I am sorry that Whitney Houston, a beautiful woman with a beautiful voice, died, apparently another victim of the “fame factory” of the music business. Neither money nor fame provide fulfillment in life. If a person chooses to be sad over her death, there is nothing wrong with that. I remember feeling quite down after Elvis Presley died on August 16, 1977 (my Grandpa on my dad’s side of the family died the next day, so those dates are both etched on my mind). No one can deny that professional singers such as Elvis Presley and Whitney Houston have done good in providing a source of joy, the gift of music in its many styles, to their fans. However, there has been a lack of balance among Americans. One would think that a major world leader had died given the amount of coverage of Ms. Houston’s death. Of course that is not her fault, and she probably would have been embarrassed. Americans (and the Europeans) are unbalanced in their fascination and obsession with celebrities in the entertainment industry, whether such entertainment be music, movies, or athletic teams. Such as obsession implies, in my judgment, a shallow society that trades the most important things for the less important. When Mother Theresa and Princess Diana died within a few days of one another, people went wild with grief over Princess Di‘s death. It was as if she had no faults. Yet little was said about Mother Theresa’s death, and she did not receive the posthumous adulation that Princess Di received. Yet although Princess Di did a great deal of charity work and had been speaking in favor of abandoning mines in warfare, I would guess that Mother Theresa did much more good. And while Whitney Houston thrilled the country with her stirring performance of the Star Spangled Banner during the First Gulf War (which was a bad war anyway, in my opinion), physicians and scientists who help to save lives and restore people to their formal level of functioning receive little thanks. The near-worship of celebrities borders on idolatry, and anything said even remotely negative about a favored celebrity can land a person in a fistfight.
In a nation where community is dying and people grow more geographically from their families, the celebrity can become a substitute for family members or friends. Someone will keep up with a celebrity in the same way in the past that people would keep up with their family members through community gossip. One gains a “companion” without the risk of intimacy. When a celebrity dies, especially at a young age and unexpectedly, the news media focuses on that event to the point that it, in effect, canonizes the celebrity. Perhaps in a world stripped of saints and ritual, the cult of celebrity functions as a substitute for religion. If so, it will disappoint, for celebrities, in the end, are human beings, with weaknesses and faults like every other human being, from the wealthiest celebrity to the poorest people on the planet. Celebrity worship is the religion of the immature and shallow, of people who have little more to do than read the gossip magazines every week. It is good the enjoy the fruits of talented people in athletics, in acting, and in music. What is not good is an unhealthy obsession with people one barely knows rather than focusing on one’s own family and friends. It becomes an easy way to “care” without really caring, to “love” without the hard work that goes into real human love. It is an escape, and a pathetic one. Hopefully people into such unworthy worship will take a look at their lives and look to the true sources of meaning in life, faith, family, friends, and others whom we love, both emotionally and practically.