Amy Winehouse and the Deification of Celebrities

Like so many others in the blogosphere and in Twitterverse, I was saddened over the weekend by the death of music artist Amy Winehouse. She had tremendous talent, but also tremendous scars and pain that she simply could not seem to escape in this life.

I am saddened by the loss, but I am not shocked, as so many proclaimed to be. Her struggle with addiction and her refusal to humbly submit to admitting a weakness, her many failed attempts at rehab, her public meltdowns and relational explosions have been well documented the last few years. It has been painful to watch a human life spiral into destruction through the lenses of the paparazzi. An honest social commentary entitled “Amy Winehouse Dies, Before Our Eyes” was published by Gazelle Emami on Huffington Post on Saturday; it’s a good read for anyone who is concerned about the ever-present self-destructing celebrity.

This is not the first time that society seems to have been shocked by a celebrity succumbing to a human ailment. Shock and dismay were proclaimed in the streets when Michael Jackson died two summers ago. Some simply could not believe that Patrick Swayze could have fallen victim to cancer in September of 2009. But since the advent of movie and television, celebrities have taken on a form of immortality that is rocked at each unexpected death. Look at the impact on American society of the deaths of celebrities like James Dean and Marilyn Monroe.

To believe that celebrities should be somehow immune to the natural consequences of living in a fallen world show that they have become functional gods. To be dismayed that they are “merely human” indicates that, deep down, we believe them to be something more.

Why do we place celebrities in the entertainment world on a deified pedestal? Is it that they possess fame and fortune that we really do desire to be our own? Are they the ones we worship, or does it eventually all go back to self-worship; we worship what we desire for ourselves?

Matt Maher has a song entitled “Flesh and Bone” and in it the chorus states, “I’m dying to believe/ I’m trying just to show/ That we are less than perfect/ More than flesh and bone”.

It is written on the human heart that we are in fact more than mere flesh and bone; we are created in the image of the God of the Universe, the only thing in all of creation for which God felt it necessary to get His hands dirty and then breathe life into us. But just like we are told in Romans 1 that certain things are written on the heart of man as universal Truth, we also have exchanged the Truth for the lie; that the created one can be worshiped instead of the Creator. And the unusual amount of sorrow displayed over the deaths of people we don’t know, people who just happen to have careers that place them in the limelight, display both of these truths perfectly.

We know there is something inherently special about humanity. And we choose to worship the creation rather than the Creator.

So should we as believers approach tragedies like the death of Amy Winehouse? How does one address grief over a life lost too soon while still keeping a check on one’s own heart and focus of worship? Can such tragedies open the door to healthy discussion with the body of Christ concerning the worship of celebrity?

Some questions are difficult to answer, but one thing is for certain, the life and death of Amy Winehouse is a painful real life lesson that choices can have disastrous natural consequences when we choose to worship creation over Creator.

Is Twilight Emotional Porn?

Much is made today of the devastating effects of pornography in the lives of men. Articles and books have been written by the thousands outlining the emotional, financial, time and relational impact of porn addiction. I work for a ministry that deals everyday with the effects of pornography. We have learned that men are wired to respond sexually to visual stimulation—I have been told by numerous men that, try as we might, women will just never understand the power of lust and the battle they fight against their sexual desires. I believe them.

Sometimes I wonder if the damage done by pornography is felt more by the women in the lives of these men than by the men themselves. Porn gives men an unrealistic expectation of how women should look and behave. Because men tend to be visual creatures, they respond to what they see. When what they have in real life doesn’t match up to what they have trained themselves to respond to on TV or the computer screen, they turn to those images for satisfaction. The problem is that no woman meets those expectations; not even those women themselves. They are airbrushed actresses, playing a part in a fantasy that cannot come true in real life. There are few things more damaging to the self-worth and emotional well-being of a woman than to feel like her husband is more attracted and sexually connected to an image on a screen than he is to her.

What, you may ask, does this have to do with the book series Twilight? Just like men tend to be stimulated visually and crave sexual connection, women tend to be wired emotionally and crave relational connection. In the past couple of years, I have watched middle and high school girls become obsessed with this book series and its characters. Recently, I have begun watching my friends in their twenties and thirties become equally caught up in the lives of the characters on the pages. More than any other character in the series, the obsession really lies in Edward Cullen, the teenage vampire heartthrob that loves the heroine, Bella Swan. Not only is Bella the heroine, but the books are written in first person from her perspective– as you read, you become Bella. You read her thoughts, you feel her emotions, you are drawn into the story in a way that is next to impossible in a book written in the third person. Fantasy becomes your reality, and Edward is set up as the perfect gentleman—he loves Bella at first site, sacrifices himself in an attempt to protect her, gives himself up to make her happy. He becomes a Messiah figure in her life, and because you are so attached to Bella’s character, he becomes your messiah, too. Deep down, we are all wired with a desire to be saved. That’s what makes the “knight in shining armor” story stand the test of time.

There is nothing wrong with desiring a man who will exemplify the standard of sacrificial love; after all, Scripture tells us that our husbands are to love us as Christ loved the church, which means he is willing to lay down his life for his wife (Ephesians 5). But in becoming obsessed with this fictional character, are we placing a standard of fantasy perfection on the fallen, sinful men who God has called to both serve and lead us? Just like pornography sets an unrealistic visual expectation for men, is Edward setting an unrealistic emotional expectation for women, particularly teenage girls?

Don’t think I’m picking on Twilight; it’s just the latest in a long line of things I would consider emotional porn. If you aren’t sure what I mean by emotional porn, have you ever been dumped by a boyfriend or been disappointed or hurt by your husband in some way and comforted yourself on the couch with a night of Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan “chick flicks”? Have you ever read a romance novel or watched a movie and thought, “If only he would treat me this way?” Have you watched The Notebook at least a dozen times and still sob like an infant, wondering if you will ever have a Noah Calhoun? The expectation has been set that men should sweep us off our feet—but then never put us back down.

And that is the crux of the issue—we are looking for a fulfillment in the creation that can only be found in the Creator (Romans 1:22-25). When a man seeks a woman who is a “real life porn star,” one who was created in the mind of a man instead of in the image of God, he is ultimately worshiping himself and his desires and he will always be disappointed. When a woman begins seeking a man who will meet her every need, satisfy her every desire, she has set herself up as an idol to be worshiped both by herself and by those around her, and she will always be disappointed. Only One is described in Scripture as “the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:23).

While fantasy and fiction are fun, when we become so caught up in them that we begin to expect our fantasy in reality, a line has been crossed. So if you’ve read Twilight, has it altered the expectations you have set for the men in your life? Do you think it has created a fair expectation? And, does that expectation line up with the expectation laid out in Scripture of a godly man?