Celebrity Worship a Foolish Fad
No sooner had I penned a lament about the death of country singer Naomi Judd than I saw a commentary about her written by Terry Mattingly, a longtime journalist I’ve never met but have long admired.
A senior fellow at the University of Mississippi, Mattingly was the religion editor of the Rocky Mountain News during our days in the Denver area, when I was adjusting to my new life as a follower of Christ.
This spring, Mattingly wrote a perceptive story about Judd facing demons and angels in the glare of celebrity, including the aggressive fan who joined her Pentecostal church.
Judd did an interview with Mattingly in 1993 after signing hundreds of copies of her memoir, Love Can Build A Bridge. She told the religion reporter that the best way to explain her awkward feelings to that fan was to say, “Honey, Jesus is the star.”
Unrealistic Celebrity Lens
While serious country music fans don’t expect perfection, the singer said there are millions of fans who view artists through the unrealistic expectation of a celebrity lens.
“We don’t have a royal family in America, so we’ve made celebrities our aristocracy,” Judd said. “We worship celebrities instead of God. People sit on the edges of their seats waiting to find out what we had for breakfast, and they always ask, ‘What do YOU think about this?’”
When you consider that actor Matthew McConaughey was invited to address a White House briefing in early June about gun legislation, truer words were never spoken.
Granted, McConaughey could speak to the issue as a native of Uvalde, Texas, who was touched deeply by the senseless slaughter of 21 children and teachers that took place there in late May.
However, I still say that his status as an Academy Award winner had more to do with him taking the national stage than his being an expert on policy and political issues.
The actor’s comments instantly brought to mind the congressional testimony in 1985 by actresses Jessica Lange, Sissy Spacek and Jane Fonda about legislation on the nation’s farm crisis. Not because they were experts on farmers’ problems, but because they had portrayed farmers’ wives in different movies.
The Bright Lights
Even hard-bitten journalists can be swayed by the bright lights’ appeal. I remember when Linda Kelsey portrayed reporter Billie Newman on one of my 1970s and ‘80s favorite TV shows, Lou Grant.
I can’t remember at what journalistic meeting Kelsey appeared. But I still remember reading about a crush of photographers and reporters who surrounded her as she protested, “I’m not an expert on newspapers. I just play a reporter.”
We must keep in mind that a celebrity machine granting superhuman status to anyone who comes into the public eye is a system rooted in illusion. An illusion that all too often also leads to disappointment, because no person can live up to unrealistic images (as Elvis Presley and many others since proved).
Sadly, church members are as susceptible to the cult of celebrity as anyone else in our society.
I won’t name names of leaders who have crashed because if I started, the list would grow too long. Suffice it to say the falls of various megachurch and celebrity pastors offer sufficient evidence.
Though she is gone now, Naomi Judd speaks from the grave: “Honey, Jesus is the star.”
As the only star, it’s ironic to consider that the only perfect Person was also the only man ever crucified for His perfection.
To me, that says celebrity isn’t so valuable, given the imperfection of the judges.