No Holds Barred: Dangerously obsessed with celebrities

By making fashion models into role models and singers into saints, we have created a shallow and vain society.

shmuley boteach 224 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
shmuley boteach 224 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Our very civilization is threatened by the cult of celebrity and the fact that mere entertainers have become our heroes. There is no precedent in any civilization for actors, singers, dancers and directors being elevated to the highest positions of prominence. That's why none of us can name actors and actresses from ancient Greece or Rome. Sure, we can name playwrights and satirists. We can name the politicians, the philosophers and the generals. But not those who provided light-hearted merriment. In our time the incredible has happened. The court jester has become the king. Those who play the heroes have become our heroes. Those who direct movies are directing the aspirations of our youth. In America today there exists not a single mainstream televised awards ceremony for anything other than movies, television, acting, modeling and music. Even when brave soldiers are awarded the Medal of Honor for gallantry, it is not broadcast. When the president awards the Presidential Medal of Freedom to our leading thinkers, writers and civil servants, it is watched by about 10 people on C-Span. But awards for Best Actor and Best Actress are followed closely by hundreds of millions. That's a major change for a country whose only actor to become an historical figure, prior to the Hollywood era, was John Wilkes Booth. The consequences of elevating people who perform inconsequential tasks to the center of national attention are far-reaching. By making fashion models into role models and singers into saints, we have created a shallow and vain society distinguished not by sacrifice, but by indulgence, not by the gift of enduring love but by the glitter of transient attention. We have created a culture known not for virtue, but vanity. And our country is becoming not more dedicated, but more decadent. American kids today, for the most part, don't wish to be doctors, but directors. Not rabbis but rockers. Not soldiers but superstars. And we wonder as to the causes of American narcissism. To gauge the effect of entertainers at the epicenter of national consciousness, just imagine if entertainment, rather than scholarship, were the foremost preoccupation of a medical student. Instead of working at a library and attending lectures eight hours a day, our student would watch eight hours of TV and DVDs. Would you trust him with your kidney? The future of the US is threatened not by any foreign power but by collapse from within. Our foundations could become so eroded, our pillars so brittle, that our national edifice will fall - victim to the forces of historical inevitability. If our nation is built on the marvelous marble of the Greek Parthenon or the Roman Pantheon, or the solid stone of Jerusalem's Western Wall, it will last for centuries, and perhaps millennia. But if it is built of the ersatz granite of a Hollywood soundstage, all glitz and no substance, we risk witnessing it crumble before our very eyes. NO CULTURE that deifies human beings is ever healthy. It was not for naught that God made the first two of His Ten Commandments the injunctions to accept only one God and never to embrace counterfeits. God alone should be the epicenter of our lives; we dare brook no substitutes. In no area is this truer than in our fixation with the lives of movie and music stars. Celebrity gossip has become the new social dialogue. Our hero worship has gone from a venal pastime to a noxious veneration. To be sure there are exceptions; some celebrities, like U2's Bono, have completely leveraged their fame to highlight causes much more worthy than themselves. Sadly, these few celebrities constitute the exceptions that prove the rule. Jews were brought into the world as witnesses to God's reality and role, and our highest mission is to return Him to the center of human life, our long existence amid pogroms and persecutions bearing witness to faith in God's presence even in the darkest times. Our national calling is dedicated to a single proposition: that man is created by a loving God to spread law and love. According to Jewish tradition, this is the reason God hid Moses' burial place - to prevent his possible deification and the transformation of his sepulcher into a shrine. To be sure, Moses wrought wonders in Egypt, but he was merely a conduit of a higher Light. The glow of our favorite celebrity is a mere reflection of an infinite Radiance, their rhythm just a hollow echo of an eternal Beat. Isaiah put it best: "Lift your eyes heavenward, and see Who created all these." In general there are two kinds of people, like there are two kinds of celestial bodies - those that radiate light and those that merely reflect it. The irony of Hollywood is that it calls celebrities "stars" when they are really "planets." Lacking any inner luminescence, they become dependent on the spotlight. Soon they become its prisoner and, bereft of a connection with the Source of all light, they suffer the corrosive effects of celebrity sunburn, usually manifested in material excess, deep loneliness and incurable unhappiness, which explains the decline and fall of once-mighty stars like Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe and Michael Jackson. God promised Abraham that his children would be "like the stars of the heaven," not the stars of the silver screen. The stars of heaven give light in the night, signifying the Bible's moral imperative. But movie stars are part of a counterfeit constellation: artificially illuminated and set in a make-believe sky. The writer's upcoming book is The Blessing of Enough: Rejecting Material Greed, Embracing Spiritual Hunger. He is the founder of This World: The Values Network.