Forbes publishes its list of the top 100 celebrities. The magazine’s
2011 tally of America’s top celebrities provided the most recent snapshot of
this ever-changing world of fame and fortune. No doubt, some of these people
would be recognizable to readers. The latest top-100 contenders collectively
earned $4.5 billion in 2010 (an average of $45 million each). Some of them
were newcomers to the list, such as Justin Bieber, the young 17-year-old
heartthrob crooner who ranked 3rd. Others are long-time entertainers such as
Oprah Winfrey (ranked #2, who is estimated to have earned $290 million in
2010 and has a reputed net worth of over $3 billion). There can be no doubt:
Celebrity is big business.
A recent book,
written by Jo Piazza (a former gossip columnist with the
New York Times) entitled
Celebrity, Inc.: How Famous People
Make Money examines how competitive and facile is this world of
celebrity. Quoting her on what she names the “Hollywood Industrial Complex”:
“[It is] an internecine web of businesses, all working to create value from
everything a celebrity does. It includes agents, managers, and publicists,
each in their own way creating new business models and revenue streams for
the complex’s front line—the celebrities themselves. These individuals are
constantly working to monetize everything in a celebrity’s life.”
But just what really
is this concept of celebrity that is so reverenced in our world? Just who
qualifies to be a celebrity today? What is its purpose and benefit? We need
to examine this phenomenon further. The answers to these questions provide
some revealing observations about our times.
fame will one day again have a purer focus. The day will come where “No
longer will the fool be called noble nor the scoundrel be highly respected”
(Isaiah 32:5, NIV).
The Rich and Famous
To be rich, you
don’t need to be famous. However, if you can become famous, you will
certainly have an easier means of becoming rich. A review of the
Forbes list prompts some
observations. For example, why is it that the president of the United States
(this person being the head of the most powerful country in the world) did
not qualify for the rarefied company of the list? In fact, not one of the
selected top-100 celebrities solved world hunger, discovered a serum that
would end cancer, or brought world peace. Yet, celebrities are famous, held
in awe, and chased by the paparazzi, holding people in thrall to just gain a
glimpse of them.
Forbes list, as far as we can
tell, is comprised of entertainers, sports stars and authors. The most
numerous on the list were singers. This may explain why so many people are
smitten with the idea of attaining stardom by becoming a popular singer.
There are today numerous “reality” TV shows that seek to identify the next
star singer, the most popular of these being
American Idol. Hundreds of
thousands of people clamor to audition for these shows. The producers of
these programs apparently believe that they are doing America a great
service by finding the next star.
the Forbes list of celebrities
provides a rather narrow American view of celebrity. The criteria for making
this list include earnings levels, the number of press clippings, TV and
radio appearances, front magazine covers, and, of course, Internet Web hits.
While we can conclude that fame today has very little to do with the greater
world good, intelligence or, in fact, any real talent, it also embraces a
much wider phenomenon than just entertainment. Fame is simply to be known by
many people, whether for good, bad, virtuous or immoral deeds. In fact, to
be infamous is to be famous.
Anything is acceptable as long as it achieves the “15 minutes of fame”
popularized by Andy Warhol’s statement in the 1960s, “In
the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.”
Today, the vain hope of countless millions is that
the god of ephemeral celebrity—though entirely capricious and brutal—will
cast his favor upon them. Perhaps an uploaded YouTube video could go “viral”
(attracting the attentions of millions of people as with Justin Bieber).
Popular culture today is indeed taken up with the eternally-worthless
distractions of “amusement” and “celebrities.” The topics of Truth,
eternity, and the knowledge of the Lord have taken a distant backseat.
Quest for Fleeting Immortality
The wide influence of “celebrity” and “fame” today is
a mark of our era. While since the dawn of history, some people will have
been more famous than others, “fame” and “celebrity” was never the prime
object of titillation and business that it is today. In times past, people
would become famous (and or feared) by virtue of their noteworthy deeds.
frequently uses the term “fame” in describing various people mentioned in
the Old Testament. For example, “So
the LORD was with Joshua, and his fame spread throughout the land” (Joshua
6:27). We read of Solomon that “his fame spread to all the surrounding
nations” (1 Kings 4:31). Also,
“[…] David’s fame spread throughout every land, and the LORD made all the
nations fear him” (1 Chronicles 14:17).
Of course, were there no humans, there could be no
celebrity nor fame. It is partly the phenomenon of being known by many
people that creates celebrity. And to that end, modern technology has
enabled its increase. Today, following the invention of photography, and
through the means of many new media and communications platforms, people can
become famous overnight. Some theorize that this all started with the spread
of newspapers … for example, the first mass-audience newspaper launched in
1833, the New York Sun. Its
innovation was to sell advertising, thereby reducing the cost of the
newspaper and making it affordable for a wider audience. Now, the “ears and
eyes” of a greater audience could feed the rise of great “fame.”
According to a study published by the University of
Warwick, the modern “cult of celebrity” can be traced back further to 18th
century Britain. Then, a massive increase in the number of newspapers gave
rise to the public persona, whether in life or death. Actually, this began
with the popularization of the obituary.
Quoting Dr. Elizabeth Barry, the author of the study,
“The big change was the founding of
The Gentleman’s Magazine, which was a secular publication, and from the
1730s onward it starts publishing obituaries of a really wide section of
society.” For instance, the magazine would print obituaries of actresses and
eccentrics who were then famous as much for their questionable private lives
as for their public lives. As such, people from all walks of life could now
become famous. This also began an era where criminals started to be famous.
Global Power of Fame and
Just as money systems are being centralized worldwide
today as never before, and wealth is falling into the clutches of an ever
smaller circle, so is celebrity. It also has become a global phenomenon. An
ever smaller number of people attract the mass attention of the world; and
celebrity itself is becoming more concentrated.
But a world without Biblical values is likely to give
its affections and adoration to “celebrities” of an undeserving variety. The
Bible is much more selective as to who is deserving of “glory.” After all,
there is no direct correlation between celebrity and the merits of righteous
fame and glory. Never does the Bible extol “fame” as an objective. Fame is
only a state and not an assessment of character or righteousness. The world,
on the other hand, tends to presume that if someone is famous, that this
alone is sufficient affirmation of their worthiness.
the Bible teaches us to be motivated by something other than fame. Rather
than being oriented to the approval of humanity, we are to look to God. Paul
illustrated this perspective, saying, “Am
I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying
to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a
servant of Christ. (Galatians 1:10). No, in whatever we do, we do it not for
the approval of the masses. In “[…] whatever you do, whether in word or
deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the
Father through him” (Colossians 3:17).
Thoughts to Ponder
treacherous for more than one reason. In the Old Testament, we learn how
Israel misused its fame.
“But you trusted in your beauty and used your fame to become a prostitute.
You lavished your favors on anyone who passed by and your beauty became his”
speaks of a world in the last days that is smitten with self-love and fame.
Says Paul, “[…]
in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money,
boastful […], conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (2
Timothy 3:1-2, 4).
world would come to such a point of delusion that it would refuse to
recognize the one and only true God—the Creator of All—to instead worship
the Antichrist (the vessel of the Devil himself) is an indication of its
perversions with respect to fame and worship. Says the Bible, “And
all the inhabitants of the earth will fall down in adoration and pay him
homage, everyone whose name has not been recorded in the Book of Life of the
Lamb that was slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8,
Aldous Huxley foresaw just how such lunacy could come
about, saying, “Assemble a mob of men and women previously conditioned by a
daily reading of newspapers; treat them to amplified band music, bright
lights ... and in next to no time you can reduce them to a state of almost
mindless sub-humanity. Never before have so few been in a position to make
fools, maniacs, or criminals of so many” (The
Devils of Loudun, 1952).
It is God
alone that is deserving of fame. In fact, God seeks to make a name for
who is like your people Israel—the one nation on earth that God went out to
redeem as a people for himself, and to make a name for himself, and to
perform great and awesome wonders by driving out nations and their gods from
before your people, whom you redeemed from Egypt?” (2 Samuel 7:23; see also
1 Chronicles 17:21, Ezekiel 39:7).
“Give praise to the LORD, proclaim his name; make known among the nations
what he has done” (Psalm 105:1). The day will yet come when the entire world
will acknowledge that:
“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom
and strength and honor and glory and praise!” (Revelation 5:12).
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About the Author:
Wilfred J. Hahn
is a global economist/strategist. Formerly a top-ranked global analyst,
research director for a major Wall Street investment bank, and head of
Canada’s largest global investment operation, his writings focus on the
endtime roles of money, economics and globalization. He has been quoted
around the world and his writings reproduced in numerous other publications
and languages. His 2002 book The Endtime Money Snare: How to live free
accurately anticipated and prepared its readers for the Global Financial
Crisis. His newest book, Global Financial Apocalypse Prophesied:
Preserving true riches in an age of deception and trouble, looks further
into the future.