Those of us who remember the joy of reading full-length books and the satisfaction of conducting research in the library, instead of pursuing bits and pieces of knowledge online, remember the adage about idols with feet of clay. For those of us who don’t, the proverb relates to the situation that occurs when we place individuals upon pedestals and later find them to be mere flesh and blood mortals, just like the rest of us.
The Idols Syndrome, if you may, occurs most readily or perhaps most obviously with artists and entertainers. In other words, those luminaries we see on TV, in film, and if we’re really lucky and they prove themselves to be true artists, in concerts, plays, and other live performing arts venues. These are the same people we also see at checkout lines in the grocery and convenience stores: the Angelina Jolies, the Brad Pitts, the Jennifer Anistons, the Madonnas, the A Rods, the Oprahs, the Katie Holmeses, ad infinitum. If the fact that I’ve pluralized their names offends you in any way, and you hear yourself hollering, “There is only one Oprah! There is only one Angelina!”, then you have subscribed to the phenomena of which I speak. You’ve placed your celebrities in a stratosphere far above the planet upon which the rest of us live.
If they struck a chord with you, what did that chord sound like? Do their drop dead gorgeous looks stop you in your tracks and halt the heart in your chest, as if Medusa herself had given you the evil eye? Do they make you toss out your “little blue pills” as your idols are a lot cheaper, safer, and ahem, more effective aphrodisiac? Do their impossibly perfect bodies, designer threads, and hordes of paparazzi allow you to live vicariously? Or is it something less definable and a lot deeper? Of the ever-widening pool of idols, what compels you to follow yours?
You could, after all, have your pick; celebrities in one form or another have been with us since before recorded history. In more recent history, worship of actors, actresses, and others in the limelight rose to its zenith in Hollywood’s Golden Era. While our nation was plunged into a deep Depression, the price of movie ticket plucked the common man and woman out of their miserable lives, immersing them in fascinating stories and characterizations unfolding upon the Silver Screen. Beyond the confines of the theaters, these same fans followed the gossip about their stars like foxes in hot pursuit of rabbits. And even when the idols proved to have feet of clay in well-publicized scandals (a la the married Clark Gable and the lover he eventually wed), the general public cut them some slack and continued to patronize their art.
Then, there was a clearly defined line between fans and entertainers. Hollywood versus Joe and Jane Public was a bit like India’s caste system; fans generally knew their place as well as that of their idols, with the latter being somewhere up in that rarified stratosphere. So why are we, as the dawn of the year 2010 approaches, so quick to point out the feet of clay in our own idols, and in fact, create feet of clay when none actually exist? Why are we not as broadminded or as patient as our elders?
Answer: in days of yore, the Internet and reality TV shows, cell phones and camcorders had yet to be invented. Technology has brought us so much closer to our idols that some of us have come to feel as if we own them and have every right to dictate to them. Twitter, Myspace, and other social networking sites along with blogs and official fan sites enable frequent and extended contact with celebrities good enough to maintain such contact. Casual passersby and rabid fans alike capture superstars perpetrating indiscriminate acts of kindness as often as they conduct indiscretions. Evidence in the form of videos wind up for all the world to see and gloat over on the ‘net.
And let us not ignore the reality shows. When programs such as American Idol, for example, bring undiscovered talent into our living rooms week after week and month after month, when they prompt us to vote for a particular contestant, and when that contestant wins or places, we follow them like lemmings to the sea. Some of us jump in and announce that the water is fine; the rest of us turn away and get on with our lives.
The water babies among us then begin dissecting every aspect of our heroes’ and heroines’ lives. And woe betide the icons who don’t give the hungry masses the things for which they yearn, because what they yearn for can never be fulfilled. To satisfy every fan’s whims, spanning personal mementos to how they should conduct their careers, would be the equivalent of solving the unsolvable riddle about the pregnant Mary, Mother of Jesus, her husband Joseph, and their donkey. If you don’t know that story, suffice it to say that both Mary and Joseph walked beside a perfectly healthy donkey under a brutal sun, just to placate the masses and their conflicting whims.
Before the advent of current technology, before the odd sense of familiarity bred by reality shows, we were content to allow our artists to be artists. When The Beatles broke up, we wept and then followed the Fab Four, all of them, through their individual careers. When James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, The Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, and every other solo or combined act of true quality took the normal two years “off” to create their next albums, we waited and endured. We remained loyal. If we loved them enough, if their music spoke to us, touched something deep inside of us that we could not live without, we supported them silently. We spun their records, shared them with friends. We read the liner notes again and again and the interviews in Rolling Stone, Q, and Musician magazine.
We didn’t hound them with letters to their record companies, demanding word from them as to where they were in their artistic journeys and what they were doing in their personal lives! We didn’t lie in wait for them, yammering for autographs to adorn everything from the shirts on our backs to our bare skin (well, most of us didn’t). And we didn’t kick them to the curb for engaging in outside projects that captured their interest or maybe helped them pay the bills so that they could continue crafting the work that had so touched us.
Have the hurry up, gimme-gimme sound bites of technology and the surreal intimacy of reality TV made our society more impatient, more demanding, more myopic, and more inconsiderate of those we have placed upon pedestals? Have they made us into Walter Mitty talent agents?
I say “No.”
Technology and TV have not made us so, but they have illuminated those of us in fan bases who are genuine supporters. The difference between the hurry up, gimme-gimmes and the real fans is that the Real McCoys stick by the artists they support, allowing them breathing room to create on every level, to be the artistic equivalents of the crew of the good ship Enterprise. The true fans remain with open minds and open hearts, rejoicing in their artists’ evolutions. The genuine fans will be those same familiar faces in the crowd greeting their artists, performance after performance. The genuine fans are those of us who are in it for the long haul.