For my money, going back as far as James Dean, and then, of course, coming up through Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, President Kennedy, Keith Moon, John Lennon, Marilyn Monroe, Len Bias, Tupac Shakur, The Notorious B.I.G., Big L and even Michael Jackson, America’s been a culture fascinated by death. But not just any death. We need a big death. A celebrity death. And the younger the star and the more untimely the death, the more we seem to respond. And we respond like it’s a death in the family.
And it is.
One of the most salient truths in the movie Fight Club (read the book, but can’t remember if it was in there) was the scene when Tyler Durden explains how in America, we’re all raised to believe that we’re eventually gonna become rock gods and movie stars. Some of us eventually realize that we’re not. Some of us, sadly, never do.
But in either instance, one of the best cases against even wanting that cherished life that we see so lavishly advertised by those we’re groomed to admire has been their propensity for tragedy.
Celebrity deaths are our favorite cautionary tales. We hold them up as examples of what dreaming too big can get you. They are the grim reminders that we should be content, grateful even for the fact that nobody’s ever gonna hear of us. And that’s an important lesson to learn.
It doesn’t take a genius to realize why the Cult of Celebrity is America’s only true religion. By being neither ostensibly fascist nor a functioning monarchy, America’s alleged democracy invites it’s citizens to not only feel a part of it’s government, but also to openly question it. This could become a problem if there weren’t something else in play that could distract potentially open-minded and possibly even critical thinkers.
Enter Kim Kardashian.
Love Kim or hate her, as an American, you’re literally forced to take a position on her. She’s in your newspaper too often for you to ignore her. She’s on your television – probably right now – as you’re reading this.
Moreover, while Kim K would perhaps be one of the best examples ever of celebrity for the sake of celebrity (celebrated personality, no actual applicable skill, technique, talent, or ability), those like Lamar Odom who actually do (or did) have something to contribute were scrutinized far deeper than they should have been.
Part of this, of course, is Odom’s fault. Only a fool would marry into the Kardashian clan without a shotgun pointed firmly against his temple. But also, why do we care about Lamar Odom any further than his ability to play basketball?
Why do we care about Beyonce beyond her ability to sing and dance? Why do we care about any celebrity beyond their talent because their talent is what brought them to our attention in the first place?
Because if we didn’t, we’d be forced to take a sterner look at the world around us. And that would be dangerous.
As it turns out, it looks like Lamar Odom, who nearly drugged and sexed himself to death in a whorehouse out in Nevada is going to actually survive his ordeal. There went his chance to become a cautionary tale. With the best of his playing days behind him, all he could imaginably hope to do would be to go off somewhere and be a father to his kids and possibly a role model to a small community.
Now how on earth are the rest of us gonna benefit from that?