Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Celebrity and saints

Another thought:  perhaps celebrities are playing a teaching role - almost in the way that saints have?

Christian saints - and also mythic (or real) heroes of all kinds in all cultures - have always been, in part, stand-ins for personality types and examples of human behavior, and a way to teach the faith's values and possibilities.  For instance: 
  • The Blessed Virgin Mary (she accepted God's will for her - and henceforth all generations call her blessed); 
  • Joseph (it's his feast day today; he's the accepting father and provider); 
  • John the Baptist (the wild prophet - the "voice crying in the wilderness"); 
  • St. Peter (the loyal but deeply flawed disciple - redeemed in spite of his betrayal);  
  • St. Thomas (the doubter); 
  • Martha and Mary of Bethany (the active and contemplative - the worldly and mystical); 
  • St. Paul (the mystic and thinker and gadfly); 
  • Mary Magdalene (at various times:  the loyal disciple, the madwoman, the sinner, the whore, the "Apostle to the Apostles", the "good role model");  
  • St. Jerome (the cranky scholar); 
  • St. Francis (the true disciple, the ne plus ultra, the mystic); 
  • St. Julian (the solitary, the mystic, the lover of souls); 
  • others you can name here, I'm sure.

The Greek and Roman gods performed this function, too, as far as I can tell.  Zeus, Hera, Aphrodite, Hermes, Apollo, Athena, Hercules, etc. - all are distinct personality types, and all are "patrons" of various aspects of human life, exactly as the saints were later.

So perhaps this is what the celebrity culture is about?  Perhaps people are using them - and the word "using" is pretty accurate, I think - as a way to look at and dissect the human condition via the variety of character traits and personality types that celebrities act out?  As models for behavior?  And, more specifically: as a way to understand human life and behavior?  To talk all this out, and figure out what's good and what's deleterious?  The difference, of course, is that there is no real system to this - and the values it contains are of-the-moment and very likely fleeting.

Celebrities are used as scapegoats, too, of course - there is that love-hate thing going - and that's another place the "saint" comparison breaks down.

Saint culture is almost gone now, in these terms - and celebrity culture is powerful and everywhere.  And unreasonably central to modern life - which says to me that it's an adaptation, and functioning in, perhaps, the same way as religion once did.  That is, to give shape to all the data, and find coherence in patterns, perhaps?   Perhaps people are simply using "celebrity" as a means to deal with the loss of the religious function in their lives?

Think Ayn Rand, too, BTW, and the continued popularity of her novels - and the unquestionably "religious" devotion of her disciples.  This is another case of oversized enthusiasm for characters, I think - which in addition comes alongside a developed statement about coherence.  This is what people are doing, I think:  looking for patterns and "ways of being," and/or talking out human problems - whether or not these ways of being actually work or make real sense in the long run.  (This is exactly what I'm doing on this thread, too, as a matter of fact!)

This is what the church does, too, of course; it tells a strange story, filled with fascinating, mysterious characters and powerful events - and has worked out a theory about the coherence and meaning of human existence based on those events.   The really interesting thing is that it has spoken strongly to people for such a long time - which says that it's dealing with some very basic, core human concerns.

I've always thought, BTW, that the "twelve tribes of Israel" may actually represent some basic breakdown of human personality types or spheres of interest.  Someday I'll have to look closely at what the Oral Tradition says about this, if anything....

No comments: