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Thursday, April 30, 2009
Have you heard the latest about Madonna/Lohan/Hilton? Or did you see that Mel Gibson was out publicly with his new girlfriend just days after his wife of 20+ years had filed for divorce? You may not care about celebrities, but you've probably heard the most recent gossip about them. It's impossible to avoid. I don't read the gossip rags or (with an occasional exception) anything resembling a celebrity-following website, but I still somehow pick up all the dirt on the most recent falls from grace. Our society is obsessed with celebrity, which in recent years has manifested itself in reality TV, where the average Joe or Joan can be an instant (yet fleeting) celebrity. And in most cases, celebrities are famous for the most low-brow or unimpressive achievements. If someone knows how to cry on cue just right, or pretend that he is a drug addict, or look good half-naked, they're bound for stardom. Never mind that their personal lives are moral wastelands devoid of any functional understanding of healthy physical or spiritual health.

The danger is to think that this speaks primarily about a problem with our celebrities. Rather, it says more about us, the voyeuristic and gossiping public. How many of the American Idol contestants are clearly participating in the show because of the chance to become famous and openly despise the average lives to which they will return once they are voted out of the limelight (and many don't go gently into that good night)? Since when is being famous (or at least infamous) such a glorious end for which to yearn?

With that in mind, Dr. Dalrymple discusses this topic in a roundabout manner in his latest essay in the New English Review.
A man called Graham Young poisoned several people, some to death and others only to near-death, in the 1960s and 70s in England without any pecuniary motive, indeed without any obvious motive at all, starting when he was thirteen or fourteen years of age. Among his victims (who did not die) were his father and his sister. It is probable that he poisoned his step-mother (who was devoted to him) to death.
[One] thing that struck me was the obvious and sometimes openly expressed desire of Graham Young to achieve celebrity by his poisonings. He wanted to be known and remembered as the greatest poisoner in history; he took great pleasure in the publicity that he received, and he was more concerned with the newspaper coverage of his first trial than with the medical condition of his blameless father whom he had poisoned.

He lived at a time of a fundamental shift in our culture. On the one hand he was very old-fashioned; he dressed conservatively, always in a shirt and tie, and with a handkerchief in the breast pocket of his suit.
On the other hand, he matured at the time when the cult of celebrity, for celebrity’s sake, was fast gaining ground. It was a new form of celebrity, disconnected from any solid form of achievement, of which an ability to attract publicity became the sine qua non [the essential aspect of life]. Graham Young was highly intelligent, without the character to stick at anything to achieve something solid, but with a burning desire to be acknowledged as superior, important and outstanding.

When trying to explain why he could not get close to people, he once said to his sister (and she ends her book with these words), ‘You see, there’s a terrible coldness inside me.’ Could a spread of that coldness not help to explain our contemporary preoccupation with celebrity?


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Darius' book montage

The Cross Centered Life: Keeping the Gospel The Main Thing
Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God
Overcoming Sin and Temptation
According to Plan: The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible
Disciplines of a Godly Man
Money, Greed, and God: Why Capitalism Is the Solution and Not the Problem
When Helping Hurts: Alleviating Poverty Without Hurting the Poor. . .and Ourselves
The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith
Respectable Sins
The Kite Runner
Life Laid Bare: The Survivors in Rwanda Speak
Machete Season: The Killers in Rwanda Speak
A Generous Orthodoxy: Why I am a missional, evangelical, post/protestant, liberal/conservative, mystical/poetic, biblical, charismatic/contemplative, fundamentalist/calvinist, ... anabaptist/anglican, metho
Show Them No Mercy
The Lord of the Rings
Life at the Bottom: The Worldview That Makes the Underclass
The Truth War: Fighting for Certainty in an Age of Deception
Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist's Guide to Global Warming
The Chronicles of Narnia
Les Misérables

Darius Teichroew's favorite books »