The cult of celebrity is mislabelled. It’s not a cult, it’s an illusion.
In the West, television runs 24 hours a day. Celebrity magazines adorn the shelves of virtually every retail space. Commercial radio plays the same 10 artists on a loop all day every day. The internet is rife with celebrity advertising. Movies can be watched on people’s mobile phones. Tabloid newspapers that reach the majority of daily readers splash unfortunate stories about public figures across their pages. In the course of our everyday lives, if you tap into all these different media, even just briefly, the accumulative effect is that you can spend more time involved in the lives of famous people than you do with your own friends and family. This being the case, by spending so much time tapping into the celebrity world, if you don’t have enough contact with reality beyond your tedious workplace colleagues (I’m not talking about mine – mine are precious!) or the people you were once friends with but who now just call you to moan (again, mine are lush) then these celebrities can almost be real to you. And more than that, by spending more time getting to know celebs in magazines than you spend engaging with real people, you also fall prey to the illusion that you’re a part of that world too. By some extension, you’re a friend of these celebs. And this being so, why is it so unreasonable that you should aspire to actually be involved in the world of celebrity. Such is the power of the illusion.
I’ve been telling my friends recently that I feel like I don’t know what having my shit together would look like, and the overwhelming response is that I’m not alone in that feeling. It would seem that virtually nobody has their shit together. It occurs to me that when I’m not doubting myself, I know this to be true anyway, but there are always one or two people in your life that really do have a grip on what they’re doing, and this makes everyone else feel like a failure. And to be fair, that’s our problem and not the fault of the people who have a grip on what they’re doing.
So what would having our shit together look like?
For most of us, this looks like living where you want to live, in a home that nourishes you, rather than a roof over your head that you resent paying so much for. It looks like having the friendship circle you imagined for yourself when you first went out into the world in search of happiness. It looks like having a passion for the work you do and a satisfying sense of its importance in the world, rather than just the thing you do to gradually pay off the credit card that afforded you a week’s holiday away from your life’s quotidian drudgery.
If that is what having our shit together looks like, I know that most people don’t have it. Maybe our parents’ generation did, or at least the middle class of that generation who benefited from free university education, low housing costs and lower costs of living did. Now it seems like the only people that do are the few who were already at the top of the socio-economic pile to begin with.
For ALL those of us without children, and for many who have spawned, feeling passionate about our work is often at the top of the list of what we want for our lives. But that, in honesty, is only a coy description of what we want. I say that, because I do have a passion. Writing. And on a good day, what I produce is great. I don’t have good days every day, but they happen enough to know that I’m on to something. And I know that most of you who are reading this have the very same experience. And we are passionate. We love it and we’re proud of the results. But what we really want is approval from others. As many others as we possibly can, in fact. Actually, we want EVERYONE to approve and admire of what we do. We may not all want to be celebrities, but we do in fact ALL want our work to be loved and known by EVERYONE.
The trouble is that nowadays, the people whose work is supposedly loved and known by everyone are smiling at us from every possible flat surface capable of bearing an image, and there are lots of them! Tonnes of them. There are so many celebrities, and we spend so much time surrounded by them that we unreasonably assume we too could fit somewhere in that pantheon if only the world could find us!
Well the truth is that those people are in a miraculously tiny minority. Out of a global population of over 6 billion, the number of famous people, or those whose work is well known and of importance in the world at large probably runs only into the tens of thousands. It’s an infinitesimally small proportion of humanity. So if being appreciated by the world is our aim or a blueprint for contentment then most of us are completely, utterly screwed. It’s easy to think that because there are so many celebrities in our lives and taking up space in our heads, that anyone could become one, and God knows it seems like anyone with a six pack or who can do a reasonably impression of a wedding singer can be known and valued in the world, but the reality is that they won the fucking lottery. If having your shit together, feeling passionate about your work, having it validated all looks like winning that lottery, then by that logic, only celebrities have their shit together, and they’re frighteningly fucked up.
To finish up though, on thing I’ve come to realise in my dotage is that the ‘greats’, really are great. And not only do they have talent, but the energy they bring not only to their work but also in how they go out into the world is what sets them apart. I’m thinking Paul McCartney, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Patti Smith, Tina Turner, Adele, Meryl Streep, Al Pacino, Helen Mirren, Jeanette Winterson, Juliette Binoche, Colleen McCullough, Richard Dawkins, Queen of All Mary Beard… They did win the lottery, but they truly deserved it.
And what can we learn from them? Simple: put your energy into being brilliant, be brilliant, and give as much of that energy away to others. It might not mean you’ll win the lottery too, but it will bring worth to you and your work.