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Worshipping our celebrity-gods


By Ron Roman

On Jan. 26 basketball great Kobe Bryant, 41, perished in a tragic helicopter crash. Jan. 27 commemorated the 75th anniversary of the liberation of thousands imprisoned in Nazi death camps. Do I have to say which story received the lion's share of media attention?

Oh, almost forgot, eight others died with Bryant, yet you'd never know that by the coverage. Almost as an afterthought some media outlets did, in fact, mention that his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, perished as well.

Names of the other six passengers and pilot hardly warranted media attention; they were forever relegated to nameless obscurity. By the way international media covered Bryant's passing, you'd think that Jesus Christ himself had died all over again.

Don't get me wrong: I loved the guy. Off and on, I followed his entire 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers team, right from his high school days as basketball sensation at Lower Merion High School in Pennsylvania and straight into the National Basketball Association, where he capped off his career with one final, spectacular 60-point game.

But, to my way of thinking, he was truly more of the man off-court in retirement than on it. He became global ambassador for many charitable and goodwill causes.

That said, why is it that celebrities of Bryant's stature are elevated to celebrity-god status? What is it about them, especially when they pass on from our world in the prime of life, like Bryant, James Dean, Marilyn Monroe .... What makes the rest of us prostrate ourselves at the celebrity altar?

Is it because we perceive our own lives devoid of meaning, of any lasting, consequential impact, that we force ourselves to live vicariously through the prism of their shining stardom, as if by doing so, we, too, can be one of them, if only for a moment in all eternity?

Wasn't it artist Andy Warhol who famously proclaimed that in the future all of us will be world-famous for 15 minutes? Or will it be for the duration of our latest tweet, our latest Facebook "Look at me; look at me ― please!" spiel? Are we still capable of communicating ― or only broadcasting? Will we be able to talk with others ― or only to ourselves? Does it matter if nobody's listening?

"How J-Lo, Shakira honored Kobe Bryant during [Super Bowl's] halftime show" screamed the Feb. 3 headline from ENews. Our celebrity-gods now are often referred to by only one name, as if two would be altogether superfluous, a wholly redundant appellation, except for the rest of us who cry out for some recognition, some semblance of acknowledgement that our lives, too, must matter for something.

But it births the question: What? This: given the realization that these celebrity-god halftime performers at the celebrity-gods' football game take home more money in an hour crowned in bubbling adulation (for their societal "contribution") than most of the rest of us will earn in a year toiling in thankless jobs.

Yes, thankless jobs, be they saving lives as suicide/drug prevention specialists or as ambulance drivers, or building lives as teachers, yet still without appreciation, and, more often than not, getting thanked with lousy pay. (Bryant is said to have been paid $25 million in his last year as pro athlete). The ultimate mockery of meaning. Or are we deluding ourselves to pretend otherwise?

Even the Emirate of Dubai jumped into the act. The Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building, honored Bryant and his daughter with illuminated photos of them projected from the walls. Then, too, there was scarcely any major sporting event outside of pro basketball, let alone in it, where competitors and fans alike didn't make and take time for tribute.

Perhaps it's our celebrities who tweak at our sense and sensibilities, offering hope that, with chance looking down upon us, we, too, can someday be like them, or at least embrace the possibility that something meaningful and beautiful will unfold in our lives, a whisper dancing in the wind.

The whisper may promise us, fractured souls clutching to hope, that the celebrity-gods represent the glory which at once is beyond reach, yet may be ultimately attainable. This is the essence that rings true for so many; it's what propels the nameless masses to slog on in their anonymity, despising all other nameless souls, and by extension themselves, while casting out a lifeline to fickle fate in hope of becoming that someone special worthy of all admiration and adulation from the herd.

When our celebrity-god is cut down in the prime of life, be it Kobe Bryant, James Dean, or Marilyn Monroe, it's as if something magical, something real, but just beyond reach, has been stolen from us. Yet when we see them immortalized on the silver screen, on TV, in photos, on the internet, on YouTube, in any and all sorts of places, they once again are alive to us.

Forever athletic. Forever talented. Forever beautiful. Forever alive. In becoming so, they make us come alive to a realization of our own sense of being human. It's this perpetuation of promise that makes us hold them forever dear to our hearts. Honor to the Ghosts of Glory past.

As one can see, this article started off about Kobe Bryant, but in the end it really isn't so much about him at all. It's about the rest of us. It's about how in this age of celebrity worship so many struggle to take control and to make sense of what's happening to them with the media turning the world upside down.


The author (ron_g_roman@hotmail.com) has taught English and the humanities for the University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) all over the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command since 1996. He is a long-term contributor to The Korea Times.



By Ron Roman

On Jan. 26 basketball great Kobe Bryant, 41, perished in a tragic helicopter crash. Jan. 27 commemorated the 75th anniversary of the liberation of thousands imprisoned in Nazi death camps. Do I have to say which story received the lion's share of media attention?

Oh, almost forgot, eight others died with Bryant, yet you'd never know that by the coverage. Almost as an afterthought some media outlets did, in fact, mention that his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, perished as well.

Names of the other six passengers and pilot hardly warranted media attention; they were forever relegated to nameless obscurity. By the way international media covered Bryant's passing, you'd think that Jesus Christ himself had died all over again.

Don't get me wrong: I loved the guy. Off and on, I followed his entire 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers team, right from his high school days as basketball sensation at Lower Merion High School in Pennsylvania and straight into the National Basketball Association, where he capped off his career with one final, spectacular 60-point game.

But, to my way of thinking, he was truly more of the man off-court in retirement than on it. He became global ambassador for many charitable and goodwill causes.

That said, why is it that celebrities of Bryant's stature are elevated to celebrity-god status? What is it about them, especially when they pass on from our world in the prime of life, like Bryant, James Dean, Marilyn Monroe .... What makes the rest of us prostrate ourselves at the celebrity altar?

Is it because we perceive our own lives devoid of meaning, of any lasting, consequential impact, that we force ourselves to live vicariously through the prism of their shining stardom, as if by doing so, we, too, can be one of them, if only for a moment in all eternity?

Wasn't it artist Andy Warhol who famously proclaimed that in the future all of us will be world-famous for 15 minutes? Or will it be for the duration of our latest tweet, our latest Facebook "Look at me; look at me ― please!" spiel? Are we still capable of communicating ― or only broadcasting? Will we be able to talk with others ― or only to ourselves? Does it matter if nobody's listening?

"How J-Lo, Shakira honored Kobe Bryant during [Super Bowl's] halftime show" screamed the Feb. 3 headline from ENews. Our celebrity-gods now are often referred to by only one name, as if two would be altogether superfluous, a wholly redundant appellation, except for the rest of us who cry out for some recognition, some semblance of acknowledgement that our lives, too, must matter for something.

But it births the question: What? This: given the realization that these celebrity-god halftime performers at the celebrity-gods' football game take home more money in an hour crowned in bubbling adulation (for their societal "contribution") than most of the rest of us will earn in a year toiling in thankless jobs.

Yes, thankless jobs, be they saving lives as suicide/drug prevention specialists or as ambulance drivers, or building lives as teachers, yet still without appreciation, and, more often than not, getting thanked with lousy pay. (Bryant is said to have been paid $25 million in his last year as pro athlete). The ultimate mockery of meaning. Or are we deluding ourselves to pretend otherwise?

Even the Emirate of Dubai jumped into the act. The Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building, honored Bryant and his daughter with illuminated photos of them projected from the walls. Then, too, there was scarcely any major sporting event outside of pro basketball, let alone in it, where competitors and fans alike didn't make and take time for tribute.

Perhaps it's our celebrities who tweak at our sense and sensibilities, offering hope that, with chance looking down upon us, we, too, can someday be like them, or at least embrace the possibility that something meaningful and beautiful will unfold in our lives, a whisper dancing in the wind.

The whisper may promise us, fractured souls clutching to hope, that the celebrity-gods represent the glory which at once is beyond reach, yet may be ultimately attainable. This is the essence that rings true for so many; it's what propels the nameless masses to slog on in their anonymity, despising all other nameless souls, and by extension themselves, while casting out a lifeline to fickle fate in hope of becoming that someone special worthy of all admiration and adulation from the herd.

When our celebrity-god is cut down in the prime of life, be it Kobe Bryant, James Dean, or Marilyn Monroe, it's as if something magical, something real, but just beyond reach, has been stolen from us. Yet when we see them immortalized on the silver screen, on TV, in photos, on the internet, on YouTube, in any and all sorts of places, they once again are alive to us.

Forever athletic. Forever talented. Forever beautiful. Forever alive. In becoming so, they make us come alive to a realization of our own sense of being human. It's this perpetuation of promise that makes us hold them forever dear to our hearts. Honor to the Ghosts of Glory past.

As one can see, this article started off about Kobe Bryant, but in the end it really isn't so much about him at all. It's about the rest of us. It's about how in this age of celebrity worship so many struggle to take control and to make sense of what's happening to them with the media turning the world upside down.


The author (ron_g_roman@hotmail.com) has taught English and the humanities for the University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) all over the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command since 1996. He is a long-term contributor to The Korea Times.




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