Friday, March 18, 2005

"...the howling vacuum of anonymity...."

Whatever inequities (and we all know there are many) our modern society holds, one of the greatest disparities--and sources of despair, I may as well add--is the attention gap that lies between "celebrities"/other "personalities" and the rest of the world. It's greater than the economic gap and keeps growing every day in the world at large; it's fueled by all the tempestuous tension of a teenage love affair. Same needs, same primal and aching needs--to be known, to be seen. And for millions of people those needs are denied, distracted, pushed under the red carpet. Most of the people in the world are ignored, unrecognized, unremembered until the hour of their deaths and then ever after--like prophets unaccepted in their own countries, their gifts and potentials never fully realized by those closest to them, never given that blessing of sight from those in whose presence they live.

Given no honour--given no credit, really, because there's this deepdown strong-rooted thing that, based in our own general need for attention, draws most of us to hitch our wagons to the momentarily brightest stars, the ones that everyone can see, hoping that they will draw us up as well, like Cyrano de Bergerac's championship-bullsh***ing ruses of getting to the moon (Act III of Rostand's play):

"With crystal vials filled with morning dew,
And so be drawn aloft, as the sun rises,
Drinking the mist of dawn!
Or again,
Smoke having a natural tendency to rise,
Blow in a globe enough to raise me."

Smoke in a globe--apt enough, to hope to rise aloft by the smoke of one's own incense, prayers and devotions and sacrifices to your Well-Known God...and don't think that I haven't been there, done that myself. If I didn't know the phenomenon well, and from both sides moreover, do you think I'd have this bitterness to sharpen my words?

Love is an energy--hate is an energy...all attention that we give is energy spent, channeled onto another or onto ourselves. Nathaniel Hawthorne said that the strongest instincts of hate and revenge were as powerful as the deepest passion of love (this in The Scarlet Letter, re Roger Chillingsworth's pursuit of Arthur Dimmesdale to destroy him)--and we have proof through history that the worst thing you can do to people is not to hate them passionately as individuals but to group and dehumanize them en masse in one's mind, in one's actions and policies. Reducing people to statistics, demographics, religions, ethnicities, anything rather than giving them the dignity of their own identities.

When people are focused on each other at hand--in the closest forms of cameraderie and communion--their emotional energy flows to the other and back, strengthening each and all. When people are focused together on a common goal or adversary, their mutual energies gather and multiply, gaining force that may cause greater change than we can calculate or prove. When people focus together on one person as their leader or idol or sex symbol, that has a power too--but one that is unlikely to ever return benefit upon those who worship, unless this person in question truly has them in heart as well. Kings and dictators, I believe--politicians and televangelists and cult leaders, oh my--draw on this power widely to strengthen themselves, as if it were a net of devotion sustaining them, keeping them from mortal harm, feeding them out of their followers' own lives. And even the gods themselves (anyone watch old Star Trek episodes lately?) cannot hold their sway without the worship of mortals...

But gods are supposed to answer the plaints of their votaries, and kings have duties as well as rights if they want their homage and tributes to keep coming without relying entirely on force of arms. Sending your attention out to all that which does not answer and cannot help you--i.e., the "professional" world of celebrities--does you no's only a fantasy. If you're going to choose idols, choose them wisely. Choose them for actual reasons and virtues, not just their good looks and the trend of the moment. Choose them for what they change and make better (or reveal better) in the real world, not just for being addictive distractions from a lackluster life. And try to notice other people, closer people a little bit more, to give their real lives some serious airtime, not just a passing blurb...and remember that celebrities are just people too, in every good and bad and human way.

"...The howling vacuum of anonymity"...the best phrase I've ever read to describe these times, and the one that finally got me writing on something I've felt and railed against for years. It struck me like a bolt the first time I read that speech, as that thought, that thing is something that I've always felt lies at the core of this nation's particular dysfunctionality, and exacerbates every other poverty and injustice here. The vast chasm that lies between those that everyone knows and those whom nobody knows--whether they're good or bad, idiots or geniuses, rich or poor, wrong or right. The fact that we can see some people on TV and in the news and talk about them, fantasize about them, argue about their guilt or innocence, send them our love and our hate, and yet not shed the same light for each other, not give a damn. Such a gross imbalance of attention as we have in the United States--and exported from it--is practically obscene. And when I use that word, it harks back to my father referring to The Stroop Report--the verbatim and photo-facsimile report of the SS destruction of the Warsaw Ghettos in 1943--as the "the most obscene book in this house." Go figure a little deeper to understand that one...

So, yeah, I think it's serious--a serious enough thing that people live their lives craving for fame and attention, and thrive and feed or wither and die or blow their brains out one way or another if they don't find what they really want after all. I'm not saying that people never deserve the spotlight they have--after all, there are definitely those I look to and follow their careers out of admiration, appreciating what they've shown me for my own journey--but the glare of celebrity does tend to be...rather overblown.

And besides, why should the rest of us be living in darkness?

Next topic: What "fifteen minutes of fame" was supposed to mean...

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