We live in a strange world where we form strong emotional connections with people we have never met in person. These notables are tagged with the label of ‘celebrities’ and the media puts them on pedestals. They become part of the cultural ‘furniture’ such that when they are gone, the mental space they inhabited seems somehow bereft as if something significant is missing. They represent a cultural reference point; we remember how old and where we were when this celebrity came into our orbit. Do you remember how old you were when you first saw Cicely Tyson on film?

I remember the interview which Larry King had with three famous women – Elizabeth Taylor, Tina Turner and Sharon Osbourne. His succinct interview style, braces which were his sartorial preference and avuncular, armchair manner made him so watchable. He clearly wanted to know how people ticked but he was so adept at it that they never knew that he was wielding a psychological scalpel. It always remained easy-going and pain-free. His face will forever be etched in my memory.

When Princess Diana died, it was as if I had lost a friend. I had never met her so this could only have been due to the fact that I had read so many articles about her and seen so many photographs, that my mind had been tricked into believing that I actually knew her. She was and remains ‘the most photographed woman in the world’ from the time of her engagement to Prince charles to her untimely death at the age of 37.

The grief arising from her death was palpable and was felt not just nationally in the UK but globally. Understandably, she was dubbed the ‘People’s Princess’ by then prime minister, Tony Blair – a title which has stuck and resonated ever since. Elton John adapted the lyrics of the ‘Candle in the Wind’ song to fit her life’s story, and sang it at her funeral. It marked the end of an era in our culture.

Celebrity is a construction of our imaginations; the media has given us enough details about them but whether we hyper-inflate them into ‘super-heroes’ depends on the choices we make as individual fans. We become willing fodder for the media if we are self-hating and inadequate enough to cast them into the role of ultimate achievers, having the perfect life and whose lives are all figured out. We thus deconstruct our own reality accordingly. As simple ‘wannabees’, our lives are not worth investing in; we exist only to idolise them but not actualise the dreams we have for ourselves.

Icons will inevitably die, because they are mere mortals like the rest of us. There may be songs and books written about them, statues erected in their honour, special days named after them, and other ways of honouring them for the significant contributions they made to their industry and the cultural landscape. Similarly, we can choose to keep them on a posthumous pedestal for the rest of our lives. We have all probably met die-hard Marilyn Monroe or Elvis Presley fans; these icons seemed to have become more famous in death than they were in life. We can choose to fixate on their body of work and memorabilia, thereby keeping their memories alive. But to what avail? How does this serve us in our real lives?

When icons die, we can pine for them, and the time in the past when they were still alive and life seemed rosier. It’s always easier to idealise the past because our present challenges always seem overwhelming and we don’t yet know how and when they will be resolved. Alternatively, we can see it as a wake-up call to decathect from celebrity worship, and focus more on the true reality and not the virtual. According to dictionary.com, decathect means:

“to withdraw one’s feelings of attachment (from a person, idea, or object), as in anticipation of a future loss.”

To become more grounded in one’s own reality, there are some relevant questions to consider:

  • Why am I here?
  • What do I hope to achieve?
  • Who do I truly love?

Therein lie the answers as to where our focus should be.

Carla Cornelius

Dr Carla seeks to bring a fresh and thought-provoking perspective to today's popular culture. With her Ph.D. in Biblical Counselling, she invites readers to see the relevance of the Bible in addressing the difficult and disturbing issues of our times.