More Like Mick and Meg

Imagine going through one of life's most painful experiences -- like divorce, for example. You need perspective and, if possible, a little encouragement. So where do you go? To church? To a friend's house? Or, maybe, to the check-out line at the supermarket? And who do you consult? Your pastor? Your friend? A trained professional? Or how about your favorite movie star? Don't laugh. In today's celebrity- obsessed culture, that's not so farfetched. As evidence, I would offer the January 12th issue of People magazine. The cover story is titled "Friends Despite the Split." And as the reporters tell us, those old-fashioned Hollywood divorces -- with nasty, headline-grabbing insults, and soon-to-be ex-spouses crucifying each other in the press -- are now passé. In their place, what People calls "a new celeb smart set" has discovered the benefits of civility, even in the wake of broken vows. Some of this civility may come from concern for the kids. But other factors include "an aversion to outrageous attorney's fees," and, of course, "concern [for] their own image." This latter concern is underscored by comments of several public relations experts. As evidence of the "smart set's" new savvy attitude, People recites the experiences of several celebrities who have already made the transition from spouses to (in a phrase repeated throughout the article) "good friends." People who have publicly humiliated and betrayed their former spouses -- like Mick Jagger and Meg Ryan -- are held up as good examples of how to handle divorce. And readers are assured that "lousy husbands" can make "great friends." The question, you might think, ought to be: Given the short duration of the most Hollywood marriages, why would anyone care about how the "celeb smart set" copes with divorce? Well, in his book, Life: The Movie, social-critic Neal Gabler shows how America's obsession with celebrities' lives transcends mere entertainment. Their stories have become "something very close to social myth," he says. In other words, the stories we read in celebrity magazines eventually become less about the celebrities themselves, and more a model of some aspect of our own lives. The result is that, along with their entertainment, people "receive instruction on how to deal with [their] adversity." When stars fail, the author says, their failures become lessons in real life for the rest of us. Imagine! So, a woman struggling with loneliness takes comfort from an actress's "struggle to find love." Or a man struggling to recover from a bruising divorce may look at how his favorite celebrity coped with his own busted marriage. Well, looking to celebrities for answers to life's problems may be fine for People magazine. Its stock- in-trade is unctuous articles about self-absorbed superstars. But celebrity worship is, as Gabler observes, merely a substitute religion -- serving some of the same purposes that traditional faith once served. The most reliable alternative to false religion is true faith. And that's why Christians need to see celebrity culture for what it is, and to help our neighbors see the false worldview it represents. What people really need to see is not going to be found in the pages of People magazine or TV Guide, but in the pages of God's word. For further reference: Gabler, Neal. "Life: The Movie" (review). People Magazine, 12 January 2001, pp. 169-190.


Chuck Colson


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