I like Emily Deschanel. She’s a gifted actor. Even though Bones just isn’t as good a series as it once was, I admire Ms. Deschanel’s talent. I also admire her sister, Zooey Deschanel. Granted, she sounds a little flighty in some interviews, but have you watched her facial expressions when she performs? Her performance was part of what saved The Happening from a lousy script.

I like both of these actors for another reason, as well, though. Because I respect them. The reason I respect them is because they haven’t taken their clothes off or otherwise posed in needlessly provocative photoshoots. Good for them.

I’m not placing them on some sort of pedestal…that’s not my intention. And they’re certainly not alone. Although, they are a member of a minority in not doing so. I’m not certain which of the actors (of both sexes) who refuse to objectify themselves in this way are doing so out of respect for themselves, out of moral stances, out of faith, or may intend to and just haven’t gotten around to it yet. But I admire those who haven’t, nonetheless.

Celebrity is an interesting phenomenon in our culture. Barry Taylor discusses it in Entertainment Theology, stating essentially that culture is something produced, and that the producers make celebrities, the whole thing functioning in a religious sense. With pop culture, celebrities are simultaneously one of us and one of the pantheon of “saints” in the theology of pop culture, and we take possession of them in that way. The audience takes possession of what has been produced, essentially, and determines its value and meaning.

Go ahead, try to wrap your brain around that one and get back to me. The implications are huge.

I think that this leads to us objectifying celebrities. We think we have the right to see a celebrity however we want. We decide if their crises are worth laughing at or ridiculing in order to make us feel better. We’re Romans tossing people to lions for sport, and somehow thinking we have that right because of this twisted celebrity culture we’ve created.

I wonder if the natural result of this isn’t celebrities thinking of themselves as our property. Thus, the only way to maintain celebrity status today (or to regain it when one “isn’t cool” any more), is to pose for a photoshoot that is racy, or (let’s call it what it is) completely pornographic.

Now, pause for a moment, before I really arouse your ire (I may by the end of the post, but not for this, please). I’m not calling all art involving nudity pornographic or objectifying. It is necessary for the story or presentation of theme at times, in many artistic mediums. When done, it can be done either tastefully, or gratuitously…just  like violence in storytelling and visual art. Every time a photographer captures their model in various states of undress, the result is not always objectifying.

It’s just a great deal of the time. Now…let the ire arise.

And, it happens across the board. Recently, an Internet celebrity I follow posed for a men’s magazine. I rolled my eyes. A few years ago, I discovered that a  favorite musician that I had loved since childhood posed nude for playboy. My heart broke. I lost respect for them both. But I also feel really sorry for them both, because one day, they may wake up and wish they hadn’t. And there’s no taking that back.

I admire artists who are focused on their art, placing their effort into their craft, into the stories they are telling and the beauty they are portraying. I respect artists that are not caught up in the celebrity culture and thus don’t feel the need to expose themselves in order to hold popularity. I don’t have the right to see any celebrity I want nude. I don’t own them. I only get to participate (as the audience) in their art…and that is enough.

I heard a co-worker say (about something unrelated) a few weeks ago that, if he can’t be part of the solution, he certainly doesn’t want to be part of the problem. I think we can do both. Visiting the website makes us part of the problem, even if we’re avoiding the “red light” district of the Internet and only browsing paparazzi shots and fan pages. Changing our perspective, and eschewing the multitude of media that capitalizes and commodifies celebrity worship moves toward being part of the solution. Because, let’s be honest: a lot of you are news junkies like myself, but do we really care who’s married to who and who cheated and who got drunk last weekend? I really don’t need to be a drama voyeur…I have enough of my own.

Incidentally, I’m not making this about erotica and the porn industry. That’s a completely separate…and equally abhorrent…problem.

Let’s leave the drama behind, shall we? And let’s respect everyone as we do. Regardless of your faith, there’s something to the Golden Rule. I hope for a culture in which more artists care about their craft and not their celebrity status. To all of them, let me say, I don’t own you, and neither do any of the rest of us.

Please don’t act as though we do.

Photo Attribution: david_shankbone 


  1. I don’t know. It seems humans are always interested in how other humans live, moreso if they are considered important by society’s standard. At the risk of being sacrilegious even the OT has its share of “celebrity gossip.” Those OT patriarchs were “overexposed” in more ways than one. Perhaps it is humanity’s attraction to story. Whether its comedy or tragedy, clothes on or off, for many reasons we are interested in the lives of others, even if we are introverts. Prince William and Kate, Tony and Eva, the latest craziness of _______(pick your own favorite celeb). Actually, Daniel Radcliffe made an interesting comment (which I read on a fan blog :P) about how he has to be careful to separate his real identity from “the product.” Otherwise his self view becomes severely distorted. For such an overexposed actor, I thought he showed great wisdom. And we are nothing if not good consumers, and “products” interest us, especially when they are also people.

  2. You make an interesting connection to our attraction to story. I hadn’t considered it from that angle. You also raise an issue of huge concern for me, and one that Taylor raises as well: consumer culture. Our being smart consumers doesn’t give us the right to see human beings as products.

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