The Cult of Celebrity

Human beings have a need to worship. Since time immemorial we have created Gods, idols, and sacred spaces that we venerate as symbols of or literal manifestations of divinity. This belief is so deeply embedded in us that wars have been fought over the name of God, or the nature of what it is to be Godly, or even between factions who believe in the same God, but disagree about interpretations of His teachings. The need to worship is a fervent one – often bringing relief, or peace, or a sense of orientation, or a place of belonging, or all of these. These days, many people have thrown off the idea of the more traditional versions of a higher power, but have we really stopped worshipping?

I don’t think so. What I see everywhere is this very human need to place a sense of perfection, of power, of completeness, outside of ourselves. Whether we endow God with this higher power, or politicians, or self-help gurus, or celebrities, or scientists, or even someone that we have fallen in love with – the action is the same. It’s a projection of our own higher selves onto something outside of us. This projection has both positive and negative effects.

It is no doubt a beautiful thing to put something above our individual needs and desires – it can be a wonderful act of service that brings a deep sense of wholeness and peace, and also causes us to step beyond our petty human concerns into a side of us that is connected to everything through all time and space. In other words, serving something higher than ourselves actually connects us with our higher selves – something which we must deeply desire, for throughout history humans have created opportunities to worship – whether it be in churches, in sacred groves, in mosques, at conferences, or at rock concerts. When we come together to worship, we experience the connection with each other and the whole world that we often feel separate from in everyday life. Who hasn’t at some point seen an amazing band, with thousands of other people, and felt transported beyond our small reality into a sense of connection to larger and more substantial world?

The negative side of worship is of course when the power is endowed outside of oneself. Romantic love is a good example of this – one projects one’s own greatness onto the other person and then they seem to have it. Then we must have them, or be with them, to connect with our own greatness. It’s the same relationship that we can have with God, or a public figure, or a person on stage, or a guru, or a theory, or a scientist.

Having experienced both sides of the equation – both being on stage and in the audience, I notice this tendency for reverence in people (and myself). On stage, I can feel people projecting their greatness onto me – endowing me with a power and perfection which is not the truth of who I am, but rather a mirage of an ideal being. If you are the person being projected onto, it is of course impossible to live up to the ideal with which you are being endowed. And if you are the person in the audience, the projector if you like, then sadly you are actually separating yourself from your own power and beauty and greatness and handing it over to someone else or something else. Then as with romantic love, you rely on the other person or idea to give your power back to you – to give you the direction, the wisdom, the power, the emotional stability, the courage, whatever you think you need to bring your heart into the world.

And this to me, is one of the great problems with celebrity and self-development and government and science and religion. It’s not something that we can blame on the stars of our world, whether they be rock stars or actors, or politicians or priests, or scientists or theories, or gurus or Gods – because it is not necessarily that they demand worship of us, but that we have the tendency to revere, the desire to adulate, the need to adore.

Why else do we have entire industries that are based on telling us what celebrities are up to? Why else are we so affronted when a prominent politician has an affair? Why else do rock stars get confronted with screaming fans, passionate to just touch their clothing, or catch their eye? Is this not the same as the relationship that the true believer has with a saint? Or that a disciple has with a guru? Or that a scientist has with provable fact?

It’s simply this: we have a tendency to endow greatness, perfection even, outside of ourselves. In so doing, we lose touch with our own greatness, and we create an expectation on the other to live up to the ideal we impose upon them. Once this structure has been set up – we are guaranteed to be disappointed. At some point, we will realize that the person we have endowed with greatness is also human; just as human, just as flawed as ourselves, and then we can feel betrayed, and go out to seek some other symbol of greatness, someone who we can truly rely on, someone who deserves the pedestal we place them on. And so the cycle will continue – as long as we build pedestals and place others on them.

The trick is to find that greatness, that wisdom, that direction within ourselves: to have the capacity to love our own flawed human behavior and worship our own divinity. Then we can adore others without expecting them to be perfect – we can love their stupidity, their humanness, their darkness, as we love our own.

When can love and appreciate greatness outside of ourselves without relinquishing our own power and autonomy, then we can really create magic. I think that this is truly something worth going for in life: it’s where we find true freedom, true dedication, and true love.

Greatness starts on the inside: It starts with a full appreciation of the beauty and the ugliness within ourselves and others. When we take down our false pedestals and level the playing field, we can at once forgive the foolishness and have real reverence for the divinity that is both within us and outside of us. And from there, we can have a new and more powerful structure from which to build our lives. 

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