Hollywood celebrities in the USA have always offered us an outlet for our imagination, just as the gods and demigods of historic Greece and Rome once did. Hollywood celebrities are our myth bearers; carriers of the divine forces of good, evil, lust, and redemption. “The wish for kings is an old and familiar wish, as well-known in medieval Europe as in ancient Mesopotamia,” writes Lewis Lapham in his book The Wish For Kings. “The ancient Greeks assigned trace elements of the divine to trees and winds and stones. A river god sulks, and the child drowns; a sky god smiles, and the corn ripens. The modern Americans assign similar powers not only to whales and spotted owls but also to individuals blessed with the aura of celebrity.”
Historically, famous people were recorded in stone and in paint. Alexander the Great was the first famous person in a modern day sense, contends Leo Braudy, Ph.D., professor of English in the University of Southern California and author of The Frenzy of Renown. “Not only did he want to be unique, but he wanted to tell everybody about it, and he had an apparatus for telling everybody about it. He had techniques for doing famous things. He had historians, painters, sculptors, gem carvers on his battles.”
Heroes, all of us might agree, bring intrinsic benefit-the essence of the heroic and the noble. Durable gods serve to raise our vision above the mundane.
But fame isn’t what it used to be. Hollywood celebrities are borne aloft on pictures marketed, sold, and disseminated with a rapidity and cunning not imagined by the heroes of old, and then just as quickly cast aside.
“We’re in the Kleenex phase of fame,” claims Braudy. “We see so much of people, and in all branches of the media. We blow our nose on every new star that happens to come along and then dispose of them.” Just about every year brings a brand new Sexiest Man Alive. Technology has transformed fame making sure that it is far more immediate and instantaneous-and our curiosity with it has become a lot more fickle.
Where once the renowned attained an almost godlike status, one that appeared impermeable and historical (bear in mind Lincoln or Washington, Charles Lindbergh or Jesse Owens), today Hollywood celebrity exist for and by an information age. Within our worldwide and atomized planet of bits and bytes, where information is immediately available and massive in its amounts, and as perishable as an electronic photo, Hollywood celebrities help personalize that content. They put a human face on it. Alas, they are diminished in the process. The issue is, so are we.
Information will come at us with incredible speed, in innumerable transforming faces and stories, on Court Television, on CNN in 24-hour play. We’ve far too much information about Hollywood celebrities these days-their love affairs, their private conversations on mobile phones, the colour of their underwear, how many nose jobs they’ve had, how many intestinal polyps our presidents have had taken out. But the surfeit of information strips the famous of the sacred and heroic-therefore our culture and our own lives-as heroes reflect what we feel is best in ourselves.