Here Come the New Gods

  • This article by Jon the freelance theologian was originally published in Issue 22 of Faith for Life in February 2005 and relates to the popular reality TV show Big Brother, which began in the UK and has since been exported all over the world.

    Here Come the New Gods
    – Random Fandom and the Cult of Celebrity

    Amid the hype about Big Brother ‘going evil’, one disturbing trend seems to have been overlooked. This is the rise of the ‘Superfan’, promoted by the companion show Big Brother’s Little Brother. Likeable BBLB host Dermot O’ Leary encouraged members of the public to apply and tell him why they should be a Superfan. The winners of the competition then declared on TV their undying love and support for the incarcerated competitor they were allocated.

    Now, on one level, this is all fairly harmless froth designed to fill a half hour show that can’t show too much action from inside the Big Brother house without ruining the later, longer programme. But there is something bizarre about promising absolute loyalty to someone who is totally unknown. If the object of your obsession turns out to be a boring geek or a latent psychopath, there is no way out – you’re their Superfan no matter what.

    This willing subjugation in worship to another person is partly fuelled by a desire to appear on TV (and thus assume some sense of personal validity), but it also seems to be a trait within society. The magazines that are filled with sordid tales about the antics of B-list celebrities sell because people want to live vicariously through the lives of those they don’t admire but wish to emulate. You can’t admire some of these individuals, but you can still envy their fame and the money they are making from a photo-deal with Heat.

    In California, meanwhile, the media circus is in full swing surrounding Michael Jackson’s child-sex trial. If ever there was a case of madness induced by mass adoration, Jackson’s name must head up the list. The fans gathered outside the courthouse, or lining the route that Jackson’s limo drives down, have already decided that their hero is innocent. He must be, because to think that he could do the things he is accused of is too horrible to contemplate. It’s exactly the same kind of adulation that allowed the Emperors of Rome to get away with their infamous crimes.

    Where do we as Christians fit into a culture that seems intent on creating a new pantheon of demigods? It’s easy to launch into a diatribe against idolatry, the sin proscribed in both testaments precisely because it’s so easy to fall into. But is this obsession with hero worship in our post-Christian society actually a hopeful sign?

    The oft-mentioned desire to worship something other, something outside our fragile, failure-prone existence is perhaps the root cause of the obsession with celebrity. The irony is that people seeking to emulate these clay-footed idols effectively deny themselves the validity they earnestly seek. They want to be known and adored, but do so by trying to change themselves into something different, negating the possibility of ever being accepted for who they are. An extreme example of this is glamour model Jodie Marsh, forever branded the ‘New Jordan’, who in turn manufactured a new personality, leaving behind Katie Price to become the ‘New Pamela Anderson’.

    What is being sought in celebrity culture won’t be found there. The Kingdom offers a place where you can be known absolutely and loved for who you are, affirmed by One whose acceptance does not depend on your well-oiled PR machine. Far from asking people to conform, He offers to transform; instead of becoming an idol, He will confer true deity.

    The human heart’s longing to worship has often led it astray. But even the Superfans on BBLB are acting out of hope – that there is something worth of worshipping. It is up to us to help realise that hope, bringing them before a King worthy of their worship.

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