The early reviews of A Star Is Born are in and they’re glowing.
Any movie starring Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga has a decent shot of doing well at the box office. But it’s not like we haven’t seen this movie before – this is the fourth time Hollywood made this film. The original 1937 version starred Janet Gaynor. A few decades later, Judy Garland landed the lead in the 1954 version, followed by Barbara Streisand in 1976.
Why do we keep watching this movie? Maybe it’s because the plot taps into a shared, primal fantasy. We want to be stars. We want to be famous. We want to be celebrated. Of course, most of us – hardly any of us, in fact – will ever be celebrities. Instead, we’re left to reconcile our celebrity obsession with the reality of an unremarkable life.
But an unremarkable life may not be so bad. For thousands of years, people have found spiritual and emotional significance by avoiding fame. In some cases, they have aggressively rejected the celebrity others tried to force on them. Here’s what we can learn from their example.
The psychology behind our desire to be famous
A Star Is Born ticks off all the elements of a great story. But behind the story, there’s psychology – a deep-seated desire for fame.
More than half of those who becomes famous achieve celebrity status before the age of 30. Since the odds of making it big drop with each passing year, a high percentage of young people are willing to sacrifice traditional goals for fame.
In a recent study, a third of millennials said they would rather be famous than become a doctor or lawyer. One in 10 would opt for fame instead of a college degree and one in twelve would abandon or disown their families.
Those statistics probably aren’t unique to millennials. We were all young once and previous generations harbored secret fantasies of becoming the next Joan Baez or George Clooney. Truth be told, on a bad day I still want to be Bono and I’m well past the 30-year cutoff for celebrity.
There’s no single motivation behind our desire for fame. Researchers have found that on the surface, there are three primary reasons why we crave fame:
- The desire to be seen or valued
- The desire to live an elite lifestyle
- The desire to make others proud or help them
But when we dig a little deeper, we discover that our shared yearning for celebrity comes from our shared experiences of injury, humiliation and neglect. Maybe it was a parent with high expectations and a reluctance to offer praise. Or classmates who made us feel like we were never good enough. Or a friend who treated us cruelly.
Whatever the source (and it’s usually more than one), we want fame because we think it will insulate us from harsh realities of our experience. But that’s not how it works. The kindness we expect to find in celebrity never materializes. Actual celebrities are often incredibly wounded and vulnerable people – and their woundedness only gets worse over time because they experience a constant barrage of criticism and nastiness.
In the end, all celebrity really means is that people know who you are. Understanding, appreciation, love, kindness – all the things that motivate us to desire celebrity are illusions.
A spiritual alternative to celebrity
From social media to politics, celebrity culture permeates every nook and cranny of our lives. It’s even found its way into the church. Worship gatherings have become stage shows, pastors have become celebrity wannabes and congregants have become groupies, constantly chasing the next big thing.
In fairness, not all churches or pastors have embraced celebrity culture. But even those who recognize the dangers of celebrity culture talk about it and toy with the idea of incorporating certain elements of it into their worship events and ministries. Celebrity culture has apparently become the new normal in Christianity – a prerequisite for growth in organized religion.
Yet, for thousands of years, spiritual leaders across religions have actively shunned the idea of celebrity and the desire for fame.
- In the gospels, Jesus routinely walked away from crowds of people – not toward them. And when people randomly discovered his claim as the messiah, he urged them to keep it to themselves.
- In the fourth century, the desert mothers and fathers – spiritual rock stars who devoted themselves to lives of prayer and asceticism – left the cities because people started viewing them as celebrities. When the crowds followed them to the desert, they migrated to caves or lived on top of poles to escape attention.
- Born a prince, Siddartha Gautama abandoned the trappings of royalty to live as a mendicant, begging in the streets. Moved by the suffering he saw, he began a spiritual quest that transformed him into the Buddha, or enlightened one.
Saint Francis. Mother Teresa. Gandhi. There are plenty of examples of men and women who sacrificed the pursuit of celebrity as part of a spiritual calling. Ironically, some of them became famous, even during their own lifetimes. But it wasn’t because they pursued fame or even desired it. They became famous because they proved you don’t have to be a celebrity to live a meaningful life.
When it comes down to it, we all want to be celebrated. Appreciation, love and kindness are basic needs that validate us as human beings. They are signs that our lives have value, that somehow the world is a better place because we’re in it.
But the way we find our value is by celebrating others. When we recognize the inherent, God-given worth of everyone we meet, we experience an exchange of the love and appreciation we crave. Through the validation of others and the gifts they bring, we find our own validation as human beings and as children of God.
As a work of fiction, A Star Is Born is a great movie. But it’s also a stark reminder that celebrity culture requires a few winners and a lot of losers. Without millions of everyday people cheering them on, celebrities wouldn’t exist. In God’s universe, there are only winners – and it’s your job to celebrate them all.