The first post I ever wrote for Cracked Virtue was about our relationship to celebrity. It was prompted by all the statues and monuments that the elusive Donna and I saw on a trip to Dublin and other spots in the U.K.: statues that ultimately turn into roosting spots for pigeons to crap on.
Still, I think there’s an innate understanding within all of us that we’re made for something special. Our lives, we seem to sense, are supposed to make a difference.
Andy Warhol is being proved a prophet by is “15 minutes of fame” prediction. I think celebrity and fame are a counterfeit that we tend to pass off as the real answer to this innate sense. I’d even go so far as to suggest there’s a conspiracy (but I won’t venture to name the conspirators) to get us to believe that it’s all about being big, famous, world changers. “Live lives that matter!” And by that we mean lives that get noticed, get a platform, achieve some level of fame or at least make it into Wikipedia. Our North Am culture has seriously invested in this view of life and seems hell bent on pursuing and promoting it.
The elusive Donna and I were at a conference on this same trip to Ireland. One of the main speakers was a guy I find easy to listen to, I really like him, but in one of his talks he took me to a place where I couldn’t decide if I should laugh or if I should cry. He was, and still is, talking about dreaming big. He was challenging us to have a God size vision for our lives. He wanted to make the point that we all start out in our lives with this innate “dream” and as we get older the dream just gets choked right out of us. Think “I Dreamed A Dream” from Les Mis. It was at this point his talk went horribly wrong. At least for me.
He started picking people out of the crowd and asking them what they had wanted to be when they “grew up”. Of course he got the hero answers, “fireman!”, “movie actor!”, “astronaut”, etc. Each answer revved him up and was really ramping up to his point. And then he chose one more woman, “What about you?” he asked. “I always wanted to be a secretary in an office!” She declared. “You mean you wanted to run a business?” he prompted, looking for the dream. “You didn’t dream of being just a secretary…did you?” Now the woman was embarrassed by her “just” dream and 12 rows away I could see her face turn crimson. “Um, well, ur, no, I just wanted to be a secretary actually.”
“Good for you!” I thought.
“And what do you do now?” the bright speaker asked, trying to get his momentum back. You could almost hear him thinking, “Why did I have to pick one more…?” You could definitely feel the tension in the crowd – the crowd that included probably more than “just” one secretary.
“I’m a secretary!” She said happily.
“Ah! Good for you, you’re living your dream!” he said. Everyone clapped and Mr. Speaker moved on as quickly as he could. All in all he made a nice recovery and he was off again and completed a pretty good talk – but avoided anymore audience participation.
I love art. I honestly could spend a day or a week in an art gallery – staring. My favourite style or group of painters are the impressionists. My favourite artists would have to be Monet and Van Gogh. I’m partial to Monet for his subject matter and near sightedness and to Van Gogh for his vision and his first choice of occupations – being a pastor.
Van Gogh couldn’t cut it as a pastor though. He tried but he flopped. Apparently he broke the number one rule of running a church and he fell in love with the people. I don’t mean he wanted to or tried to date all of them, he discovered in them a richness, a beauty, a vulnerability and miraculous strength. He refused to treat them the way the institution required of him and instead pulled out his canvass, his oils and his easel and painted them. He captured what he saw and, like Money, turned the ordinary that people walked by without a second look, into something extraordinary that people would pay millions for and stare at for hours.
Simple things (brush, pigments, canvass) turned into something greater than the parts to capture that which is truly beautiful and lasts beyond artist, beyond painting, beyond museum, into forever.
John Mayer said it this way, “I’m bigger than my body gives me credit for.” Our “bigness” isn’t discovered in achievement and certainly not in fame.
The simple truth that our innate sense comes from is this: there are no “insignificant people”.
The truth is that it’s not celebrity that scratches that itch. Which is exactly why famous people can never be famous enough to scratch that itch.
Here’s a clip from the show “Extras” by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant. The Christmas Special. Pretty well says it all. Now, for those with sensitive ears or moral fibre you way want to turn your sound down (f bomb warning) as Ricky as Andy appears on a “Celebrity Big Brother” in an attempt to regain his fleeting fame. He’s crushed his best friend Maggie’s heart, a fellow movie extra who has taken another job to pay the bills. After several days and days in the house he finally comes to the end of himself and spills out one of the best bits of dialogue ever written or delivered.
A fellow Brit wrote these words a few decades earlier:
“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations–these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit–immortal horrors or everlasting splendours. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of the kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously–no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinners– no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.” Quote from The Weight of Glory, by C.S. Lewis…
I think the only way to satisfy the innate itch, the only place true significance is found is in loving and being loved – not by adoring fans – by friends. To love unconditionally and to be loved unconditionally – no blind love but love that sees us as we truly are and loves us still. There is nothing which more profoundly affects us nor is than any better way to be known. Van Gogh got it, Lewis got it. Even Andy Millman got it eventually.
The problem, of course, is that relationship is much, much harder than being a celebrity. Too hard?