catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 7, Num 11 :: 2008.05.30 — 2008.06.13


True fame

Celebrity is as celebrity does.
Professor Gilderoy Lockhart in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Fame is a funny thing; powerful, addictive, alluring and yet deceptive.  It promises much but delivers what?  Has there ever been a time when fame has had a greater stranglehold over people’s imagination?  The desire to be known, to make a mark on the world, is as old as Lucifer’s power grab. And now, in the information age, it appears that for the first time in history the goal of celebrity may be within everyone’s reach.  “You too can be on a reality show!” seems to have become our national motto. But what about the nine billion people on the planet? Britney Spears may be known around the world and there may be just six degrees of separation between you and Kevin Bacon, but what about the rest of us? 

While, fame in and of itself is neutral, I am certain that the drive for fame and the desire for celebrity is a perversion.  We were made to be known, designed that way by a loving God, formed in His image, yet each a one-of-a-kind.  The lust for notoriety however, exploits our misdirected longings for an intimate relationship with the living God.  I know this, yet I am still infatuated with fame; I’d be a liar if I said I wasn’t.  However, I have begun to see things in a new light.

Walker Evans and James Agee published a book in 1941, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, an examination of the lives of three sharecropping families in the south.  Twenty years after first seeing the images, they’re still seared into my imagination.  Who were these people? What happened to them? 

Somehow these photos, along with the title of the book, were an epiphany of sorts for me.  In truth, we are surrounded by famous people; we’re just oblivious because we “see through a glass darkly.” Once, though, as I was walked into a meeting room for a women’s Sunday School class I caught a glimpse.  I pushed the door open and the air in the room was hot.  It was difficult to breath as I looked out across the scattered tables where the women in the room seemed to glow like red hot metal.  I was in a room of power, a place where the very course of world events could be decided and altered, and these women—nurses, teachers, secretaries, homemakers and accountants—were in fact mighty warriors of the Lord.  It was a just a flash, a momentary experience but I spent the rest of that Sunday school class in a daze.  Who was I that I deserved to be in “their mighty company?”

C.S Lewis explores this idea in The Great Divorce.  A glorious being, glittering and beautiful and accompanied by many attendants, turns out to be an “ordinary” woman seen through heaven’s eyes.  In God’s economy our worth and the value of our life is calculated so differently that it’s hard to grasp compared to the “15 minutes of fame” that is marketed to us by the world.  Jesus tried to give us a sense of the paradoxes involved in being famous for God.  The road to fame in the Kingdom of Heaven is outlined in Matthew chapter 5.  Poverty, meekness, suffering and a hunger for righteousness lead to holy celebrity.  Can we really expect a world that calls Survivor and Wife Swap “reality shows” to take note of these qualities?  Probably not.

I once sat in on a Russian class taught by…(dramatic pause) Leo Tolstoy’s nephew. Oh, and once when I was at a reunion picnic at Brown University I had to keep climbing over Daryl Hannah and JFK, Jr. to track down my kids, back when I was a nanny (Yawn).  Seriously, I’m pretty much out of names to drop.  That’s it except for Marjorie.

You know Marjorie Edwards, right?  Probably you don’t, not yet, but she is something else.  I feel privileged to know her; I feel blessed when she calls out my name out.  My mother’s grandparents and aunts and uncles were sharecroppers in the south.  The old family photos show hard working folks with names like Wilsie, Dewey and Eva Alice.  I even got to know some of them, but they are not famous.  They have no renown or notoriety except within family circles.

The evidence that fame is not a cure all to one’s problems is just a grocery check-out away.  Tabloids keep us on the up and up with the devastation wrought by money and celebrity.  Can you say, “Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Emminem, Britney Spears.”

I am not immune.  Even now that I know its promises are hollow it can turn my head.

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