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By Deal Hudson

1/20/2014 (1 year ago)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Our nation's culture is deeply influenced by the obsession with celebrities, many of whom have nothing to offer other than their fame.

But the Kardasians and Reality TV! Need I say more? I sincerely hope not. There's something wrong in a culture when so much time, attention, and interest is directed towards banality.  This is not to say that some genuine talent has been unearthed, fortunately, by putting so many quirky, high energy personalities on TV. Ah, but it's "just entertainment," you say? Our experiences of entertainment are among the most malleable, because we open ourselves in a particularly vulnerable way to laughter, tears, anger, hatred, admiration, and the reflection that goes with those intense emotions. We learn a great deal about a people and their culture from its major forms of mass entertainment.  

Jack Gleeson did some serious research to prepare for his speech at Oxford, and he showed a gift for treating academic concepts with a light, humorous touch.Gleeson must have touched a nerve, because within four days the video on YouTube had nearly 800,000 views.

Jack Gleeson did some serious research to prepare for his speech at Oxford, and he showed a gift for treating academic concepts with a light, humorous touch.Gleeson must have touched a nerve, because within four days the video on YouTube had nearly 800,000 views.

Highlights

By Deal Hudson

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

1/20/2014 (1 year ago)

Published in U.S.

Keywords: celebrity culture, Culture of celebrity, Kardasians, Game of Thrones, Jack Gleeson, idolatry, entertainment culture, Deal W Hudson, Deal Hudson


WASHINGTON,DC (Catholic Online) - Celebrities shape American and European culture as much as anything else. Evidence is everywhere, for example, filling the borders of website pages and even serious media sites, are celebrity stories using provocative photos to lure browsers deeper into the bowels of their websites. Publishers and editors, unless they deal in celebrities, don't have any regard for Kate Upton or Ashton Kutcher but use them to serve the bottom line. More unique visitors, more pages views, more time spent, all push their ad rates higher. 

Most celebrities quickly learn they've become commodities. From the first silent screen vamp, Theda Bara, and her successors Greta Garbo, Clara Bow, and Jean Harlow to Marilyn Monroe, Raquel Welch, and Kim Basinger, female actresses, in particular, have submitted to this process. Some have handled it with a healthy detachment, others have been tragically overwhelmed, some have withdrawn from view, and then there was the completely reclusive Garbo.

Paul Newman, Robert Redford, and Harrison Ford are male actors who withdrew from the public eye, expressing their disgust with the constant attention of the press and fans. And now without warning, a popular young actor, age 21, Jack Gleeson -- star of "Game of Thrones" TV show - surprised his fan-filled Oxford University audience with a speech on "I Hate the Culture of Celebrity." Gleeson must have touched a nerve, because within four days the video on YouTube had nearly 800,000 views. 

No doubt this level of attention was due, ironically, to Gleeson's celebrity status.  But the suddenness of the rush to view his speech suggests something more: that viewers took special delight in a celebrity so charmingly and intelligently sending up a cultural phenomenon so far out of control it belies caricature. It needs to be said that there are celebrities and there are celebrities. In other words, standing at the stage door hoping to glimpse Vladimir Horowitz, Luciano Pavarotti, Margot Fonteyn, John Gielgud, or Judi Dench is understandable, given the quality of what they bestow on their public. In other words, there are celebrities who, in my opinion, deserve their status because of some sort of genius or excellence, and not just in the arts, also in sports, politics, the military, or business.

But the Kardasians and Reality TV! Need I say more? I sincerely hope not. There's something wrong in a culture when so much time, attention, and interest is directed towards banality.  This is not to say that some genuine talent has been unearthed, fortunately, by putting so many quirky, high energy personalities on TV. Ah, but it's "just entertainment," you say? Our experiences of entertainment  are among the most malleable, because we open ourselves in a particularly vulnerable way to laughter, tears, anger, hatred, admiration, and the reflection that goes with those intense emotions. We learn a great deal about a people and their culture from its major forms of mass entertainment.  

Jack Gleeson did some serious research to prepare for his speech at Oxford, and he showed a gift for treating academic concepts with a light, humorous touch.  But his grasp of what it means to become a commodity was profound: Gleeson looked at it both from the perspective of his own experience of being treated like one, and from the fan's perspective of being obsessed with "simulacra," which he meant in the Platonic sense of the flickering shadows in the Allegory of the Cave from The Republic. In fact, though Gleeson drew from a variety of disciplines, he came across as a natural Platonist. 

As he said about the impact of celebrity on himself: "I detested the superficial elevation and commodification of it all, juxtaposed with the grotesque self-involvement it would sometimes draw out in me." Gleeson goes even further in describing the self-destructive process he finds himself wanting to escape, "Having one's image, and effectively life, democratized, dehumanizes and sometimes objectifies it into an entertainment product. What sort of valuation of the ego would one have once you've let it be preyed upon by the public for years and years? Perhaps, it becomes truly just skin and bones."

A native of Cork, Ireland, Gleeson has already begun studies in philosophy and theology at Trinity College Dublin. He has speculated he might retire from acting soon, but admits honestly he could change his mind.  Several of the entertainment blogs commenting on Gleeson's speech have ridiculed him. These are blogs whose bread and butter is gossip about and worship of celebrities. For one of their celebrity heroes to point at the elephant in the room must have felt like a slap in the face.

As the viewership of his Oxford speech goes higher and higher, it appears that the actor Jack Gleeson has unintentionally become a Socratic figure with the culture of celebrity, a gadfly stinging the conscience of those besotted with the unreality of the persons they dream of being. I'm very pleased, as many others seem to be, that Gleeson has taken the time in his busy, young life to listen to his "daemon."

Summary:

1. Our nation's culture is deeply influenced by the obsession with celebrities, many of whom have nothing to offer other than their fame.

2. Jack Gleeson, the 21-year old star of "Game of Thrones," spoke at Oxford University last week on "I Hate Celebrity Culture," which quickly went viral on YouTube.

3. Gleeson was correct when he pointed out that the culture of celebrity reduces the person to a mere dehumanized commodity, while those worshiping celebrities are lost in a world of shadows, as described in Plato's Republic.

Deal W. Hudson, Ph.D

-----
Deal W. Hudson is president of the Morley Institute of Church and Culture, Senior Editor at Catholic Online, and former publisher and editor of Crisis Magazine.This column and subsequent contributions are an excerpt from a forthcoming book. Dr. Hudson's new radio show, Church and Culture, will begin broadcasting in February on the Ave Maria Radio Network.

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