As a curious atheist with only an academic interest in religion I have over some time now come up with the following working theory: celebrities are modern day gods. I think it makes perfect sense. I mean, it really is the only way to explain the amount of coverage someone like Kim Kardashian is able to receive in a time where we have so many actual problems facing our existence on this planet.
We have more media than ever before, for the first time in history being published doesn’t cost anything. We have phones, tablets, computers, TV and radio are still hanging in there – all designed to give us lightening fast access to information. And wouldn’t you say about roughly 70% of that time spent on these devices is spent talking about ourselves (Facebook), improving our image (Instagram) and gossiping about celebrities and the latest corporate media distraction/sensation?
How did we get here?
Every single civilization since the dawn of humanity has worshiped some kind of gods and had some kind of religion. The Incas, the Egyptians, the Greek, the Romans, the druids and the vikings. They all told themselves fairy tales that, somehow, were more important than the life they were actually given. Human sacrifice, slavery, violence and torture, all done in the name of some God that was really into war and valued strength above all. So my conclusion from that history lesson is that there is some part of humans that is in desperate need of someone to look up to, who is better than us, and give all this human intelligence, free will and empty space some resemble of purpose, meaning and hope.
Religion is also a fail-safe way of controlling ignorant populations, which the ruling class picked up on very quickly. During the first millennia and dark ages it proved very useful. Just convince people that only you can save their immortal soul and that life should be spent repenting for sins not yet committed for the promise of eternal life after death…. oh yeah, it was a big hit. But then the Renaissance happened, quickly followed by the enlightenment era, and religion started losing its iron hold over small pockets of citizens all over the planet.
In most modern countries today religion is a choice. It is a psychological tool one can use to relate to the world around us, and as long as religion stays in the personal sphere, I have absolutely nothing against it. It’s only when religious groups start pushing their ideas on society around them that I take offense.
But how does a life without gods psychologically affect the rest of us? If you break religion down to its bare bones, it is about stories. Stories told about people who came before us and the lessons they learned. They are used a moral guidelines on how to be a decent human being. Ideally, we should not need to be told and taught how to do that but we have obviously not evolved as a species to that point yet. And maybe there is a biological void inside us that needs to be filled with stories about gods. Why else would we see this phenomena all over the world?
And that’s where celebrities come in. They are larger-than-life creatures. They are people only seen in pictures, they are beautiful, they are wealthy, they live in enchanted places and mostly interact only with each other. They fall in love with each other, they have feuds with each other, they have babies. All this and more, set in exotic locations and serene backdrops. We memorize the highlights of their life story – from rags to riches, from waiter to global superstar. We watch them crash and burn, then rise from the ashes like a phoenix. Because everyone loves a comeback, and because their lives are lived on such a larger scale than our own, we savor the wisdom they bring us.
Which brings me to the catalyst for this post. I recently binge-watched Lindsay Lohan’s eight episode reality show, excuse me, docu-drama, and I have rarely had such conflicting emotions about something. Even though absolutely nothing of real interest happened, a film crew follows Lindsay for four months in which she moves across country from Los Angeles to a luxury apartment in New York, I couldn’t stop watching. I had to see this through even though after over six hours of watching, the only things I learned was that 1) Lindsay is a pretty unpleasant person to be around, 2) her family is a mess and I can see how she got that way, and what surprised me the most but really shouldn’t have, 3) Lindsay is a hoarder.
This poor girl. Permanently trapped in the mindset of a eighteen-year old (when she reached her peak of fame), she has been an addict for most of her 20’s, and is surrounded by people who only want to use her, take advantage of her, and flatter her (you are the best actress in the world!) to reach their own selfish goal. Including Oprah. So when the last episode was over, I just felt dirty. It was like her empty life had seeped into mine and sucked all the light out of it. Her desperation to stop being the punchline of a bad joke and get back on top as a bonafide goddess, sparkling in the flashes of the cameras, it was so tangible and so, so sad. I think it is much more difficult to have been a celebrity in past tense, than to have never become one at all.
But none of this answers the question of the day: why do we care so much about celebrities??
Maybe we have a God-shaped hole in our hearts and it’s time to start filling it with something else. I hope, for the sake of our future, and our children’s future, that the hole is circular and that we can fill it with an immense love for our beautiful blue planet. Stories about other people are only satisfying if your own life doesn’t live up to its potential.