I am just going to admit this to you.
I believe that Michael Jackson faked his own death.
I do. I believe that. I mean, I won’t comment on Elvis although I have my suspicions.
I like to think he faked his own death because although I’m not a raging Michael Jackson fan I am tremendously sad that he’s gone. I watched “This is it!” and I was pissed…it wasn’t enough…I wanted more. And that tripped me up. It bothered me that I felt sad about Michael Jackson’s death and hoped it was fake because I wanted more, because my entertainment quotient was somehow interrupted.
And that got me to thinking about the notion of “celebrity.”
I think we all know what the word means in our modern-day culture…someone we, as a group of humans, recognize readily, for one reason or another. I suppose most of the time we recognize this celebrity because they show up on the stage, the screen, the internet, the radio. Media has fueled the rise of the celebrity of course but the word has had this same meaning for an awfully long time, it seems.
This is from online etymology:
late 14c., “solemn rite or ceremony,” from O.Fr. celebrité “celebration,” from L. celibritatem (nom. celebritas) “multitude, fame,” fromceleber “frequented, populous” (see celebrate). Meaning “condition of being famous” is from c.1600; that of “famous person” is from 1849.
Ok, so what strikes me here is this…the word begins in the late 14th century as “solemn rite or ceremony” from our root of “celebration” and then somewhere along the line it comes to refer to a person who has gained notoriety and in our modern culture, someone who is, well, famous. But in the strictest of terms we ought to use the word celebrity to mean someone who is celebrated. I should be a celebrity on my birthday, you should be a celebrity when you get an A on your math test, your Aunt Betty and Uncle Bob should be celebrities at their 50th wedding anniversary. Hell, yes, let’s all be celebrities!
On second thought….no.
After all, when was the last time a celebrity was someone we actually celebrated? Is that what we make of this term now? It seems that more often than not a “celebrity” is what we call people who step into a spotlight long enough for us to strap a time bomb to their belly that may or may not explode over time. We wait and watch.
Go on a reality TV show and you can be a celebrity, become a famous actor, singer or dancer and you can be a celebrity, be a politician who makes headlines and you can be a celebrity…and then we’ll wait to see if you self destruct. Entertain us either with your charm or your vulgarity, your talent or your destructive habits, your eloquent speeches or your flubs, we’ll take it. Your life, your family, your clothing choices, your dress size, your political leanings…all of these things belong to us, the viewers, if you are a celebrity. Not because we celebrate you, because we need to have a reason to celebrate ourselves and it’s easier to set you up and knock you down than to look deep inside of our own lives and recognize how much we are in need of love and affirmation. We need to know that we’re okay.
That’s a mighty blanket accusation, I admit. I don’t feel that way about all celebrities and neither do you, I realize that. And yet I have to check myself so often. I confess that I followed Charlie Sheen on Twitter for a length of time because of the time bomb factor. I followed him until I had a horrifying realization that maybe I wanted him to fail and that scared me. Do I want to be a person who wants a fellow human to self destruct? Lord. I hope not. In the end I “unfollowed” because I hoped that ushering myself away with a “move along, nothing to see here” motion might help me begin to re-see celebrities as real people rather than cartoon characters.
I’ve already written about the “car crash” mentality we take with political celebrities (I’m lookin’ at you Sarah Palin) so I won’t go there again. Suffice it to say that I fall into a full-scale panic at moments like this. This attitude is systemic. I’m beginning to think it actually takes a natural disaster or national crisis for me to see that perhaps we are, as a society, not as bad as I fear and that is a frightening admission. So I’ll own my former statement, that we need to know that we’re okay and I’ll amend it.
I need to know that we’re okay.
I can work on the “me” part of the societal “us.” I can “unfollow” Charlie Sheen on Twitter and I can check myself when I slip into the delusion that maybe Michael Jackson is alive somewhere, pondering his life choices. And I can express my concern that as a nation it might take a physical flood to stem the tidal wave of judgement and condemnation we routinely employ to keep ourselves amused around here. But in the end, I have to wonder if it will be enough. I suppose only history will reveal what kind of people we were at this stage of our development. I hope that it shows us to be people of care. Whether he’s in the afterlife or pumping gas in some obscure corner of the world, I think Michael Jackson would be glad to know that in the long run we proved to be people of care-
There Are People Dying
If You Care Enough
For The Living
Make A Better Place
For You And For Me
“Heal the World”