Cults of Celebrity and Anti-Celebrity

A lot has been written and said about the dueling bits of celebrity in American culture these days. Some arguments aren’t holding water: racism and cultism being two.

That’s not to say that some individual Americans are no longer racists. Because some of them are. Even some of those who oppose the president and his policies are racists. I’m inclined to think that no matter who would have been nominated to bury the GOP last year would have been a similar target of bile, lip-foam, and general crazy-pantsery. But more on that in a moment. I’ll just say that I think there’s more to the baggers and all than phobias based on skin color.

By the same token, I think there is a cult of celebrity in the US. I’ve commented on it before, so it should be no surprise I believe there are echo-chamber followers of all sorts of people: the presidents, the talk radio entertainers, not to mention athletes, musicians, rappers, actors, and the subject(s) of the five-million-hit YouTube video of the moment. I think we saw a great outpouring of that in the days that followed Michael Jackson’s death. Certainly in the release of more Beatles stuff. Definitely in how many American Catholics attach themselves to the pope or to the Vatican in general.

I think the conservative Catholic blogosphere is a shining example both to the cult of celebrity and its corollary. What topics swamp general praise for Pope Benedict or Christopher West or Archbishop Burke or your favorite A-list blogger? Criticism of same celebs, topped with a heaping helping of bile for other people’s heroes. If celebrity-worship is any sort of a left wing hobby these days, you can be sure many blogging Catholics have answered the altar call for the Cult of Anti-Celebrity.

I don’t want to get into the pseudo-psychology of people who have no heroes tearing down other people’s heroes. I’m sure it happens, just like I’m sure a racist or two has crashed a tea party or a town hall meeting. On the whole, I think Catholics, especially internet Catholics, have bought into the cultural practice of levelling a celebrity as an avocation. Look at how they treat Doug Kmiec or Fr Tom Rosica or Christopher West. It’s all about taking out the other guy’s hero. The Hermeneutic of Subtraction in all its glory.

For secular America, I suppose it’s part of the egalitarian ethic. We worship our heroes, but we sure don’t mind seeing them laid low, humiliated, and often even restored, appropriately chastened, to a high place. Martha Stewart, Michael Vick, Bill Clinton strike me as the shining examples of that. In many sports, we have the “Comeback Player of the Year.” I’m sure that’s what, in part, Wall Street is banking on. We’re an equal opportunity nation. CEO’s disgraced can make a comeback just like someone who indulges in casual sex or dogfighting.

So when my well-meaning Catholic sisters and brothers are pointing the finger at fans of the president, “See? See! They’re worshipping the fascist/communist baby-killer!” I’m inclined to give it a chuckle and ponder the short memory spans of most of them. Thanks to the internet, it’s now a group sport, something of an e-mob that can gang up on some poor saps and gut them of their heroes. But I suggest an experiment to probe the mettle of the critics. Ask them in turn whom they would idolize–I mean, admire. The real test is how often Catholics and their blogs reject the Hermeneutic of Subtraction and offer their alternative. I’ve actually begun to see it on some reform2 web pages: more great music they love rather than the same echoey bile on the same topics they’ve loved to hate for the past three to fifty years.

And for my conservative friends who think I’m just blowing it out this morning, consider a challenge for your own writing. Look at your own blog or your commentary on the net. Add up the words you’ve used bad-mouthing people and compared with your writings in praise of one of your own heroes. You may not be entrapped by the Cult of Celebrity, but in running away from it, has something else gotten you instead?

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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2 Responses to Cults of Celebrity and Anti-Celebrity

  1. “the Hermeneutic of Subtraction” !!! A phrase to remember for sure. Thanks for writing this necessary post.

  2. lilylaval says:

    Hear hear! What a breath of fresh air your blog post is!

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