The Celebrity Obsession Problem

Dear Daughter,

Last week, a famous singer named Whitney Houston died unexpectedly. She was young, beautiful and insanely talented, so her death is considered a tragic one. Especially because it appears drugs might have been the cause.

It’s always kind of conflicting when famous people die. Even though we’ve never met the person, we’re still shocked and saddened when we hear of their death. We feel some sense of mourning, but might feel a little dramatic doing so because after all, this person is technically a stranger. We have no right to grieve in the way that their family and friends do, yet they were a part of our life in some way, so it’s somewhat legitimate to be sad. Maybe the death of a superstar makes us think of our own mortality, or that of our loved ones. Perhaps what we’re really mourning is the loss of such great talent.

What bothers me, though, is how the media has handled celebrity deaths in the past few years. I try not to be a “hate the media” type because I’ve worked in the media and never liked the label people put on us. But seriously, this past week, it seemed every TV station, at every hour of the day, was airing coverage of Whitney Houston. It started to feel a little overboard after awhile. My cynical self couldn’t help but wonder: a) if it was all for the goal of higher profits, and b) what other important news we were missing because of it.

One of my friends, Garry De Vries, had a similar sentiment and recently posted a profound statement about it on Facebook. I asked him if I could share part of it with you:

I respect the dead and I respect that Whitney Houston needed her moment but what about the others?… Why don’t we take the time to flash EVERY fallen soldier’s name and picture the day they pass at the end of newscasts as a sign of respect. They died so people like Whitney can be free and become famous yet we do not honor them like we should. How about we keep the flag at full staff for celebrities and keep the honor of half staff for people who dedicated their lives to our country or lost it in the line of duty. How about we talk more about the soldiers who lost limbs and are in wheelchairs and how we can help them instead of Lindsey Lohan’s next court date for being a drug-addicted idiot. How about instead of the Real Housewives and their egotistical lives we have a show about the widows of soldiers and single mothers and wives of soldiers overseas and help them.

Garry’s statement really hit me because it revealed just how much value our culture (myself included) places on The Celebrity. For some reason, we’ve become obsessed with the comings and goings of the rich and famous, and oftentimes those comings and goings are superfluous, having no real impact on our daily life. And the people who truly are making a difference—soldiers, teachers, scientists—usually go unnoticed and are sometimes even dismissed. This dichotomy sadly shows just how shallow our culture really is.

That’s not to say that Whitney Houston’s death did not deserve attention, because it did. Most people agree that she is one of the best singers—if not THE best—of our time. She has influenced many young musicians who have gone on to have their own successful careers. And I personally have several fond memories of lip synching via hairbrush to Whitney’s music during my childhood years. Her life does deserve a tribute, but so do the lives of many other influential people who will never receive the recognition they’re due, let alone 24/7 coverage on every TV station.

All this to say, Daughter… don’t get too caught up in the celebrity obsession that our society holds so dearly. It’s fun to know a little bit about what’s going on in celebrities’ lives, but not when they’re held on a pedestal that stamps out the efforts of those who truly deserve the credit. Let’s help shift the priorities of our culture and start paying attention to the real heroes.

Love,
Mom

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