Celebrity Worship or Media Hypocrisy?
Worthy Of Respect
Receive [Epaphroditus] therefore in the Lord with all gladness,
and hold such men in esteem. —Phil. 2:29
Michael Jackson Mania: Celebrity Worship or Media Hypocrisy?
I have a multi-facetted perspective on the subject of celebrity worship. First of all I have a Christian background and can understand why Christians feel uncomfortable when they observe the adoration offered to celebrities when God goes largely ignored. Secondly I am a parent of teenagers and I am concerned that my 15-year old daughter admires Paris Hilton. I mean… why exactly? What has Paris Hilton ever done to earn my daughter’s respect? Being born pretty, rich and famous is hardly an achievement worthy of praise. That bothers me. I have nothing against Paris Hilton, but I would prefer that my daughter be in awe of accomplishments rather than fame itself. Thirdly I am an active member of a large Michael Jackson internet fan forum. I greatly admire this man—his remarkable achievements as an artist and philanthropist, his courage in the face of media harassment and slander, and his commitment to serving humanity through his art and example. Amongst celebrities there are few who are more famous than Michael Jackson. Do I worship him? Am I beguiled by his fame? Fourthly, I am fascinated by what celebrity worship tells us about society and by what it might teach us about the emergence of religious movements.
Clearly one cannot lump all celebrities into one category. Paris Hilton is a far cry from Michael Jackson, who is a far cry from Nelson Mandela—all of them celebrities for very different reasons. To the degree that a celebrity may be more or less worthy of praise, so too, those who admire them may be more or less “guilty” of celebrity worship. When does deserved admiration cross the line and become idolatrous worship? There is no black and white answer to that question.
As a Michael Jackson fan and a Christian I have considered whether my admiration for this man is idolatrous. Michael has blessed me enormously through the gift of his art. It is a respite to me from the daily challenges I face as the mother of an autistic son. I feel grateful to him. I admire him, and I would go so far as to say that I love him, though I have never met him personally. My life has been touched by his art, and so my response to him is personal. I don’t think of him as a distant celebrity, but as a brother or a friend.
Michael Jackson is often referred to as a classic example of celebrity worship. I know that many fans consider him a spiritual leader, which is not as strange as some might think. I realize that people who know him less well have a very different view of him, as seen through the distorted lens of media exploitation. I am fairly well convinced that whilst the media “worship” Michael’s celebrity in their greed to exploit him, his fans, for the most part, give honour where honour is due. And yet the media constantly accuse Michael’s fans of being blindly swept along by celebrity worship. One of the complicating issues in this discussion is the fact that the media exploit celebrity for commercial purposes. The real idol in this case is not Michael Jackson (or other celebrities), but money. Take Martin Bashir for example, the journalist who deceived Michael Jackson into believing that he was his friend, who persuaded him to be honest and open about his life, who lulled Michael into a false sense of security, only to edit and twist everything to meet his own agenda of presenting Michael as a bizarre and sinister character. Salacious gossip sells well. As a consequence of Bashir’s betrayal, Michael’s life was thrown into turmoil by false allegations, investigations and the most publicized trial in recent history. The worldwide media did not miss an opportunity to capitalize on Michael’s celebrity.
The media go into a frenzy every time Michael shows his face because it is profitable for them to do so. They deliberately create the phenomenon of “celebrity” as a completely separate issue to the real reason for Michael’s fame—his accomplishments.
The media are quick to point out the “disturbing” degree to which Michael Jackson’s fans resemble a religious cult. The underlying insinuation is that Michael’s “followers” are blindly fanatical and idolatrous. In reality, the majority of Michael’s fans are people of faith. I have met Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and otherwise spiritually inclined folk of all ages and from all walks of life, supporting this man whom they admire, not to the exclusion of their worship of God. Many fans profess to owe their success, their rehabilitation, their spiritual enlightenment and their direction in life to the lessons they have learned from Michael’s music and example. If they were attributing such inspiration to Billy Graham’s influence no one would bat an eyelid. Whilst Michael is an entertainer, there is more to his music than escapism and more to his life than fame. Young people see Michael as a mentor—someone to look up to. They identify with Michael’s philosophies and passion for life. Michael speaks out against racism, war, authorized violence and greed. He calls for the brotherhood of man, religious and ethnic tolerance, family focused values, care of the environment and nurture of the needy. He does this through a very powerful medium—music. What’s more, he practises what he preaches. He is a role model of success—one who has achieved his goals through hard work and perseverance, and he has continued to serve humanity through his art despite media harassment, slander and false accusations.
Michael’s fans spend as much time thanking God for Michael’s gifts and praying that he will be blessed and protected, as the media spend time searching for ways to exploit him. Who is the idolater then? In the end it is often the media who are blinded by their own illusion. They fail to see the true treasures in humanity because the idols of their own ambition preoccupy them. When the media point the finger at Michael Jackson’s fans and accuse them of celebrity worship they need to take a look in the mirror and ask themselves whether they are guilty of hypocrisy. Michael’s fans “get it”. They receive “the gift” that God has given them through Michael, and they are thankful.
Celebrity worship does happen, of course. It always has. Ask the Pharaohs. It is the nature of man to worship. What we are seeing today is nothing new—it is just better publicized. But amongst the many celebrities there are men and women who are worthy of our admiration. Some of them become the stuff of myth and legend. Some of them point us to truth and to God. Some of them are the founders of today’s great religions. With regard to Michael, Shmuley Boteach has been quoted as saying, “Our favourite star’s might light up the crowd, but their glow is a mere reflection of a more infinite radiance”. But perhaps it is not always necessary to “lift our eyes heavenward”—to worship a distant deity. When we see the face of Christ in our brother or we give thanks for the talents and beauty that He has bestowed to gifted individuals, when we admire another man’s courage, or gasp with awe at someone’s achievements and when we see the wonder in a child’s eyes, perhaps we are simultaneously worshiping God.
Dimity @ MySpace ~ Sept 12, 2005
We honor God when we honor those who serve God.
Why not look for ways to show gratitude to those who have served you spiritually?
Give them the honor they deserve.