The Absurdity of Celebrity

A few years ago I was hanging back by the merch table after a Derek Webb show in Birmingham, AL when this guy approached me and said,”Hey, aren’t you Bryan from” I was shocked, and immediately excited to be recognized by someone so far from home. Even if it was for something as dorky as starting up a successful fan site for a band. This guy even had a shirt on at the time, which was even more amazing.

That’s not the first or last time I’ve been recognized by a stranger and I’ve got to admit, it’s kinda cool. When you think about it, that’s basically what being famous is. A famous person is someone who is recognized and talked about by people they don’t know.

Think of celebrities. They know a few thousand people, but they are known by millions. For them, celebrity often becomes a drug. The recognition by strangers is a high that boosts the ego and impedes upon normal life all at the same time. When it becomes inconvenient (think paparazzi) they wish it would go away. When they start to be ignored, they thrust themselves back out there in hopes to become recognized again (think photo shoots for Us Weekly, sex tapes, publicity stunts, etc.)

If I’m honest, I have to admit that I enjoy the ego-boost that comes from being recognized by a stranger at a CC or Derek Webb show (it’s happened maybe 5 or 6 times). But I also realize that it’s a false high, and I realize how addictive and self-destructive it could become if I were to pursue it. Not only that, but to be obsessed with fame is to be obsessed with how many strangers know who you are. I have enough problem taking the focus off of myself so i can focus on the people around me that i love. My wife, my kids, my friends. Never mind devoting time and energy towards impressing people I don’t even know.

Do I really want to be a celebrity? Do I really want to be known everywhere I go? No, I’m pretty sure I don’t.

(Would I like to be known and respected by others for my talents and skills? Yes, I would. I would like to be known by other writers as a great writer – long way to go there – in the same way that my friend Jon might want to be known by other musicians and fans as a great musician. But this is different, I think, than wanting to be famous.)

I bring all this up because I just read a short interview with Bono on In it, he talks about some of the work he is currently doing for Africa, including the funding that was just appropriated to end malaria by 2015, a disease transmitted by mosquitoes that kills 3000 African children every day. How amazing is that! And when the reporter mentions the access that Bono has gained because of who he is, Bono chalks it up to “the absurdity of celebrity”. I love that. He realizes how foolish it is that a musician like himself is such a celebrity, but instead of using it for personal gain (which he probably does from time to time), he uses his celebrity to champion the causes of the oppressed, the needy, and the poor.

No, I don’t want to be a celebrity, and I’m pretty sure it’s a problem I’ll never have. But If I ever do become famous, I want to be like Bono. I want to use the absurdity of celebrity for something good.

It’s why I’ve added the Compassion International widget to the sidebar of my blog (you won’t be able to see it if you’re reading this in a feedreader). I don’t have millions reading here. Just a few hundred every week. But if I can use the fact that I have a small audience and help just one kid every month get sponsored for $32/month to provide schooling, food, and knowledge of the gospel, then woohah! I can be like a mini Bono, helping out people here and there with the tiny amount of influence that I have.

You can help too…if you don’t currently sponsor a child in another country, I’m not asking you to do it, just asking you to consider it. Keep reloading my blog until the slot machine that is the Compassion Widget pops up a kid from a country you want to sponsor and sign up. In doing so, you’ll be affecting the life of a child in another country, and even though you might be a stranger, you’ll be the biggest celebrity that kid has ever known. We get letters from our sponsor child, Berakania, a few times a year, and honestly, reading those makes me feel even better than I did when that guy recognized me in Alabama.

Because unlike being famous, there’s nothing false about the high that comes from being a generous giver.