"The penalty good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men." attributed to Plato

"Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing." attributed to Edmund Burke

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Thursday, 9 June 2011

The cult of celebrity

“We think more highly of people such as Simon Cowell than we should do – we’re talking about someone who is essentially trivial. There’s no harm in pop music, but think of the status of classical musicians who earn £70 a gig.”
This is what Lord Robert Winston – Professor of Fertility Studies at Imperial College London, popular TV Science programme host and author of more than a dozen books – said in an interview for The Times Magazine for the 4th June 2011.
This celebrity cult, he said, he found depressing.

And I think it is depressing because it has become a huge problem, particularly in the upbringing of our kids, who see celebrities as role models and look up to them in awe, yearning themselves for the same fame and fortune when they grow up.

Sadly this emphasis is also seen too often in the self- help and self-development genre of book that is so popular today. I suspect that quite a few of us have reached in our time to those sections of a library or bookshop tempted by books that promise to ‘change our lives’, or help us ‘succeed’. Many of these are excellent. I have quite a few on my own bookshelves!
But too often they feed the petty ego of self, the selfish desire for individual improvement, the seemingly endless drive for power and wealth. And this style of self-development is often measured by the values of material gain, promotion, or celebrity status. And incidentally the authors are often extremely wealthy and part of the celebrity cult themselves!

Should we not be wary of a self- help industry if it becomes so self-centered on the individual at the expense of others? Doesn’t this approach fuel greed and envy, eschew vulnerability and threaten genuine altruism? I think so.

Unfortunately a huge and profitable industry has built up around this ‘success’ culture. What is more, many such books actively discourage contact with those who are wounded in our society, the vulnerable, the loners, the unhappy, the unsuccessful, the disadvantaged, those who are damaged emotionally. Such weaknesses are too often seen as inhibiting to our own ‘development’.
By not helping such people don’t we dig ourselves deeper into a less attractive future? Don’t we risk divorcing ourselves from experiencing and displaying that empathy and compassion so essential for a better world?

Anglican Bishop Peter Selby observed that ‘the obsessive search for personal growth and inner wholeness without concern for the health of society is distorting.’**
Nowhere is this distortion more obvious, and more potentially harmful than among these books that fuel what has been dubbed the new egocentric ‘Me-Millennium’.

**(Selby, Peter, Liberating God, Private Care and Public Struggle

, London: SPCK, 1983, publisher’s note, back cover.)

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