Stars or Celebrities?

So, apparently there’s been some sort of controversy or uproar or something about Charlie Sheen lately. Or, so I hear. I don’t know the details, though. Nor do I want to know the details. Because, before Sheen’s publicity-stealing debacle, whatever the nature of it may be, there was…I don’t know, someone else. And then someone else before that. And, in a few weeks, there will be…you know, someone else. I mean, the media has to get clicks somehow, right?

I said a few posts ago that I really don’t understand this concept of celebrity. I mean, I understand it in the academic sense…in the sense that we like to create celebrities because we feel that we have power over them…but I don’t understand the fascination. I have no patience for news media outlets devoting coverage time to the exploits of actors or music celebrities. I become frustrated with the clutter of the trending topics on Twitter. At the risk of sounding pompous, I really don’t want to waste my time with this stuff, not because I don’t care about these people as human beings, but because their media-saturated misadventures tend toward the…well, toward the vacuous.

I listened to a differentiation last night that L’Engle made between “celebrities” and “stars.” She makes the differentiation that “celebrities” are success stories, those who have become extremely financially successful and achieved mainstream popularity through their work, and “stars” are those who are recognized because of their excellence in their craft. I think the reason I resonated with her statement so much is because she spoke of how the true essence of theatre…of working hard to master your craft in order to produce work about which you are passionate and that matters, regardless of how much you are paid…is currently present more in regional theatre than in the professional world. So often, I see actors venerated that aren’t that great at what they do (you know, the ones who are themselves pretending to be someone else on the screen instead of becoming a character?), or writing that just falls flat (a movie that is said to be “character-driven” but uses flat characters to bridge the time between spectacular explosions). Our standard of what is good, of what is excellence in the craft, has plummeted as celebrities are elevated, measured by the amount of financial and popular success that they achieve. There’s a point at which this just doesn’t make sense, because, while not all of us are actors of artists or writers, let’s be honest…we still know something good when we see or hear it, at least if we’ve learned  any kind of appreciation for the medium at all.

Because, at the end of the day, I think an artist who is excellent at his or her craft should be recognized for their hard work and talent. I don’t, however, see any point in esteeming someone for how much money they are able to make. In fact, I couldn’t care less.

I’m not claiming that every popular actor or musician or author or artist who is a great salesperson is poor at their craft. In fact, if the author (for example) wants to live at their writing, then they need to learn how to sell their books. Financially successful “stars” is not necessarily an oxymoron, but I do find it to be true in frequency. I dream wistfully of how much healthier the artistic culture of the U.S., to say nothing of its popular culture, would be were we to return to valuing excellence of craft and creativity.

Instead of the American holy grail of becoming financially successful.

Whatever that means, anyway.

Photo Attribution: k01e  

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