Famous for Nothing

  As you walk down the red carpet, a frenzied mob swarms around you, demanding your autograph. The paparazzi are snapping your picture, nearly blinding you. Every ten feet, a television crew stops you for an interview. Have you just become the hottest newest star? No, you're at Tinseltown Studios, a new theme park in Anaheim, California. For $45, the studio will treat you as though you really were a star. It's the latest manifestation of our celebrity culture, where "image is everything." At Tinseltown, fighting your way through adoring fans is just the beginning. The next stop is an auditorium filled with gorgeous models who are dying to have their picture taken with you. Over dinner, you and the other stars-for-a-night can watch videos of the red-carpet treatment you've just received. And, for an additional fee, you can go into an editing room and have yourself edited into a scene from a famous movie. The audience then votes on the best performance. The winners go on stage to accept their awards, and if words fail them, Tinseltown provides them with prepared speeches. Is it worth $45 to pretend you're a star for a few hours? Susan Scanaliato, a 17-year-old acting student, put it this way: "Walking up on the carpet, all these people coming up to you and treating you like you're in the real movies—that's our dream." Well, those words are pathetic, but they certainly capture our culture's obsession with celebrity—the same thing we saw in the worship of the late Princess Di. But this falls far short of the classic, or Christian, understanding of happiness. Deal Hudson, editor of Crisis magazine, describes the classical idea of happiness as the product of good character and virtue. For example, taking years to learn the craft of acting—and becoming a fine actor in the process—could indeed make someone happy. In fact, the ancient Greek word for happiness, eudaimonia, means the formation of character and the development of our potential over a lifetime. But as Hudson reminds us, "[t]he word happiness was stripped of its moral meaning in the 20th century." Today our concept of happiness has more to do with feeling good and getting what we want, like walking down a red carpet and having someone scream for your autograph. But there is no substitute for the sense of accomplishment that comes from doing a job well. A good actor gets joy from acting well, not just from getting awards. And that's true in every sphere of life. This is a lesson we need to be teaching our kids. Being famous isn't important. In fact, many famous and powerful people are very unhappy. Working hard at our craft, whether it's acting, accounting, or homemaking, is what really matters. And this is what the Apostle Paul meant when he said we should do everything as unto the Lord. Well, maybe it's harmless to spend $45 for an evening of pretending we're living the lifestyles of the rich and famous. But we should never confuse the kind of fleeting fame you find at Tinseltown with real happiness. If we do, we may discover that the only thing emptier than our wallets is the empty life we go back to when the theme park closes.


Chuck Colson


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