Inner Michael » Celebrity: “A human creature born abnormally.”

Celebrity: “A human creature born abnormally.”

Michael Jackson speaks of the glitter and attraction of Hollywood in the new album Michael. You have to know that Hollywood as a phenomena was on his mind because the song was on its way to being finished before he died. “She’s going Hollywood tonight” in her “painted on jeans,” tanned, lipstick at the ready and adopting a name and persona that is not her own but will work on the movie screen. He sings of someone determined to make it and who wants that celebrity and wants it bad—bad enough to get it on the casting couch. After Ms. Hollywood gets her fame, she discovers that all that glitters is not so golden after all.

The fantasy of making it big drives lots of people and few make it or rise to the top of their fields. And another Michael Jackson pinnacle of celebrity is highly unlikely. Celebrity itself as a goal or becoming famous or stepping into the limelight is not so glamorous or satisfying as it looks according to Michael’s Hollywood Tonight. And he asks Hollywood to become its own mirror and wants to know as they look at the reflection: “Do you like what you see?” He is asking if they like what has been created by the cult of celebrity.

“Celebrity” has come to mean some kind of caricature or Hollywood construct that carries a mystique and a keynote of aloofness. It’s come to mean glitz and glam but with an inherent hollowness or unreality of a faux life that lacks authenticity. The “celebrity” game is reminiscent of the games of the Roman coliseum where spectators watched performances for sport and if they didn’t like a character, they gave him the thumbs down—the death signal that dispatched his life.

It wasn’t always that way. The silver screen was once respected and Hollywood stars were revered by their audiences. There were always the gossip mongers but it wasn’t vicious and for sport in the same way it is now. There are no longer any restraints or boundaries of decency and anyone or anything is fair game. The mainstream press follows the gutter press and repeats stories that are neither vetted nor fact checked. It is hard to find the border of decency.

Human admiration seems fickle and attention spans are short. Lives are so busy and so frantic that there is no time for reasoning or questioning and even less time for researching the stories to ferret out the truth. Besides, we expect the experts to do that for us. We expect our news to be accurate and our newscasters to be unbiased. That has been the tradition of journalism and communications and we expect the integrity to remain intact.

Except that it isn’t. There is a kind of carelessness and frivolity to the news and the communication industry that is frightening. The advent of the 24 hour news cycle television pioneered by CNN leaves little time to fact check because of the looming spectre of empty air time. The ariwaves are a blank slate and must be filled if the program is to remain relevant. So those empty hours are filled with repetition after repetition of the same story whether true or not. If another network goes with a story that is “breaking news” cut and paste communications follow in outlets round the world.

Networks compete for viewers and that means they must get and feature the latest scoop. Because the airtime is a blank slate that needs to be filled, the pundits and “experts” are tapped for opinions and analysis. That fills airtime. But the problem with talking heads is that when the “breaking news” involves a person, the expert does not know them and their commentary is speculation. The problem with speculation is that repeated over and over in a 24 hour news cycle, speculation and opinion become cemented as truth by morning. The expert’s opinion is viewed as fact when that expert has never met or spoken to the individual who finds herself the subject of “breaking news.”

“Celebrities” are not quite real to us. They are almost but not quiet human. We have fantasies about what it must mean to be a celebrity and about what their lives must be like. We can fantasize about that lifestyle and wonder at celebrities’ activities and antics. And we can exercise our curiosities to afford ourselves some distraction from the mundane nature of our own lives. And when there are events in the world that make the picture or the future bleak, we crave distraction. Celebrity provides distraction and we start comparing our lives with theirs and find ourselves on the empty end of “privilege.”

And therein lies the problem. The problem occurs when the comparisons begin. We can admire and respect a star or celebrity for their talent and work but when it comes to the wealth that accompanies success and the assumed ease by which the rich and famous live, we begin to resent their money and ultimately their success.

We assume that the individual manipulated their way into that accomplished position instead of recognizing that some people are truly gifted and there may be something to the idea that destiny has chosen them for greatness. Arriving at the pinnacle of one’s work in a life mission takes hard work, focus, a few lucky breaks and concentration. It also involves giving one’s life over to an all consuming passion or drive linked to life mission.

There is a prevailing attitude by a portion of the population that since celebrities put themselves in the limelight, they are fair game for anything. They are supposed to hang out there like cloud computing– in public view, prepared and accepting of any scrutiny, invasion of privacy, criticism or damnation that comes their way—because they chose to be a celebrity. That somehow they deserve what they get. People actually assume that a celebrity’s life is completely engineered by some unseen and clever governing force in the background. There is something very frightening about that mindset. It’s reckless and irresponsible. And it denies the humanity of people.

It comes from a belief that love and admiration can be engineered and manipulated and is linked to image alone. It assumes that behind the image is not a real person, but an empty shell devoid of human feelings, sensitivities and tender woundedness. It makes the gifted and talented less than human. It presumes the right to enjoy their work while dehumanizing them.

I will never forget the first time I exhibited work; the artist I was studying with insisted that I enter my work in an art show. She did that because of my timidity about my work. I didn’t think my paintings were good enough to sell and she thought otherwise. Artists who enter art shows are traditionally expected be present in the show or gallery in order to be available to the viewing public. It was the first time I heard comments about me and my work as if I wasn’t there and often the comments came from people who were not artists themselves and had no knowledge of art and its many nuances—technique, medium, composition, color, focal points, texture and so on. It was a surreal experience for me to listen to people comment about work and the creator of it when they had no intimate knowledge. Every artist tucks a little piece of their soul into their creation. While most comments were positive about my work, the realization that exhibiting was like putting your soul out there publicly and in the hands of fate to be cherished and admired or sliced and diced was so unsettling that I lit up that first relapse cigarette after I had quit smoking. The first time I published a poem and was invited to read it at an author’s award ceremony, I had the same experience of baring my soul for all to see. It made my knees weak.

I had not prepared myself for the raw exposure and the public offering of soul, and those experiences rattled me for awhile. But the creative impulse must be obeyed so the artist must desensitize enough to manage the act of offering one’s soul over and over again. Imagine being a child who is forced to bare the soul, or a young sensitive man; imagine someone who was tender and beloved suddenly finding himself the target of mean-spirited celebrity hunting for sport and mercenary gain and watching his life and work crumble around him. The public who consume the gift offered by artists forget the struggle an artist navigates and the courage it takes to offer the gift.

Celebrity chasers use underhanded and ambush tactics to “get the goods” and employ a particular kind of language to sell their product. Deborah Shaffer of Montana University researched tabloid linguistics and her work is featured in the Words and Violence curriculum at Voices Education Project in the in depth articles section. Headlines that scream and suggest secret or hidden information are effective. It was recently openly stated by an online magazine that they are in the business of creating online addictions—a body of consumers who are addicted to gossip and who will click for money. It’s the same tactic used by the tobacco industry to get people hooked on cigarettes. The Machiavellian, and Orwellian for that matter, feel to it is frightening. It’s deliberate and malicious strategy designed to undermine humanity instead of elevating it. It’s a war on decency and an attack on human dignity. And it’s all for money. Every time we buy a supermarket tabloid, every time we click on an online gossip site, we become a partner in destroying people and corrupting our humanity. It is a suicide mission– of human dignity.

Yet the true artist cannot quit creating. It’s in her blood, in his constitution and the creation itself cannot and will not be denied. I know what inspired work feels like; I know that flow and the energetic vibe that has a certain feel to it. I know as a writer how that one incident or experience haunts until it gets onto paper or into print. And I know how scary it is to go from relatively unknown or known only in your little pond to putting your soul in front of millions and doing that—overnight. It is a huge leap of faith and is not taken lightly. It means becoming a potential instant target and potentially a target for thoughtless unkindness. It’s not for the fainthearted because it is a heartstopping moment.

Yet someone who is a true artist and sensitive, must find the courage to put their work and their soul before the public. The true artist cannot help but create because the art is, as Michael said, “bound to the soul.” The artist’s soul must create because that is who he is and that is what his soul must do and he must allow, in order to stay alive. An artist breathes the work. And an inspired artist—someone like Michael Jackson, driven by something beyond the self is a slave to the creative impulse. The drive is deep and internal and is a faucet that can never be “off.” That kind of artist comes from and creates from a place where to not create is to die. Exposing the soul with each creation is an unavoidable risk and it is a gift that is grossly underestimated.  The artist is handing you his soul for safekeeping hoping upon hope that you are worthy of being a steward.

“The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this: A human creature born abnormally, inhumanly sensitive. To him a touch is a blow, a sound is a noise, a misfortune is a tragedy, a joy is an ecstasy,a friend is a lover, a lover is a god, and failure is death. . . .”

Add to this cruelly delicate organism the overpowering necessity to create, create, create — so that without the creating of music or poetry or books or buildings or something of meaning, his very breath is cut off from him. He must create, must pour out creation. By some strange, unknown, inward urgency he is not really alive unless he is creating.”  ~ Pearl S. Buck


What we tend to forget is what Bob Geldof said about Michael Jackson: “When he sings, it is with the voice of angels. When his feet move, you can see God dancing.” An inspired artist knows where his inspiration comes from. He knows himself to be—not the creator or the inspiration or the creation itself, but the canvas upon which it lands. He is only the vessel. Michael knew that and said that over and over. He coached young musicians to “get out of the way of the music and let it come through.” He was saying “be the river.”

And the other thing that is forgotten is that we all have that canvas inside us upon which God can land. We are all “celebrities” in our own right. What would our lives and work be like if we truly celebrated who we are and our potential for greatness? Who might we be if we followed the divine blueprint for our lives and expressed our true destiny? What if we all revered the creator within and the creations it produces? What if it were customary to invite bright shadow into public view instead of the dark one? What if we looked for reasons to love humanity instead of condemn it? What if we pandered to love instead of fear?

The cult of celebrity comes from the fear “I am not enough” and perceives that someone else is. The impulse to idolize is the same impulse that vilifies. It comes from the question “am I enough?” What if we are all enough? What if we are all more than enough? What if we are brilliant? Stunning? Masterful?  We all have that greatness and unrealized giftedness. Wouldn’t it be fun to walk around believing we are worthy and so is everyone else? Wouldn’t it be fun to be that kind of mirror? Wouldn’t it be fun to read newspapers and magazines and online zines that feature humanity’s gifts? Are you letting them know that? What if instead of focusing on the sins, we focused on the god-given opportunity that is our lives? What if we embraced our own celebrity? What do you think would happen if we all let god sing through our life and do the dancing for our feet. What if we all embraced our Inner Michael?


  1. Debbie Kunesh said . . .

    Wonderful blog post Barbara 🙂 I’ve spoken on many of these subjects as well and I agree with what you are saying. I can also relate so well to the stories you shared about being an artist or writer and putting your work out there and in essence, baring your soul. It’s definitely a very vulnerable, unsettling place to be, and yet, if you are born to express your creativity, such a necessary place to be as well. You spoke so well of all that Michael had to go through and have stated something that I have stated often as well… that we all need to find our God-given abilities and talents and use them, because, when we do, we won’t want to be in someone else’s shoes, jealousy will not overtake us, because we will be fulfilling what we ourselves were given to do, and that nobody could do any better, which is why God gave us that particular task in the first place. It is when we can truly recognize our own gifts and appreciate others gifts, that we can complement one another and true freedom and joy are experienced.

    Posted May 26, 2011 at 5:50 pm | Permalink
  2. Sue Springer said . . .

    Bravo, and a resounding AMEN. Love and peace, sue.

    Posted May 26, 2011 at 8:37 pm | Permalink
  3. Joyce said . . .

    Rev. Barbara, Beautifully written as always. You most certainly have the gift of expressing so clearly what so many of us are feeling, as well as always giving us so much to continue to think about on our own. Excellent comment also from Deborah Kunesh. Thank you both! (I sent you an email with the information about the article I mentioned in my comment on your last post that you asked about. Hope you received it.) ~I did. Thank you. ~B

    Posted May 26, 2011 at 10:14 pm | Permalink
  4. Amanda said . . .

    Thank you Rev. , many pertinent thoughts expressed here on the subject. The medialoids first build people up and then tear them down. Another “truism” seems to be that good news doesn’t sell. But I do wonder about that considering that oftentimes reading or hearing the news seems an unpleasant activity with all the depressing coverage. There are some shows or magazines out there which are very popular which do focus on positive human stories and of things that went right. I am not giving specific names but these programs, publications and movies are uplifting and have a ready and sizeable audience. Wish that the communications and news industry was much more of that. How do we know that sending out positive energy in thus fashion would not impact the world beautifully?

    Posted May 27, 2011 at 7:17 am | Permalink
  5. Emmie said . . .

    The news industry should be in the business of reporting facts. Give us the facts, and leave us to draw our own conclusions. Is journalism not supposed to be the fourth estate, the fourth leg of a democratic society? If we cannot trust news organizations to give us the truth, what are the implications of that? Public figures should not feel that they can be held to ransom by the media if it so wishes to bring down someone for whatever reasons. People in the media profession should feel the moral responsibility to treat their subjects with fairness and compassion.

    Posted May 27, 2011 at 8:06 am | Permalink
  6. B. Kaufmann said . . .

    It would. There are cutting edge studies that show exactly that. That is why it is important to identify one’s shadow and not project it into the world. And it is crucial that we let the media know what we want and don’t want. A daily diet of doom and gloom affects the mind– that works like a master computer: what comes out is what is programmed in. Until we call or write the networks, we are just a nameless, faceless, amorphous “audience.” When you call or write you become their viewer. And if they don’t listen, call the sponsors.

    Posted May 27, 2011 at 11:19 am | Permalink
  7. Suvie said . . .

    Wonderful… yet again Barbara. And so meaningful a message. Michael attending the Bollywood (Indian Hindi film industry) awards in New York for accepting the humanitarian award said this: “I have always believed that the real measure of celebrity success is not how famous he becomes but what he does with his fame or fortune. especially in today’s technological age in media advanced society, the attention and fortune showered on an individual celebrity is often time immensely disproportionate to his achievements. Today an individual can become a celebrity overnight throughout the world and that kind of an attention can be difficult to handle.”

    Posted May 27, 2011 at 6:12 pm | Permalink
  8. Suvie said . . .

    I read the last paragraph over and over and it made me cry… Why is it so difficult to embrace the Inner Michael? Why can’t I seem to have the will… just that enough force that will see me through…

    Posted May 27, 2011 at 9:14 pm | Permalink
  9. Amanda said . . .

    If we want a better world, we need better values being promoted. Thank you Rev., for the reminder that there is something we can do about this state of affairs, rather than just feel helpless about it.

    Posted May 28, 2011 at 10:19 am | Permalink
  10. B. Kaufmann said . . .

    You are not alone in that struggle, Suvi. ~B

    Posted May 28, 2011 at 1:43 pm | Permalink
  11. B. Kaufmann said . . .

    Suvi thanks for sending a video about this award; I will try to feature it here next time. ~B

    Posted May 28, 2011 at 1:46 pm | Permalink
  12. Docas said . . .

    Wonderful! In the movie This Is It Michael said that “when we are too proud or too full of ourselves, God can take away our gifts/talent” and I agree. I believe it is good to know our God given talent, but we should also try to be humble and encourage others to discover their talents. Kenny Ortega once said that Michael told him that he could not sleep because God was sending him ideas for his last show. If he slept and was unable to receive those ideas, God would give those ideas to Prince. This tells us that if we don’t use our God giving talent and don’t use it for the right purpose, then it’s possible it might be given to someone else. Michael had such a great relationship with God; he inspires you to be a better person and be closer to God.

    Posted June 1, 2011 at 1:53 am | Permalink

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