Sunday, July 15, 2007

Celebrity

I know from genealogical research that I have a 3x great grandfather, a gent by the name of John W. McHorse that fought in the Texas War of Independence. He’s buried in the Texas State Cemetery about 3 headstones from Stephen F. Austin. I didn’t do this research, it’s not my thing. It was carefully produced by my law school professor first cousin. Witnesses say she has not been seen without a book in her hand since she was 5 years old. A friend that loves Texas history declared that this fact about my Texas ancestry makes me a virtual celebrity. Ummm….I don’t think so, but I do want to talk a little about celebrity. Before I start I should tell you it is also written in several texts that my long ago grandfather John McHorse had a best friend who was widely known by the nickname “Horse Thief Shorty.” From what I understand the name was earned through merit. Also, poor Grandpa John, a Baptist minister by trade, was booted right out of the Baptist church for what was vaguely referred to as “un-Christian conduct.” He married the granddaughter of President William Henry Harrison in 1890, but she divorced him in 1896, the divorce seeming to be related to the “un-Christian conduct.” Apparently I inherited his penchant for rebellion and self-direction.

Celebrity, I assume, is a derivative of the word celebrated. Celebrating people is a good thing if the celebrities have accomplished things that elevate our society. That is my definition of what celebrity should be.

Is the idea of ‘celebrity’ out of control? Do you know a celebrity personally?

I want to tell you 2 stories about celebrity that might best illustrate the points I want to make. If I fail to make any points then you have lost some valuable minutes you will never get back, but that happens all the time anyway. Right?

I coached select baseball teams for several years. Baseball is a lifelong passion of mine. I had many outstanding young players. As it turns out one of my students, a lad named Hunter Pence, has become the center fielder for the Houston Astros this year. As of today he is leading the National League in hitting and is considered a leading candidate for Rookie of the Year. This has resulted in instant fame for Hunter in Houston and around the knowledgeable baseball world. Recently the Astros played the Rangers here in the DFW area and BEG and I had a courtesy (gift) seat directly behind home plate. Hunter’s mom told us that Hunter is unable to go out in public in Houston. He is besieged by autograph seekers and a line begins to form as soon as he is recognized. When he finally has to walk away from the line of people that want his signature, some will actually be angry and say unkind things to him. He has had to change his cell phone number several times in the past 2 months. Young female fans in Houston carry big signs to the ballpark asking if Hunter will marry them. In high school the girl fans of our team treated Hunter like any other guy on the field. There’s more, but you get the point. My memories of Hunter are of a very hard worker that dedicated himself to the game, but I also remember a 13 year old boy with braces and a goofy smile. I remember him at 17, growing past 6 foot seemingly in front of my eyes, still owning the same goofy manner and smile he owned at 13. Today he is famous and rich at 24 years old. He is also hounded night and day by celebrity seekers.

This past Tuesday I was talking with Jon Drummond on the track during my workout. For those not knowledgeable about track and field, Jon is a former elite sprinter that won gold in the Sydney Olympics on the USA 4x100 relay team and has a sterling track resume beyond Olympics competitions. Today he is the coach of the currently presumed ‘World’s Fastest Human’ Tyson Gay, a fact that is garnering Jon a lot of national attention. He is also the founder of the Jon Drummond Achievement Foundation targeting the inner city children of Philadelphia for assistance.

On Tuesday Jon was telling me about the infamous incident in the Sydney Olympics after the USA team had won gold in the 4x100 relay. The USA team was celebrating the victory in a way many felt was too vigorous. Anyone that knows Jon understands he is anything but understated, yet they need also to understand that he was born with spina bifida and told he would never walk. I would say winning a gold medal in the sprints in the Olympic Games when you were told you would never walk constitutes grounds for celebration. For the other 3 athletes, let’s just ask ourselves if we won an Olympic gold medal would we be happy? The coverage declared that the US should not be so boisterous, and the athletes should understand they were supposed to win. Excuse me? American athletes that achieve the highest level are supposed to understand they should not be happy? They didn’t exactly break out guns and run around the track shooting people. They merely carried a US flag around the track and posed for photographs for the crowd. The American governing track authorities declared that the athletes appeared to be ‘over-happy.’ Is that a word? If so does it make any sense? National media such as Good Morning America picked up on the ‘over-happy’ theme and publicly wrung its hands about the sadness of the unlovable Americans. As we know, at ABC everything is America’s fault, don’t you dare be one bit happy about the successes of your country!

I am reminded of the Italian film maker that won an Academy Award and went absolutely berserk, running off the stage and into the audience, shouting in Italian and jumping about like a madman. He was widely embraced as a wonderful, engaging and lovable soul. Four hard-working U.S. Athletes exhibiting far more reserved behavior are characterized as ‘over-happy’; meaning please remember to remain restrained in the face of your accomplishments. It’s only endearing if you are a bizarre behaving, short skinny Italian film maker?

The obvious point to my writing here is that we, along with a celebrity focused media, too often create something that is devoid of reality when we obsess about celebrities. We build prisons for them and then scowl if they do not conform to our invented image of what they are supposed to be. This is a bizarre fashion of thinking that we might actually own them. If we own them we can control them, and if we can control them we might become like them?

What I know for certain is that Hunter simply loves playing baseball. He has made it his life’s work. I also know he is entirely human, the same kid I have known all these years. He sleeps, he breathes, he feels and I have seen him at his most human. He deserves to be treated as you would treat your son, brother or friend. Anything else is a false reality created by our own imaginations.

Jon is a man that is gregarious and full of life. That is who he is. He has also created a foundation for the enrichment of the inner city Philadelphia child, a testament that being over-happy in life can perhaps be a purely positive thing, no matter your country of origin?

Unlike my 3x grandfather's friend, 'Horse Thief Shorty’, maybe we should quit taking and start giving. Maybe instead of attempting to wrap ourselves around the lives of celebrities, stealing their freedom to be as they are, what we should do is look inside our own lives for an original source of inspiration? That, you see, is what will actually make us worthy of being celebrated.

9 Comments:

Blogger Paul said...

"maybe we should quit taking and start giving. Maybe instead of attempting to wrap ourselves around the lives of celebrities, stealing their freedom to be as they are, what we should do is look inside our own lives for an original source of inspiration?"

Absolutely. And I think there are religious parallels, where people, imo, sometimes reduce faith to a kind of spectator sport or fan mentality - I love Jesus, he forgives my sins, so, hey, if I keep sinning over and over again I'm only human...

July 15, 2007 at 10:18 PM  
Blogger Lynilu said...

I can't imagine living a life that is besieged with fans and media and devoid of common privacy, at least some of the time. I don't know how folks live like those two young men do. I am very happy to be unimportant me. Oh, I enjoy being a bit of a spectacle on occasion (remember my pink cowboy hat?) but then I'll retreat quickly. And I love your last 2 lines. Yes, we should.

How'd you get to be so smart?

July 15, 2007 at 11:10 PM  
Blogger Seven said...

Paul,
I think that is a very cogent and provocative thought that we go around with car bumper stickers that proclaim 'I Love Jesus', a manner of making Jesus a celebrity, rather than understanding Jesus came to show us a way to become a spiritual individual through teaching and demonstration of what our life might become under our own individual power.
It's a wonderful point, and I thank you for raising it.

Silver Lovely,
Yes indeed I remember the pink cowboy hat! Isn't it a fine world when we can go about in a pink hat? Well, not me, since I am genuinely and thoroughly male (whatever that might mean), but you look stunning in it, and it is such a life-happy article to wear atop your head, is it not?

July 16, 2007 at 8:09 AM  
Blogger kate said...

I like the idea about being the inspiration instead of trying to find one... being active not passive.

I think we obsess over celebrities because it is an escape. Its a fantasy... it lets us, for a moment be a part of that which we value but cant achieve.

It is human nature though, in my opinion, to then want to slice that down to size and find fault! We want to put them on pedestals then capture photos of them doing less than perfect things... looking more like us.

July 16, 2007 at 9:33 AM  
Blogger Stacy The Peanut Queen said...

Aha! THERE you are! I'd wondered where you'd gotten off to!

Nice to finally see you again! :)

July 16, 2007 at 11:29 AM  
Blogger Seven said...

Kate,
I agree. I find our culture's obsession with celebrities to be off-putting and I think you nicely articulate a lot of the reason for the obsession.

Queen of the Nuts,
Well girl, I changed URL's but when I came to see you your site would not let me in! Clear me through your front door and I will be happy to come around and torment your little royal ass.

July 16, 2007 at 3:19 PM  
Blogger kathi said...

Celebrities have the opportunity to be a huge example to others. Sport celebrities especially in my home, having 2 sons who are now young men (16 & 18).
They don't ask for it and it's forced upon them, some take it seriously and use it to be a great example...others ignore all the eyes upon them and that's their right to do so.

However, to a young boy or girl, their mom, their dad, their local high school athletes, the band at their church, the cool kid across the street with the 'awesome' car, they're "celebrities" and looked up to and have the same opportunity to set a great example...or not.

July 17, 2007 at 7:06 AM  
Blogger Seven said...

Kathi,
I think you are right if we define celebrity as we currently define it. Since it is unlikely my tiny ideas are likely to take over a culture, that in essence makes you completely right. However if we learn to discern that someone that plays baseball exceedingly well is merely another human with frailties like yours or mine and we learn to teach our children to look inside for inspiration then we avoid the mistake of having them identify with gangsta rappers or athletes like Pacman Jones. That's not an indictment of those individuals but rather a discernment of how I wish my children to NOT behave. When we say athletes or other celebrities have an obligation to us and our inner personal development we walk straight into the trap of failing to find our inspiration from within ourselves.
From all that I read about your kids in your posts, you've nothing to worry about; it appears they have found a solid path with your guidance, celebrity or not.
On a side note, I run masters track and I am coached by the US's most celebrated masters athlete Bill Collins, and I run for his track club Houston Elite. When we go to meets around the country Bill is hunted down by all the folks there that want a little piece of him. If he wants to go warm up he has to carefully plan on when to begin, because it will be awhile to make his way through the crowd. I know this first hand because I am often at his side on the way to the warm-up area. What I have observed with interest is that Bill is unfailingly giving, polite and even charming to people that he has no clue who they might be. This is an acquired and polished skill and not to be underestimated or dismissed. This also, I think, makes you correct. Anyone that has achieved celebrity has a choice about their conduct. It's always about choice.

July 17, 2007 at 8:17 AM  
Blogger kathi said...

seven ~ I agree, but it's hard when a child is 4 - 6 or so years old and you're telling them to look inside themselves for inspiration. I'm not sure that's something they could understand. Their inspiration to achieve and succeed is to be like someone they admire or look up, someone who is doing the same thing they're wanting to do.
My kids loved football; Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith were huge to them. Fortunately, they were (and still are) great role models.
Thanks for the compliments on my kids, I've got to agree, they're pretty cool (and, so are yours, though you don't brag here on yours like I do on mine on my blog, lol. I'm really bad about doing it so much).
Oh, and I like the way you keep saying I'm 'right' or 'correct'...has a really nice ring to it. :)

July 17, 2007 at 6:11 PM  

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