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A study on celebrity in the contemporary world.

by Dada Acyutananda

{mosgoogle}What is a celebrity? First there must be an ingredient of athletic, artistic, financial or professional achievement; or of political power; or of chance collocation at the centre of events; or of birth or marriage as the child, relative, husband or wife of a celebrity.

Then there will always be one more element in the equation: the public need for celebrities.

The public need is an almost irresistible force. That that need alone does not turn completely random persons into celebrities is only because there is always an adequate pool of candidates who meet one or more of the other qualifications.

Now, what does this public need for celebrities consist of? Again there are two factors:

1. The prism of the media, whether designedly or undesignedly, gives its characters a mythic quality. Even if there is no intent to sensationalize, the journalistic need to simplify, to paint a character in a few strokes, assures its subjects a story-time radiance. So though it is the nature of the human mind to fantasize about anybody and everybody, we will especially tend to fantasize about people who are in the media glare: about being those people or being close to those people. We will fantasize about being those people in the belief that they live charmed lives, and we will fantasize about knowing those people in the belief that they have more to give us, more energy to quicken the tenor of our lives, more love.

2. Every child wants to be the centre of attention. Attention of any kind is almost as good as love. And most people remain children in that way all their lives. We all want the limelight.
   It goes without saying, of course, that we cannot all have the limelight. There is no room. So we try to attain it—most people try to deserve it in a positive way, a few resort to desperate measures—but we all try and most of us fail.
   To compensate for that failure, we dwell on the lives of those who are in the limelight. We become fascinated by the famous. If we have actually been touched by some athletic or artistic expression on their part, that increases our fascination. But even, for example, if I do not follow the fashion world, I will read an article about the personal life of a famous fashion designer; I will be interested just because the person is famous, just because he or she is getting the attention that I wanted.

But, not surprisingly, merely to keep up through the media with the lives of such people does not completely satisfy us. To narrow the gap between ourselves and that sensation of the limelight that we crave, we would prefer that the celebrity be responsive to us. (Which is to say, responsive to our responses. Interaction consists of responses to responses.) So we begin to wish that the celebrity would desire and seek positive responses from us the public, or even begin to feel that it is the celebrity’s moral duty to do so. We want the person to shape their art, their sport, their politics, to please us. And not merely externally to shape their art, etc., but clearly to express in that way their inner need for public approval. Even better if the person will accede to or court interviews in which they will seek to justify themselves to the public.

When we feel needed by those who are getting the attention, we feel that we share in the attention.

Concomitantly, what we will never forgive in a celebrity is indifference to our approval. A declaration of indifference, yes, but real indifference, no.

For this latter reason, saints do not make good celebrities. Saints are anything but indifferent to us, but they are indifferent to our approval. They usually go little recognized in their times.

That they do not become celebrities is in one way paradoxical, because the above two factors in our need for celebrities are based on our need for love. It is saints who could give love unconditionally—celebrities will want something in return. Similarly, to the extent that we do respond to saints, our response is "being love", as is their love for us; it is not "deficiency love". It is freely given, it is not demanding.

Most of us, however, do not easily recognize real love. According to Indian philosophy, the awesome variety of our earthly preoccupations is nothing but the search for love up every wrong tree.

If only, now, we could develop the part of ourselves that responds to saints, and responds to the elusive Absolute within saints, the source of all love, we would soon outgrow our need for celebrities.

Dada Acyutananda is a teacher of Ananda Marga meditation. The author’s website, "Surfing the Innernet" is at http://home.pacific.net.sg/~jpreston/advaeta.