Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Death of Robin Williams and the "Celebrity Effect"

I have tried to contemplate and envision Robin Williams' thoughts and actions leading up to his suicide. What was he thinking? What kind of desperation, self-pity, or self-loathing motivated him to affix a belt between the door and door frame just high enough to hang himself? How severe were the "acute" cuts on his wrist before he hanged himself, and why did he reject the razor for the rope? Too painful? Too bloody? One can hardly doubt that severe mental disorder and emotional strife were catalysts to his suicide, and the pending toxicology reports will answer our other suspicions.

Robin Williams was probably a genius; certainly he was brilliantly hilarious. I don't think in my lifetime I've ever seen or heard a sharper wit than his. How ironic that one so funny died so sadly.

Yesterday I wrote a simple post on Facebook that generated a flurry of responses:
I am sure some godly saint died somewhere today; it is only those whose death Yahweh calls "precious." That saint's death was infinitely more important than Robin Williams' death, and that saint's life infinitely more important than Williams' entire repertoire.
What motivated my Facebook post was my disgust at the public wailing and gnashing of teeth over Robin Williams' death, especially when the media and public turned their attention from more serious tragedies in the Mideast. I thought I was attending a Facebook funeral wake. One would have thought that the on-line mourners were immediate family or personal friends of the deceased. But that imagined familiarity is as flimsy as celluloid.

That's one thing popular media does to the human psyche, deceives us into believing that we really "know" someone, especially celebrities. It's a magical phenomenon, isn't it, that we, such negligible peons with unfulfilled lives, can be brought so apparently close to celebrities through media that we become emotionally attached to them and unconsciously imagine them to be our intimate chums?

We might call that "the celebrity effect."

The celebrity effect occurs in every sphere: athletics, politics, music, screen, stage, literature, and even religion. Certainly the celebrity effect testifies to our admiration of God-given talent, but admiration of celebrities too often, even commonly perhaps, transcends mere admiration and rises into the sphere of a cheap exchange of one's own life for vicarious fulfillment through the real or imaginary life of a celebrity. But the celebrity effect often goes far beyond admiration or vicariousness and devolves into idol worship. After all, what really are drunk-fest football games, riotous concerts, popular movies, the latest best-sellers, and raucous political rallies if not secular expressions of misguided hearts worshiping their idols? And most of those events are rife with vulgarity and sensuous imagery. No, I'm not saying that a Christian can't enjoy a television program, football game, or concert, but I am saying that these can be seductive detours from right thinking and living; for the ungodly, such events are most certainly expressions of secular worship. Whatever we love more than God, even if it's a child, is an idol.

If it's true that, "as a person thinks in his heart, so he is," then as we analyze the personalities and character of Joe and Jane Public, more often than not we shall find that their "thinking hearts" suffer from the celebrity effect. Jesus teaches us that "out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks" and that "by your words you shall be justified, and by your words you shall be condemned." If one were to do a statistical evaluation of how frequently Jane or Joe speaks of politics, music, movies, or popular literature versus how frequently they speak about some meaningful or God-honoring topic, we wonder how many Joes or Janes would be "justified" versus "condemned" as a result of what Paul calls "empty conversation." What Joe and Jane say is not just proof of what they think in their hearts; what they say is also a measure of their character and a signature of who they really are. Too often their mouths testify that they are wandering and wondering zombies of the celebrity effect, hypnotized and brainwashed by popular media and entertainment. Worse, Joe and Jane are in fact unwitting idolaters who worship at the feet of secular gods.

The outpouring of grief for Robin Williams' death epitomizes the celebrity effect. I don't mean to suggest that Christians cannot grieve over Mr. Williams' death, should not pray for his family, or should not hope that his terrible example may be a warning to others. But Christians should be careful that they are not like Joe and Jane Public, unthinking victims of godless media that produce the celebrity effect.

I know, "we're all sinners." But even a cursory foray into the details and patterns of Robin Williams' life reveals that he was vulgar, promiscuous, hedonistic, self-destructive, extreme leftist in his morality and politics, and sometimes blasphemous. His religion was supposedly Episcopalian, but his life testified to ungodliness. 

I know that God takes "no pleasure in the death of the wicked." 

But we do. 

We heroize their deaths because we idolize their lives.

"Cursed is the person who makes an idol."