Help, I need (to be) somebody
John Lennon caused outrage when in 1966 he declared that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus. Yet almost 50 years later, his words have proven prescient when we observe just how much celebrity culture has overtaken religion. No longer is church a focal point in our society. For many, celebrity culture now offers a sense of belonging, significance and worship among a community of people with shared values. Indeed, celebrity provides one of the biggest sources of idol worship in the West.
Our society is obsessed with celebrity. We needn’t look any further than popular reality TV shows, tabloid newspapers, celebrity magazines and websites such as TMZ and PerezHilton, which have become shrines to the commodity value of the star.
This demand for celebrity media coverage not only indicates our propensity to elevate individuals to god-like status, but also signals our obsession to be celebrities. We envy the glamorous lifestyles of celebrities and the enormous material, economic and social rewards associated with being famous.
It’s not surprising then that reality TV shows dominate the small screen worldwide. One of the most alluring features of this kind of programming is the platform it provides for instant celebrity. Talent shows such as The Voice, X-Factor and Australian Idol have catapulted ordinary people into overnight stars. Viewers are enticed by the aspirational story-lines on these shows, which often show ordinary people overcoming major obstacles to fulfill their dreams.
We crave recognition and adoration. We are “glory junkies”, addicted to pursuing, and basking in, our own glory.
At the other end of the reality TV spectrum are shows that require no talent at all. Think Big Brother and The Bachelor. These programs, along with social media, are making it more accessible than ever for ordinary folk to secure their 15 minutes of fame. Being a star, it seems, is no longer the stuff of dreams.
Fundamental to our desire for fame is our misplaced worship of self. As the apostle Paul says in Romans 1:18-25, because of the fall, we have chosen to worship created things rather than the Creator. If we’re not worshipping God, then we’ll worship something or someone. And that “someone” is usually ourselves. We crave recognition and adoration. We are, as Paul David Tripp puts it, “glory junkies”: we’re addicted to pursuing, and basking in, our own glory.
In our celebrity-obsessed culture, the emphasis is no longer about accomplishing something, but rather, being somebody. In other words, the acquisition of fame has become the affirmation of the self: “I am known, therefore I am.” And if we embrace a modern secular worldview that rejects the biblical concept of eternity, then the only way to attain immortality is to immortalise ourselves and our accomplishments in the here and now. But as God’s word reminds us, man’s glory is like the flowers of the fields. It will soon wither and endure no more (Psalm 103:15-16; 1 Peter 1:24).
So what should our response be to the cult of celebrity? Rather than lamenting our culture’s descent into narcissism and triviality, we should make every effort to understand the trend so that we can offer a genuine alternative. The sad reality is, however, that many Christian churches have allowed celebrity culture to infiltrate the message and methods by which we proclaim Christ. Our efforts to expand the Kingdom and “make Jesus famous” have often served to elevate people into celebrity Christians. Jesus never sought fame or success. He resisted it at every opportunity. For Jesus, immortality – having eternal life – was not found in the idols of fame or success, but in knowing “the only true God” (John 17:3). And this, more than anything else, is what Jesus wants for us, too.
Madeleine Turner attends Ashfield Presbyterian Church, NSW.