Love Letter on Celebrity
July 18 was Nelson Mandela’s birthday. 101. When I was a kid, Mandela was the most megawatt celebrity. Ok, so there was also Diana. But at home, we had Brenda Fassie and we had rising business babe and mogul—Basetsana Khumalo, Miss South Africa 1994. But mostly, we had a charismatic freedom fighter slash founding father slash global rock star.
My schoolmates loved Mandela. Everybody did. But few saw what I found irresistible about Alek Wek. I covered my school books in magazine cut-outs of the Sudanese model, alongside collages of my other heavy rotation at the time, Winnie Madikizela Mandela. Alek was blowing up the entire fashion game with her jet black skin and bomb-fckery levels of beauty. To me, she seemed a goddess. And if Mandela was a black not-so-baby but still adorable Jesus to white South Africa, then his former wife and underappreciated freedom fighter, was their antichrist. My all-white teachers made it quite plain I had the wrong kind of celebrity covering my books. That only made me bolder. I still remember the magazine heading accompanying my collage of Mama Winnie. My Hero! the letters spelled out. I might as well have plastered a giant bird flip in the middle of the page with a sling shot of King Shaka poking through!
You could say my teachers and I had very different ideas of who made a worthy role model and celebrity—who was worth celebrating. You could also say, looking back from the stain of our current sewer pool, that 1990s celebrity culture seems a bucolic oasis. Today, a clownish grand wizard turned B-grade celebrity sits as president. And a homevideo porn-star has graduated into advocating for prison reform. How the fc did we get here? When did celebrity culture turn into a high-stakes poker game with a nuclear superpower in the balance?
Let me rewind. America corrupted me. Before America, I was that primary school kid who knew the president of Chile and why the American president played cool toward him in public while covertly funding his toxic regime. I followed real news reportage and knew which players shaped my political, economic and cultural landscape.
Fast forward to this giant brain fart...
Today, I can tell you Beyonce met Megan Markle last week. I can tell you it went swimmingly. I can also tell you what they both wore—ok, but that’s a legit and worthy tangent. My point is, I cannot tell you who the current leader of Iran is. Or why his policies are heating up a nuclear debate in Washington. I can tell you Sudan is in hot water. I can say nothing nearly as sophisticated as my 12-year old self about the socio-economic context of that conflict, who the major players are and how it affects global politics.
The decay is real folks! Please believe I love Beyonce as much as any self-respecting zealot. But I also recognize our collective fixation with celebrity is toxic. It turns real and important policies that wildly impact people’s lives into a strange self-mastubatory entertainment game, where the only thing that matters is a photo op with Kim K. and the salacious cynicism of 24 hour news.
Maybe America has always been this way. I don’t know. Even as I think that kind of lazy resignation singles out America in a world of brain-drain. Something opioid is in the waters, drugging us on celebrity shots as reason goes the way of the dodo with the rest of the planet. I don’t think it a stretch to say our current disease mirrors the religious malady Karl Marx pointed out to Europe in 1844.
Go ahead. Freak out! This Commie dirty mouth with a start-up just brought out the Karl-card...
So many of us bristle at the dude in the White House, but how many of us are honest that our complicity with this star-fcing disease may have something to do with how the Donald become Mr. President in the first place (among other perilous outcomes of vapid celebrity culture) ?
Gurl. You tripping. Are you saying slaying with Beyonce leads to voting for Trump?
No fool! I’m saying it’s time to take off the blinders. Be more conscious in who we celebrate. And why.
Celebrity can be edifying. Twelve out of ten times, what we seek in others, what we’re attracted to and celebrate is what we’re most hungering for within. We paste our deep inner hungers and calling on external vessels because 1)it’s easier to beychella from the coach and 2)we’d have to face our inner power. Facing two means giving up one and gr/glowing up. And who wants to do that?
So we get back on the coach. See which celebrity played Superman today.
It was lovely watching the Queen meet the Dutchess of Sussex. And Yes, I see myself in both women. I know—I’ve always had a very healthy forehead! Maybe that indulgence is ok. As long as I drooling over Nguyen Cong Tri’s dream gold dress comes with picking up Ocean Vuong’s breakout novel or learn something worthwhile about Vietnam.