Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Should We Be Scared of the Fame Monster?

Photo Credit: ama_lia
The late, great artist Andy Warhol famously claimed that, "In the future, everyone will be world-famous for fifteen minutes."  Unfortunately for us, it appears that the future has arrived.  From reality television characters to YouTube sensations, new stars rise among us each day, only to evaporate within hours or days.

You only need to watch an episode of American Idol auditions to witness the thousands of people hoping to become famous.  Hoping for the riches and power that fame brings along with it, self-glorifying wannabe superstars will do whatever it takes to get their mug on camera or on the Internet.  And it's not just adults trying to become famous.  More and more parents are putting their children forth in the hopes that an adoring public will embrace them.

But we have to ask ourselves, "Is the fame worth it?"  With all the money and popularity and recognition and "stuff" that fame brings, is it really worth it?  Apparently, Billy Ray Cyrus doesn't think so.  In a recent GQ interview, Cyrus worries about what fame has done to his family and the toll that it has taken on his daughter, Miley (of Disney's Hannah Montana fame):
"How many interviews did I give and say, 'You know what's important between me and Miley is I try to be a friend to my kids'? I said it a lot. And sometimes I would even read other parents might say, 'You don't need to be a friend, you need to be a parent.' Well, I'm the first guy to say to them right now: You were right. I should have been a better parent. I should have said, 'Enough is enough — it's getting dangerous and somebody’s going to get hurt.' I should have, but I didn't. Honestly, I didn't know the ball was out of bounds until it was way up in the stands somewhere."
As is the case for many children thrust into the entertainment field at a young age, Miley Cyrus comes from a home with parents who identify themselves as Christians.  In a fascinating Wall Street Journal article entitled God at the Grammys: The Chosen Ones, writer Neil Strauss addresses this phenomenon of performers who feel that it is God's calling on their life to be famous.  From Lady Gaga to Eminem to Snoop Dogg to Christina Aguilera, many of today's top entertainers have a sense of "divine mission" when it comes to their art...and their fame.

Strauss comments:
"Before they were famous, many of the biggest pop stars in the world believed that God wanted them to be famous, that this was his plan for them, just as it was his plan for the rest of us not to be famous. Conversely, many equally talented but slightly less famous musicians I've interviewed felt their success was accidental or undeserved—and soon after fell out of the limelight...

Let's call it competitive theism, a self-styled spirituality that can be overlaid on any religion and has nothing to do with personal morality. This faith gap, I've noticed in the interviews I've done, is often what sets the merely famous apart from the ridiculously famous. It can make the difference between achieving what's possible and accomplishing what seems impossible...

This isn't to say that every person who tops the charts believes in God's will. There are plenty of exceptions, but fewer than you'd think. Contemporary pop stars have rarely declared themselves atheists. In fact, the pop stars condemned by religious groups have often been the most fervent believers, from Elvis Presley (who was reading a book about Jesus when he died in his bathroom) to Lady Gaga (whose "Born This Way," a new single launched with great fanfare this weekend, declares that "no matter gay, straight or bi," we are all part of God's plan)."
The fame monster is alive and well within our culture but I don't think it's God's doing. From what I know of God, his plan is that HE would become famous and that our job is to help in that process. In the words of John Piper, we are to make much of Him and not much of ourselves. This innate desire that we have as humans to make our name great goes back to ancient times and is vividly displayed early on in the Bible in the story of The Tower of Babel.

When our desire in life is to make God's name great, it will lead us to a greater sense of humility and service to others.  When we seek to make our own name great, it will ultimately lead to tragedy and heartbreak.  I do not say all of that to assert that everyone that is famous is not part of God's plan.  Within God's economy there probably are individuals that become well-known so that His purposes can be displayed through their life.  So, in a sense, their fame is part of His plan.

But to intentionally seek out fame and fortune for our own purposes will not lead to a place of contentment and fulfillment or in God being glorified.  We need look no further than the wake of broken relationships, substance addictions, bankruptcies and other calamities that befall so many that are famous to realize that fame is not a promise to a better life.

Since I am not famous and am not friends with anyone that would fit into that category, it would be unfair of me to say that fame and fulfillment can't go together.  I'm sure that there are some famous people that are truly happy and enjoy rich relationships with others and are able to put their money to good use.  But based on what I see from my limited perspective, I'm guessing that they are far and few between.

Our objective in life should not be to ask God to fit into our plans and bless what we're doing.  Our goal should be to find God's plan and what He is already blessing and fit our lives into that.  I prefer to make Him famous.  It just works out better that way.

(h/t to Get Religion for the link to the Strauss article.)

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