March 16, 2011

Russell Brand on celebrity and moving on to a new argument.

I have found it very difficult to find evidence on the internet supporting the claim that religion is being replaced by celebrity. Perhaps it is time to admit defeat and accept that a commonly assumed theory that today’s culture has replaced and eradicated religion is not true.


Before this though, I want to pose that celebrity is still a threat to religion, even if it hasn’t over taken it. Russell Brand in an interview with Jeremy Paxman (please use that link for the official BBC version of the video) makes some very interesting concluding points for this part of my blog:



·         He suggests that we are part of a culture which deifies celebrity. i.e. turns celebrities into our new Gods.
·         He proposes that this is reinforced by celebrity being an omnipresent part of people’s lives, swamping the media and products we buy.
·         People are presented with an attractive view of celebrities and the celebrity lifestyle through the media which is posed against “the mundanity of everyday life.”
·         Significance of celebrity VS significance of religion
·         He uses the example of Princess Diana and how she is presented in the media as virgin/whore/martyr depending on what the cultural narrative requires. Celebrities are manipulated just like religion to create meaning and to fulfil the general population’s needs.
·         As the article suggested in my last blog post, Brand also sees celebrity status as salvation, associating fame with some sort of after life, drawing parallels between Christian doctrine and celebrity.

Russell Brand comments upon his own view of religion, which is curiously juxtaposed with his view in the first half of the video. He says that he does believe in God even though he argues Celebrity is bad for religion. He seems to believe that combined celebrity and religion can bring good things for our culture.

Russell Brand on Religion –
·        Brand says that he does believe in God.
·         He partakes in prayer and meditation
·         He believes the most important thing is what we use to make ourselves happy and we should ask ourselves what can we do instead to make ourselves a better person.
·         He maintains that he uses celebrity narratives and the media to promote better ideas, how to live a better life, rather than what it advocates now.


Moving on to my next “topic” I want to pursue whether religious celebrities can actually be religious or represent a religion effectively (after all it's curious that Brand can claim to be religious and yet boast about sleeping with so many women, drinking so much alcohol and "partying hard".) I also want to explore whether when celebrities support a religion (e.g. scientology) does it make it fashionable or more attractive to the general public and indeed other celebrities.

Do you think that Russell Brand is really religious? What defines a religious person? Do you think you are more attracted to religion if you see other celebrities following it, does religion become "cool" again?

March 07, 2011

Performers are not like God, but better?

One could argue that a celebrity culture has replaced religion in the Western world, we could suggest that rather than eradicating religion people have substituted old traditions for new ones, those who have distanced themselves from religion have replaced the features of religion with similar ones in celebrity. The common perception is that there is a decline in religion (whether this is true or not is an entirely different debate) and a rise in media representation. On the other hand it could be argued that the rise in celebrity culture is a result of a decline in the prominence of religion. As religion and magic become less of a focus (for entertainment, knowledge etc) we've replaced this gap with celebrity culture. As religion has become 'irrelevant' to today’s society, celebrities have begun to outshine an outdated philosophical view and are far more recognisable to a younger generation. Either way, the suggestions are that the media has replaced religion. Therefore can it be said that celebrities are not like God, but even better?


Celebrities can do a lot of things that for a Christian God, it will never be possible. For example a celebrity can have a personal, intimate, concrete relationship with their followers both in person and online. Nicely exemplified using one particular celebrity Tim Minchin: online we have the ability to:
·         Facebook,
·         Myspace,
·         Visit websites,
·         Follow them on Twitter,
·         Read their blogs,
·         Join mailing lists,
·         Buy things off Itunes
·         Join fanclubs,
·         Purchase merchandise,
·         Read forums,
·         Take part in competitions,
·         Watch videos,
·         Read about them in the news.
Offline we can meet celebrities in person at: book signings, CD releases, before and after concerts, be on street teams and if you’re lucky enough get a job as a personal assistant, record producer or adviser, work with them. There is every opportunity to have personal contact with our favourite celebrities.

It can be argued that God does have a personal relationship with his followers; in the Bible for example there is a multitude of visions, miracles, revelations and prophets who can speak directly with God. However the Bible is over 2000 years old, which is a severe disadvantage when celebrities can update their “scriptures” (I.e. Twitter, Facebook etc.) on a day to day basis. The Bible is considered massively outdated when it comes to modern dilemmas such as Homosexuality, Abortion and Euthanasia, whereas celebrities can and often do advertise their views in the newspapers every time a new issue comes up.

Perhaps a little more materialistic, celebrities can provide proof that they appreciate their fans (e.g. Lady Gaga’s Little Monsters tattoo from the previous post). Celebrities engage in massive media stunts to maintain and grow their fan base. God cannot show the “fruits” of believing until after death, if there is a Heaven and Hell. Christianity relies upon moral “fruits”, e.g. that one would be considered a better person for believing, that we receive salvation for believing, which is all well and good but being a fan of a celebrity brings you joy every time they release a new single, the excitement of going to a gig and the hope of one day meeting them. I know which one I think would be more attractive to a new generation. This article suggests that people have replaced the idea of a spiritual afterlife with some sort of immortality experienced through fame. 


I decided to explore whether my speculations are represented on the world wide web, whether younger generations recognise celebrity as the new God, does the media have the same power as religion?

This is a clear article which describes TV as having unfortunately replaced the role of religion in today’s society. Interestingly the writer goes on to suggest that the Church could learn a thing or two from the TV which has an amazing power (through advertising) to get us to conform to something.

On this webpage there is a somewhat vehement discussion about whether a funded site should support religion and ethics, about half way down the page is this little gem:

 

“JANE :

13 JUL 2010 1:03:30PM
Are you implying that the application of morals in the Bible is ethical? What is the punishment for a woman who does not scream loud enough when she is raped? A disobedient child? A non-virgin on her wedding night? I'd go for cheap celebrity and money ahead of these biblical "morals" any day of the week. I'm not saying they are highly desirable, but they are miles ahead of the brutal "morality" of the Bible.”

Which doesn’t necessarily advocate celebrity as the new religion, however it does suggest that people feel the morality of the Bible is outdated by the modern views shown in the media, thus replacing Christian morality with one of celebrities.

On Yahoo Answers someone has suggested that young people are brainwashed by the media into following the media’s values. They also suggest that “our society has left their morals and values by the wayside and traded it for instant gratification.”

Another answer on Yahoo suggests that rather than replacing religion, the media is “"having a massive effect on and possibly contributing to the degradation of" religion.

Finally on Youtube is an amateur video on the effects of media on religion. There are a few uses of bad language but it’s quite interesting to hear what these young adults have to say on religion. There are suggestions that the media cheapens religion and over simplifies it and also that the media is a form of social control. Nowhere is it suggested that religion is actually being replaced by the media but the media certainly seems to have an effect on these people’s views on religion.


On a complete side track, I discovered this article on EHow describing how to “start a new religion” on the web, which is perhaps a little concerning.

January 31, 2011

Lady Gaga as the new idol.


The biggest star of the moment is arguably Lady Gaga, she shot to fame little over two years ago and she’s one of the most instantly recognisable pop stars out there. With her unique sense of fashion and catchy mainstream pop she manages to appeal to both misfits and ordinary people. She’s unquestionably one of the most controversial artists (especially after that meat dress debacle) but she is just as unquestionably one of the most ethically conscious stars. As the meat dress highlights, everything she does has a meaning or a message underneath it and she purposefully aims to create not only art but a world of compassion and diversity (it doesn’t get much more diverse than Gaga.) It’s for these reasons that I want to suggest that Lady Gaga is becoming something more than a unique media style icon, I think that her levels of fame have created for her a personality and fan base that resonate religious connotations. Robbie Woliver agrees with me in his article. 

 

The identity created by Lady Gaga for herself has permeated into her fan base and can be evidenced by her “pet name” for her fans as “little monsters”. This term has become established in the media, on the internet and elsewhere as the term for Gaga’s fans and they themselves adopt this nickname to set up their own blogs and other websites in tribute to Gaga, for example "Little Monster Gaga Art" blog and "Little Monsters Gaga News Daily" Facebook page. Lady Gaga herself has become so much a part of this label that she refers to herself as “Mother Monster” in tweets and on stage. She even got herself a tattoo in tribute to her “little monsters”. The obvious religious connotation (of leader and followers) is emphasised through the use of these terms and makes Gaga more of an institution or group for which you have to sign up to. I think that the “Gagapedia” highlights this mindset with the idea that “little monsters” communicate using this language and others are excluded without this knowledge. This type of intimacy between fans and celebrities is not uncommon (however few fans and their fandom are acknowledged by celebrities to the same degree as Gaga), Twilight fans refer to themselves as “Twi-hards” (Note the definition that makes parallels between the "fandom" and religion) an amalgamation of Twilight and die-hard and Glee fans refer to themselves as “Gleeks” (Glee geeks). This manner of fans labelling themselves as fans of specific celebrities or programs shows the increasing number of people blurring the line between media and religion.

 

Part of Lady Gaga’s quality is her huge contribution to charities and political movements across the world. Her newest achievement is getting the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy repealed; she led the rally in America  arguing that anyone should be able to serve their country. Lady Gaga and her fans also raised a lot of money for Haiti. Gaga continues to present herself as an active campaigner (her new song lyrics for Born This Way has very obvious connections to the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell campaign.) This will to advocate a world of diversity is one which has parallels to a religious way of life (i.e. being a good role model, the Christian teachings of love thy neighbour etc.). However the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell campaign can be seen by some as direct anti-politics and anti-church protest. During this campaign she advocates the idea that the Church is outdated and homophobic and that the politics of today doesn't fit with the modern liberal society it promotes. Perhaps the views held by Lady Gaga are more popular with the general public because they teach a moral outlook more in tune with the modern world, feasibly becoming even more popular because of her special ability to connect with her fans and others with her skills as an entertainer.


Lady Gaga often embraces religious imagery in her performances and videos, for example there are very clear religious connotations in her video for Alejandro. This video was made to stir controversy with its tributes to the Gay community combined with fascist, religious and dark imagery. Gaga expected nothing but an outrage. The director for the video argues that the religious imagery is not supposed to be a negative representation in his interview with MTV (click continue to US site). I on the other hand would argue that there’s a deeper meaning to this video underneath the acceptable interpretation that Gaga’s people are trying to portray. What do you think?


[Added post Born This Way Release] Another one of Gaga's videos with heavy religious connotations is the new Born This Way video; it practically creates a creation story in its introduction! "The video commences with the Manifesto of Mother Monster, the prologue, in which Gaga talks about a new race, born without prejudices and concludes with the view of a city populated by this race." (From Wikipedia) She uses very religious language to describe her "Manifesto" such as "finite, infinite", "temporal, eternal", "ultimate forces" and she even approaches the problem of evil - "How can I protect something so perfect, without evil?" Have we also got a "teaching" included "just put your paws up because you were born this way", a direct instruction to her fans? 


As for the imagery in the video this news site claims "while deconstructing this Gaga video, many critics, fansites, and others mentioned the presence of third eye, lotus flowers, Hindu goddess, etc., imagery, which they claimed was a symbolism taken from Hinduism." but Hindu leaders are having none of it. What do you think the video really means?


Lady Gaga is a central turning point in today’s popular culture, we have an abundance of 'wacky' artists coming forth into the mainstream music culture (Florence and the Machine and Paloma Faith) and even weirder videos (California Gurls – Katy Perry and Not Myself Tonight - Christina Aguilera) which do nothing but illustrate Lady Gaga’s influence and popularity (you wouldn’t copy someone’s style if it wasn’t popular!) in today’s  culture. Lady Gaga has become an icon for the masses, a fashionista and a political revolutionist. Not unlike some religious figures we know, right? Do you think Lady Gaga has the status of a modern religion, with “little monsters” as devoted worshippers and fellow music writers as budding fellow priests all clamouring over her crown?

December 24, 2010

Christmas and Celebrities.

The lead up to Christmas creates a celebrity obsessed nation; The X-Factor finals loom ever nearer, a panophobic Gillian McKeith has riled the nation on I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here! and the Royal engagement has taken over the headlines. New DVD’s and CD’s, perfumes and other celebrity endorsed products are released cleverly timed with the Christmas rush and children all over the world want this present and that.




                Perhaps this time of year is the perfect time to examine what this, historically Christian, nation really holds dear. This blog is not an attack on consumerism but an examination of what affect the celebrity narrative and the media influence has on our own views and our own lives; has religion been lost in our cultural narrative, has it gone so far that we may say celebrity has replaced religion, or the antithesis, has religion found a new revival through celebrity endorsement? This blog is also, more specifically, an examination of the celebrity narrative as it is seen in the online community.


          
 To begin, where anyone would begin with online research, the all fabled Google, simply typing in “Celebrity worship” gave me enough material to sift through in a lifetime. My question being, what exactly is “celebrity worship” and are we seeing more and more of those who “suffer” from “celebrity worship syndrome”?

This web article found on Live Science, details not only what the syndrome is and why celebrities are so attractive as idols, it suggests that we idolise celebrities because they are “successful and are typically beautiful”, we believe (subconsciously no doubt) that following these celebrities (in the media, on the net, etc) will allow us to gain these qualities. The article also suggests that “for many people celebrity worship acts similar to addiction”...really? I really can’t imagine people getting a thrill from finding out who their favourite celebrity is getting married to or whether they're wearing a blue or red dress to the Oscars. In fact, the idea of having a favourite celebrity is a bit foreign to me. I do agree with the article, that perhaps there has always been a form of worship that hasn’t been towards typical deities (such as the God of Christianity or Islam), it gives the examples of hunter-gathers and monarchy. Nowadays we lack these types of people and so have turned to someone else for our “highs”. Perhaps we always need an idol, someone to look up to, base our morality on and get motivation to improve ourselves from. Now that traditional religions are dying out (the veracity of that statement is disputed) we’re turning to more modern and relevant idols.




So, celebrity worship is a modern phenomenon, something that has come about through lack of other “deities”, (Ha, bet they don’t feel so special now!) It’s facilitated by the media and technology, which is in turn encouraged and boosted by this obsession we all seem to have with the personal lives of celebrities. Do you think that you have celebrity worship syndrome? Perhaps you’d like to try a very non-interactive quiz given to the public by the Daily Mail. Click this link. Do you think that the quiz really measures “worship” of celebrities? How did you score? Tell me in the comments.