I’m convinced that the human race will never make any progress unless it conquers its fame fetish, or more accurately, the worship of allegedly superior human beings.
Fame-worship exists in nearly every field of human endeavor. People worship movie stars, pop stars, rock stars, rap stars, TV stars, sports figures, writers, artists, business leaders and monarchs. Their every move is catalogued in photos, videos, tweets, interviews, rumor mills and gossip rags. Average people drop the names of the famous with great frequency to raise their own meager status. They often justify arguments by quoting one of these masterful marvels of human evolution.
The primary criteria for worship in modern times is wealth. The logic is that if someone makes a lot of money, they deserve our humbled respect. Beauty helps, or at least the appearance of beauty through various forms of plastic surgery or flattering camera angles.
Still, some people who are spoken of in hushed tones of awe, particularly the icons of the past, were neither wealthy nor particularly attractive. This is particularly true of dead literary figures, whose cult status owes more to mythology handed down from generation to generation than any rational appreciation of value. We believe they are better than us because that’s what they taught us in school. Therefore, Shakespeare has attained near godlike status despite the fact that he is also the author of such crap as Titus Andronicus, Love Labour’s Lost and Henry VIII. The same godlike status is given to artists in other fields such as Charlie Parker, Charlie Chaplin and Pablo Picasso, again despite legacies of uneven work and seriously flawed personalities.
I was hoping that the democratization of communication via the Internet would have weakened this fetish, but it’s actually made it worse. Bloggers and tweeters spend more time adding to the chronicles of the rich and famous than they do producing original work. The ones that do attempt to find their voices are shamefully ignored anyway, because they’re neither rich nor famous, a Catch-22 if there ever was one. The barriers between the common folk and the high-and-mighty have never been thicker, and the odds of breaking through into the stratosphere are similar to the odds of winning the Powerball jackpot.
I’ve personally known many musicians, writers, actors, thinkers and even athletes who were far more talented than those who we have turned into gods. I’ve studied the works of many authors, poets and composers, and while I’ve found some of their works enlightening and uplifting, all it means is that they had a particularly good streak. It doesn’t mean that they’ve turned water into wine or raised Lazarus from the dead, and it certainly doesn’t mean that everything they ever did should be treated as sacred. There’s the Paul McCartney who wrote the great songs on Revolver, and there’s the Paul McCartney who has been making himself wealthy on trivial tripe for the last forty years. Like the rest of us, he’s another flawed human being. The only difference is that he happened to catch a break.
It’s bad enough that the comings-and-goings of the British royalty, who have failed to produce anything of value since the days of Elizabeth I, are avidly followed by millions of Americans whose country was born primarily because the founders wanted nothing to do with useless, wasteful monarchs. It’s tragic that we worship anyone at all. Our obscene fascination with wealth and power, supported by an economic system that forces us into envious competition with each other, causes us to devalue our own talents and ignore the truly meaningful work that artists, teachers, caregivers and common people engage in every day.
In the end, we worship those who frequently display the worst qualities of the human race (narcissism, greed and the fervent belief in their own superiority) while treating those who represent the best qualities of the species (community, curiosity and the fervent belief in human potential) with relative disdain.
I think we’ve turned the world upside-down, and we need to flip it back into place. Social distances of the kind we are experiencing now always lead to social disaster.
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