Britney might lose custody of her kids!! Jake Gyllenhaal and Reese Witherspoon are seeing each other!! Brad and Angelina might adopt another child!!
These are just a few of the types of headlines that grace the news networks, blog sites, and entertainment sections of newspapers everywhere. It seems that no matter where you look, celebrity gossip is everywhere. Now- let me first wave my freak flag-- I enjoy celebrity gossip. In fact, I read celebrity gossip with great regularity. However, it has occurred to me in recent weeks that while many of us consider celebrity gossip to be supplementary to our national and world news-- for many Americans, celebrity gossip IS the world and national news.
So prevalent are news stories about celebrities that one begins to wonder-- are celebrities and their high profile, media-addictive lives the new golden calf? Have we found the new form of idolatry?
From my perspective, there are two reasons that people read celebrity gossip. The first is that the lives of celebrities are wildly entertaining-- and for a lot of people, it is entertaining because it allows them to fantasize about what their life could be like. To see the care-free lifestyle of the rich and famous allows people to contemplate what they would do with a gorgeous body and gobs of money. In essence-- they covet their neighbor-- in a BIG way.
But I suspect, many people read celebrity gossip for the same reason that I do-- a sort of sad escape. While part of me feels deeply troubled by the blatant excess of celebrity life- a greater part of me feels a sense of escape when we read the tabloids. When our news stories are so predominantly negative, when it seems absolutely certain that our world is going to hell in a decorated handbasket-- the ridiculous and over the top lives of celebrities-- well-- they make us stop for a moment and just contemplate a life that is based on matters of hair dye, excessive dieting, and wearing underwear in public (something many young celebutants seem to forget to do...). Yes- hearing celebrity gossip makes me sad- because it points out so thoroughly the haves and the have nots. But celebrity gossip also makes me appreciate more real news. It makes me able to digest real news... it's like watching "Will and Grace" after you watch the evening news. It just helps it all go down easier.
But that's the problem. In the United States (and much of the western world), we have the option of digesting the slop of hatred, oppression, and despair that we find in our world-- in tiny teaspoon doses. Many of us get to pick and choose how much pain we actually see- while the rest of the world experiences that pain.
Yes, celebrity gossip has become idolatrous-- because it seeks, and we allow it, to distract us from true meaning-- from seeing God or asking for God in everyday life. We use celebrity gossip to numb us, to give us something to worship--- because we are in despair about how to worship God in a world where so much suffering exists. How do we destroy this new golden calf? How do we eliminate idolatry and still live in the world in which we live? How do we find hope?
I believe the answer to finding hope is by eliminating that which distracts us from hope-- the pieces of news or the pieces of celebrity gossip- for these pieces detract our attention away from despair-- and isn't it true that so often- we find hope out of despair? Isn't it a claim in our faith, that before Easter, comes Good Friday? Perhaps it is only through staring our world problems straight in the eye, that we can finally tap into the compassion that exists, and reach towards true change. Easter for the world, will only come after we acknowledge that suffering exists, and that we (the human community), with the help of God-- are the change agents through which to fix it.