Monday, January 12, 2015

The Deception of Celebrity

Reality as metaphor:

A young man enters the Navy. He excels at his assignment, whatever it happens to be, and eventually receives an invitation to try out for one of the most elite fighting forces the world has ever known. After an excruciating selection process, he is chosen to join the SEALs and begins years of the most intense training he's ever received. Again, he excels.

Eventually, he deploys and begins the work that he's dreamed of his entire life. Despite his status as one of the world's most elite war fighters and his capacity to perform a job that more than 99% of humanity could never do, he is anonymous: he is not recognized by strangers on the street, he is not paid an exorbitant wage, he will not be offered million dollar endorsement deals. He is the farthest thing from typical, the farthest thing from ordinary, the farthest thing from either boring or uninteresting...

...and the farthest thing from celebrity.

Eventually, he receives a call to perform another mission. As is typical, he and his comrades perform to the fullest extent of their professional excellence and the mission is a resounding success. He does not receive any kind of additional reward or renown for his duty despite the historical importance of the mission: it is his job - one he loves to do, has agreed to do, and has trained his entire life to do.

Meanwhile, however, back at home...

Another man emerges from behind a curtain, steps to a podium, and declares, "We've done it." Despite the fact that he himself and the others wearing suits around him don't have a smudge of dirt or cordite or blood on them, they take credit. And they take credit because their position allows them to do so. They are the decision makers, the institutors of policy. They are well-known, absurdly well-paid, and well-connected. They will publish books, go on talk shows, and become millionaires. Their lives are never at risk, their jobs are secure, and their portfolios are steadily growing.

But, despite what they would have everyone think, their jobs aren't nearly as elite, although they are somewhat exclusive: not just anyone can do the job, but only because so few get the opportunity. It is an exclusion of position, of class - not one of ability. Most of them could never come close to doing the job of the man on the ground; the reverse cannot as easily be said.

The simple truth is that our culture celebrates the people at the top. But the people at the top are supported, secured, and protected by innumerable others that most of us will never know. Often, these necessary supporters are more talented, more interesting, and more honorable than those we spend so much time admiring. If we get the chance to meet a Navy SEAL, we think, "Oh, cool, he's a SEAL." If we get a chance to meet the President, however, it becomes the memory of a lifetime - we are nervous wrecks, and we convince ourselves that the man's position somehow makes him vastly more important & fascinating.

Here's the deal, people: celebrity is a farce. It's an illusion. It is - more often than not - an elaborate rouse to convince you that somehow, someway people that live, breathe, eat, sleep, and bleed just like the rest of us are in some manner better than the rest of us because of nothing more substantial than a position - a position most often not attained through any kind of honorable or admirable means.

Celebrity is a farce. But, talent is real. Ability is real. Wisdom is real. Experience is real. At times, celebrity does intersect with these other admirable qualities. But they are by no means mutually inclusive. Plenty of people have attained celebrity without any kind of remarkable talent or anything else of real lasting value to offer society.

What might happen if we began to care more about talent then we did about fame? What if we were more impressed by actual achievement & experience then we were by screen time? What if wealth didn't fascinate us as much as wisdom? What if some kind of perceived marketability ceased to be our highest held quality of admiration? What if we were just as - if not more - excited to meet the real heroes of our world as we were to meet those deemed famous by people with nothing else to offer?


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