"No man is an Island, intire of it selfe; every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine… any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee."
The Grammys, The Oscars, The Emmys, The Tonys, People’s Choice, Golden Globes, American Music Awards, BET, CMAs…
Celebrities certainly do like to celebrate themselves. Can you think of any other occupation so preoccupied with itself? Can you imagine if other professionals possessed the same level of self-congratulatory hubris?
“And now accepting the award for Best Junior Account Executive…”
Cue adulatory applause.
Pop culture assures its celebrities that their lives are extraordinary, special. And if their lives are so significant, so must be their deaths.
Last night, someone texted me that Whitney Houston died. I thought, “How much should I care?”
Now don’t get me wrong: I’m sure she was a beautiful person. I assume that in this world she faced her share of challenges, took satisfaction in her accomplishments, and was no stranger to personal tragedy and loss. In other words, she was just like the rest of us. But having a three-octave range is no more of an achievement than graduating vocational school. (Perhaps Houston leveraged her considerable wealth and influence for charitable or humanitarian causes, but its not mentioned in any of the late-breaking news reports I’ve seen so far.)
Everyday, decent, hard-working, selfless people die anonymous deaths—their passing barely noted by anyone save a few close family members. My job has brought me into an uncomfortable proximity with this cold fact.
Poet John Donne once wrote eloquently of the immutable connection we humans share, our interdependence upon each other. Everyone matters. But Hollywood has subverted that noble truth: In today’s culture, no one matters except the very beautiful and famous.
Tonight’s award program will feature an unabashed celebration of Ms. Houston, I’m sure. Perhaps fans will hold a candlelight vigil, or place teddy bears and roses on the sidewalk in front of the Beverly Hilton. But such outpouring has always given me a certain existential dysphoria.
By idolizing the one, we diminish the “all.”