Dick Clark died this week at 82. I am sorry for his family.
It’s interesting to watch and listen to people’s reactions when a celebrity passes away. For one, while tens of thousands die everyday, some in extreme and avoidable circumstances like war, the world pays little attention. When one celebrity dies, the world notices.
People worldwide are tweeting, writing, and talking about Clark’s life and legacy. I don’t have a problem with this. It’s a way of expressing respect for a human being. I have nothing against Dick Clark. I even liked some of the things he did and is remembered for in entertainment. None of what I say here is really about him. It’s just that his passing triggered these thoughts.
Sometimes I wonder at the comments offered when a celebrity dies. When John Lennon was killed in 1980 the world fell apart, and it was indeed a tragedy. Eventually I read a piece praising Lennon for his “generosity” because he’d given $65,000 to nonprofit work. I remember that number clearly. I’m glad he gave, and this amount of money was worth more then than now, but frankly, I wasn’t impressed. Reason was, I’ve worked in nonprofit organizations all my adult life and I’ve seen people give hundreds of thousands and even multi-million dollar gifts numerous times, attracting no media. But then again, these folks didn’t give to make the papers.
One article I read waxed rhapsodic about Dick Clark, saying his influence was profound, that there’d never be another like him. Again, no disrespect intended to Mr. Clark, but “profound”? Dick Clark was a television host and producer. He’s most remembered for “American Bandstand” and his lifelong youthful looks. There will “never be another like him”? There already is: his showbiz heir, Ryan Seacrest. Frankly, while Mr. Clark’s contributions to entertainment are admirable, there are many unsung heroes in this world whose influence is or will be much more profound.
People are moved when a celebrity dies in part because it’s an inescapable reminder of their own mortality. It’s a reminder that you can live for the Devil if you want but eventually your life comes to a close and an accounting. As such, celebrity funerals are sometimes an exercise in denial.
At Frank Sinatra’s funeral in 1998, Kirk Douglas told the media heaven would be rockin’ tonight because Frank was there with the Rat Pack. Excuse me? Frank and the Rat Pack? What in or about Frank’s life, great talent though he was, would lead anyone to think he’s partying in heaven? I hope he is, but there’s no evidence in his life to suggest it.
None of this is to minimize the importance of any individual. When Whitney Houston died of drug abuse earlier this year in her 40s people rightfully mourned. They mourned the silencing of an incredible voice, a rare gift. They mourned the passing of a human being. They grieved that one had departed too young.
All this is good and appropriate. But we sometimes go over-the-top when a celebrity passes. We seem to lack perspective, an ability to honor and appreciate and reminisce while also understanding right, wrong, and consequences. America’s celebrity-watching seems to have morphed into celebrity-worship, something unhealthy for both the celebrity and the culture.
All human beings matter. All are worth celebrating—at least for their humanity if not always for their humaneness. Perhaps that is what we should ponder in the wake of a celebrity’s passing.
© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2012
A few thoughts on a few people:
*Governor Chris Christie should call former-Governor Mike Huckabee for a long chat. Huck could teach the not-quite-presidential-candidate a few important things: 1) Huck could share his faith in Christ with Governor Christie. The New Jersey gov attends mass and maintains a few political positions consistent with a Catholic view, but no one really knows much about the depth or genuineness of his faith. 2) Huck could help Gov. Christie to commit himself to a health and potentially life-saving diet to loose a hundred pounds or so. Governor Huckabee did it; Governor Christie can and should do it. 3) Huck could help Christie craft a run for the Republican nomination in 2016. Huck’s been there, done that.
*Steve Jobs is gone, victim of an untimely demise. His death is sad, a huge loss to his family, Apple, Inc., and American culture. We will all miss his creative genius. But what did he believe about God and the afterlife? It’s hard to say. He apparently made some commitment to Buddhism, but there is no public record of his understanding anything about Jesus Christ and what he did for Steve and the rest of us. It’s been therefore perplexing to watch people, even believers, blithely state Jobs is in heaven or, as one Christian posted on Facebook, “RIP Steve Jobs.” But what does “rest in peace” mean? I hope Jobs is in heaven, but based on his public statements, we unfortunately don’t know this. One lesson is clear: a personal fortune of $7 billion and even more enriched talent doesn’t conquer death.
*Pat Summit is the long-time women’s basketball coach at the University of Tennessee. She’s also the all-time winningest coach in NCAA Division I history. She announced in August that at 59 years she has been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s. Like Steve Jobs, this is sad in the extreme. And we learn another lesson: lifetime physical conditioning and athleticism do not protect you from terrible disease.
*Floyd “Money” Mayweather, Jr, at 43-0, is pound-for-pound the best boxer in the world today…except maybe for Manny Pacquiao. If you hear Mayweather talk, it’s obvious he wants to be considered “the Greatest,” ranked with Muhammad Ali. But Mayweather will never be Ali. Where Ali fought for social justice, gave up his title as world heavyweight champion as a conscientious objector resisting the military draft, stood for civil rights, and put on a show as a “show,”—knowing the irony, Mayweather is for real in his showmanship. Mayweather actually believes his own mouth and his own press. He is about nothing but excess and narcissism. Mayweather is a cartoon. Ali is a giant.
© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2011
It’s disconcerting to enter souvenir shops in other countries (this time, Malta) and find depictions of Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley on cheap trinkets. There’s nothing else, usually, of America evident in such shops and, really, there shouldn’t be. They are after all souvenir shops for the locale. But apparently Marilyn and Elvis sell worldwide.
For whatever reasons Marilyn’s and Elvis’s pictures are available on cigarette lighters, plates and cups, T-shirts, and more. The question for me is why?
I’ll guess. It’s because this woman and man, nearly always portrayed in their late 20s at the zenith of their physical attractiveness, represent a personal presentation and/or sex appeal everyone else yearns for. People want to live vicariously through these celebrities.
OK, but stranger still, both iconic personalities are long dead, and sadly, met their end too young via drug overdose. Yet people still buy products emblazoned with their images rather than, say, currently globally known celebrities like Angelina Jolie or Brad Pitt.
Maybe people buy Marilyn and Elvis partly because they’re dead, their youth forever frozen in time. Their foibles and failures are all known and they aren’t around to create further embarrassment. And the fact that they came to their end sadly adds poignancy to their reputations, kind of like John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, and political Camelot.
Or maybe Marilyn and Elvis simply attained a certain cult celebrity status during their lives and commoners simply want to associate themselves with entertainment royalty. I don’t know. And I still don’t get it.
Of all the things I consider admirable about America—I won’t take shots at Marilyn or Elvis; I like their movies and music too—it wouldn’t be celebrities. I’d recommend something else for export. Or if it’s people we export, than I’d wish for people of substance, people whose lives and work made a mark. Abraham Lincoln and Dwight D. Eisenhower come to mind. So do Helen Keller and Shirley Temple Black.
But it’s the nature of popular culture to latch onto the young, rich, and famous no matter their actual impact or importance. So I guess we’re stuck with Marilyn and Elvis.
Based on this, the rest of the world won’t really learn much about America’s values and contributions. But I guess at least the world will think we're good looking.
© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2011
*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Rex or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/rexmrogers.
It causes me pause when older celebrities adopt. It happens fairly often. Celebrities well into their 50s or 60s finally decide they want children and adopt.
One could say, Why not? Celebrities have resources with which to care for children and shouldn’t they have the right to the joys of parenting too?
On the other hand: recently, Elton John and his partner David Furnish adopted a baby boy. Aside from your views on same sex marriage or adoption, focus just on age. Elton John at 63 will be in his late 70s when his new son hits his teens. Why adopt now?
With John in particular it’s difficult not to wonder whether this is another planned PR move to break ground for same sex relationships. John and Furnish were married in England after same sex unions were legalized. Now they’re adopting. Pioneers or parents? I don’t know.
I do know that at some point Baby Zachary Jackson Levon Furnish-John will be a youth with an aged or elderly parent, if the parent survives into those years. Again, I know many kids have been born to their parents well into life. Many kids have been reared successfully by grandparents. But these instances generally occurred out of necessity. Celebrities delay having children in order to preserve their careers or physical appearances and finally get around to adopting late into life.
Without casting aspersions on older parents generally, I wonder what celebrity kids really experience.
© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2011
We’ve recently been treated to a spate of notables revealing their inner child by making unguarded comments. Don Imus managed to offend women, minorities, moralists at the same time with his comments about the Rutgers University women’s basketball team. Some people have said we should give Imus a break. But he’s a pro, was speaking on his own talk radio and television program, and was merely illustrating a career-long pattern of low-life comments. So when he lost his job I didn’t feel too badly for him.
Alec Baldwin is in another category—Dad goes ballistic with degrading comments aimed at 11year old daughter. He’s followed his angry tirade with mea culpas on Barbara Walters’s program, The View, but who really believes the one time he was caught on tape is the one time he acted like a dead-beat Dad?
Comedian Michael Richards, famous for his portrayal of Kramer on the television hit, Sienfeld, apparently has an anger management problem, amply demonstrated in a comedy club gig when he shouted down hecklers, complete with racial slurs. Richards botched his “I’m sorry” attempt on Late Night with David Letterman. If he’s not a racist, as he claimed, where did his incensed use of racist language originate? Richards tried to pass it off as an “Oops,” but who believes him?
Mel Gibson got in the act with his drunken defamation of Jewish people. His public mea culpa was creative, in essence saying “I’m not an anti-Semitic, just an alcoholic.” So he hopes we’ll overlook his behavior because he substituted an “acceptable sin” for an unacceptable one.
We’re going to see and hear more celebrity crudity, and for that matter, “Joe Average” and “Jane Doe’s” meltdowns, lack of manners, sexual peccadilloes, too. Because there’s nowhere you can go anymore that’s out of the reach of video and/or audio technology. Video recorders are posted in businesses and everywhere they go people carry cell phones with multi-faceted recording capacities. Add YouTube and MySpace to this and you can see how rapidly a few moments of crude words or actions can make you a star in a universe where you don’t want to be. And worse, once your indiscretions hit cyberspace, they live forever.
The lesson here is not to avoid technology like a Luddite. The lesson is that one’s character is on display everyday in every way. Of course, Christians have always known this, for the Lord looks upon the heart. And if maybe Mom doesn’t know everything after all, God does.
© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved
*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/rexmrogers.