"People suddenly wanted to take pictures of me on the street, and journalists were interested in what kind of socks I preferred. Among certain groups of my peers, my jokes seemed to become a lot funnier, which perhaps was all the comedy books I was reading at the time or perhaps it was sycophancy, I don’t know.
"It was an atmosphere from which I instantly wanted to retreat. I detested the superficial elevation and commodification of it all, juxtaposed with the grotesque self-involvement it would sometimes draw out of me. Being a faceless member of a mob, I soon realized, is far more comforting than teetering on a brittle pedestal one inch off the ground.
"The exclusion and subtle differentiation that comes with even a rather diluted form of celebrity that I had embarrasses me. But what shook me as most odd, however, about the whole thing was how I odd I indeed found it all. Celebrity is seen by a huge amount of people and certainly myself for a while as the pinnacle of society, of success. It is revered almost religiously, both the institution and its quickly growing member base.
"Indeed, these days the apotheosis of celebrity is not just combined to the worship of movie idols, pop stars, sports heroes or even reality TV stars. We have bloody celebrity chefs, authors, comedians, politicians, intellectuals, scientists, business people, cheesemongers or something, milliners — hat makers, for those of you who didn’t get that — who constantly stick out their faces at us on advertisements and talk shows, magazines covers. But this reverence and invasion is often welcomed and indeed fostered by a great percentage of the public.
"I started to wonder why that was and whether there was any harm in that reverence. They’re just people, after all. So whilst one can trace the origins of kind of celebrity or whatever you want to call it back to the Romantic era, and people like Samuel Johnson, or even before — Beckett — it was truly in the 20th century — proliferation of photography, radio, television and finally mass media — that finally a fecund ground could be laid for, in particular, sports stars, movie stars and singers to be massified as recognizable, influential public figures.
"This kind of fostered a culture dominated by what [Jean] Baudrillard called the ‘simulacra,’ which are images that contain no reference to the real world. For upon being able to, for the first time, see and also hear the well-known figures of the time — people like Charlie Chaplin and Gloria Swanson — the public began to kind of, perhaps unconsciously, reduce them down to their image alone, leading to a perhaps irreparable commodification of these photogenic celebrities.
"… So what are the dangers, then, involved in being a celebrity? On the one hand, in some ways, there’s the true loss of the self by virtue of being over-democratized, over-saturated — over-loved, perhaps. Without an internally directed compass, an ego can drown in its own fascination, leaving the bearer unable to posit or hang anything actual onto themselves.
"… Celebrities become excluded from every day life, kind of in exile in an echelon that is deemed better anyway: Life of celebrity, all the fame and glamor. However, no matter how much we can lust after this exile, wanting to be a celebrity is a manifestation of a dehumanization, essentially. One becomes easier to fictionalize when removed from any self-likeness of the perceiver, and thus easier to judge and also consume.
"And lastly, of course, there’s the issue of privacy. That comes up a lot. We’ve seen … why we become fascinated by the banal, mundanity of celebrity life. You know, what kind of bananas they like, and stuff. They are the prescribed role models of our time, representing some form of ideal in apparently every aspect of life, be it in their professional success, cheese preference or even drug preference.
"Perhaps the desire to simultaneously position celebrities on both planes — the ordinary and the abstracted — is a bid to retrieve some of the immortality we have given them. By empathizing with them and humanizing them to an extent, we for a brief moment share in ‘the glory of celebrity life’ — or perhaps at least remind ourselves that if they can do it, I can do it.
"In conclusion — thankfully — it seems that celebrities have become vessels of either, as I say, an economic, revolutionary or sociological instinct to consume and imitate certain extraordinary members of society. We’ve seen how this reverence can have profound effects on both parties, oftentimes more negative than positive.
"I believe that communal admiration of individuals is healthy for society. It facilitates, in one way, the base of our universal standard, morals, but also publicly espouses the virtue of certain practices that are kind of like ‘inherently good’ in some kind of ideas of what the good is.
"However, this kind of celebritization is only a positive one if the individual represents values that should be imitated by, say, a reasonable, moral person. We need to be choosier with our celebrities, or else we may find ourselves again in that situation where we just find ourselves acting out the role of the town drunk constantly.
"And we also need to temper the concentration with which we love to celebritize; primarily for the sake of the celebrities themselves and their self-evaluation, but also for ourselves. Just as the object of our attention can become rendered hollow and externally directed with too much worship, so too I feel can the worshipers sacrifice their own individual self or autonomy in favor of giving it up to a higher power.
"We need to fight against our human instinct to deify our role models, but also fight against our instinct to subjugate our own individuality in the process. Star gazing is one of the most profoundly human things one can do. But perhaps we must more frequently tear ourselves away from the mystery and beauty of the starry heavens above, and rather inspect, admire and foster the moral law within."
I’m glad Jack Gleeson is retiring. I don’t think we deserve him, frankly.