ever been out in public and someone yells, “(insert name of prominence) is here!” Everyone, and I bet you included, everyone gets a bit excited and the dynamics of that place change.

Almost two years ago, a few friends and I threw ourselves on the hood of the vehicle carrying Tom Wright as a reenactment of those numerous pictures of teen-age girls chasing after the Beatles, “OMG It’s the Bishop! (sorry guys, I know I swore I wouldn’t mention that but …). Ok, maybe we didn’t do that and I’ll only speak for myself,but I was definitely excited to see him. I tend to get more excited about people who have influenced/informed my thinking. I have numerous examples.

Among the problems with “celebritism” is that it takes on a life of its own. Some are treated as “gods”. Some start thinking they are. Attention changes us. Imagine if suddenly everyone you walked past recognized you and wanted to strike up a conversation with you. Or if they ran up to you in “shock and awe and tears” and wrapped their limbs around you and screamed in your ears. It would change you.

Many like to say that they are against the idea of celebrity. They may say it’s ridiculous and unnecessary and talk about how awful our culture is. Some think that eventually they will go away. They won’t. And while there are many aspects of “celebritism” that are ridiculousness or disturbing, there are other aspects that simply point to the human experience – some humans are more well known than others. This is why the celerbity won’t go away.

There will always be famous people among us. Even in ancient times, there were celebrities. They are among the names that are talked about today. Moses, King David, Cleopatra, Confucius, Jesus to name a few. Prophet, warrior, royalty, teachers, and the second person of the Trinity have had their names celebrated in their lifetimes and remembered long after.

It’s not a recent phenomenon. Paparazzi (and tabloid culture, TMZ) is a more recent phenomena in human history but famous people, well again that’s normal. We will always have celebrities, now what?

Next we tackle our response to “celebritism” in society, in our church, and in our hearts.
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  1. Yeah, I’d probably throw myself on NT Wright’s hood if I saw him in a parking lot. Heck, if I saw him driving by I’d probably still throw myself at him… Last rights by NT Wright? Awesome!
    But seriously, we do all look up to someone, and that can be both good and bad. The tricky part is figuring out when you’ve moved from looking to someone for wisdom and guidance and when that person becomes sort of like a mini-deity.

  2. You swore on the grave of your ancestors that you would never mention that! :)

    I am more a fan of cele-Britism = the celebration of all things British. Thus, we are in our rights to jump on N.T. Wright’s car.

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