Gods behaving badly – celebrity as a ‘kind of’ religion

Pete Ward posted a really interesting article on the ‘theotherjournal.com‘ website about the ‘deification’ of celebrities in popular culture and the theological response to the phenomenon:

“In 1996, the pop singer Jarvis Cocker invaded the stage at the United Kingdom’s Brit Awards. Michael Jackson was performing “Earthsong.” Jackson emerged, out of a huge image of the earth, surrounded by white light. He raised his arms in the shape of a cross and started to sing about the planet. As the song continued, Jackson was joined on stage by a crowd of people in tattered clothing, and as the song came to a close the singer took off his shirt and his trousers to reveal white robes. Again bathed in light, Jackson stood as if crucified. Slowly the crowd came to him, one by one, and he touched them or kissed them as if in blessing. Eventually, Jackson was left with just a small group of children. Holding a girl by her hand, he started to speak about the devastation of the planet, saying that he “believes in us,” that we can make a difference. “I believe in you, I love you” said the pop star, and he turned, surrounded by children, and exited the stage.

All of this was too much for Cocker. He climbed onto the edge of the stage bent over and patted his backside at the messianic Jackson. Fourteen years after the event, several years after Jackson’s trial, and nearly a year after Jackson’s death, Cocker is unapologetic. Asked by an interviewer if he thought now that he was “mean” to Jackson, Cocker said, “Not really. His performance was bad taste. Pop stars are not deities. In one iconic gesture, Cocker refused to worship the messianic Michael.”

As he goes on to explain:

“…celebrity culture is about knowing and being known. Back in the ’60s Daniel Boorstin said that “the celebrity is a person who is well-known for their well-knownness”. The implication here is that celebrity is somewhat shallow. Being known, it is implied, has no relationship to artistic merit, skill, or value. Being known is simply a result of media attention. Some might wish to stay with this reductive analysis and emphasize the way that celebrity culture is characterized by a facile curiosity or by tasteless self-promotion. If we add to this the link between celebrity as self-revelation and the commercial interest associated with the promotion of the products of a popular culture, then it is clearly tempting to conclude that celebrity is simply an aspect of the culture industry’s exploitation of a gullible public. Thus, the only credible theological response would be to seek to expose the failings of the celebrity obsession and to critique popular culture as a dehumanizing and degrading phenomenon. Such a move, I believe, not only misunderstands this aspect of contemporary life, but it also runs the risk of closing down a potential area of theological creativity and ignoring the missiological challenge of celebrity culture.”

Read the full article here.

HT: Jonny Baker

 

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