Unlearning Celebrity: The Postmodern Struggle for Significance

I am no celebrity and it sucks. At least that is what I feel the world keeps telling me.

The other day as I was spending some time talking with a good friend of mine, it occurred to us both that the hyper-celebrity-centered nature of our society has left us feeling like if we and our ideas are not the creme de la creme and poised to emerge to the top in the next 15 minutes of fame, then we are either failing in life, or doing something wrong.

I mean after all, aren’t all people in their mid-30’s supposed to be on the verge of ultimate success? Aren’t we supposed to be making the most amount of money as we ever will? Aren’t we the next best thing since sliced bread? And isn’t everyone supposed to be famous at sometime?


That is a hard thing to come to, but at the end of the day, it is true. No. No you are not the next celebrity. No, you are not the answer to all the world’s problems. No, the ideas that you have (which are dang good) may not be poised to be articulated for maximum impact and celebrity today. No.

So what?

So, it means that we need to be asking a different set of questions than those which the narcissistic culture of celebrity=significance keep holding up to us. We must hold up a different way thinking about the kind of impact and influence we have upon the world if we are to really live lives of significance for the good others (and ourselves).

Two thoughts about significance more than celebrity:

Communal significance: Every person has the capacity to exercise a transforming influence in their local ecologies. At our cores, we are a tribal people who locally have the ability to contribute to the good of others in powerful ways.

Not only that, but the roles which we play, the value which we bring, is both tied to the responses that we get from others and the amount of joy/passion we derive from it. Far too often today, the weight of glory and importance is heavily sided on the responses of others, but this is not the only measure (although celebrity culture would want us to think this). No, along with the kind of responses we get from the community around us about our contributions, we too must personally evaluate the amount of joy we derive from what we do in passion.

After all, there are more than few people who derive a great deal of pleasure from things which never seem to get noticed by others. People who protest, people who work with the sick, people who live with the homeless, people who take pilgrimage and people who just try their best to love. And aren’t these the real celebrities? You know, the ones who are unnoticed and unmentioned in society but living out our highest ideals?

Collective significance: Even when the world stops reflecting back to us positive things about our contributions and efforts, our dreams, cries, rituals and articulations are still received by the Cosmos for the good of the Cosmos (and others).

This is the greater significance. The one which we possess when we are not doing for others. It is also the significance that we add when we are in private and at our most vulnerable; that is, with ourselves.

I believe like many Process theologians, that what we do when we are alone (and in the world) God takes into the world to bring about the greatest ideals of God’s intentions for the world (for Good). In this way, private prayers, crying over the loss of a friend, being moved by a great song, sending an encouraging email or choosing to recycle are all things which move the cosmos towards that which is good. And this is significant even if we are never applauded, congratulated, or even known.

In conclusion (for the time being), if Sallie McFague is right, that the world can be understood as God’s body, then there is no part which is more significant than any other. All parts are what she calls, “partners with God in maintaining the health of creation.” In a strange way, she continues, “creation modeled as God’s body supports and underscores a radically ecological view of the world. It is entirely opposed to the cult of individualism.”

I’m convinced we’ve become mis-educated individuals on a search for celebrity. In reality, we’re probably a whole lot more like essential essences of a Cosmic community where our greatest difference is celebrated more than our most known about individuals. One of these is better for one. The other is better for all.