If there ever was an age for narcissism, perhaps it is now. In eras gone by, mere mortal kings had their faces displayed on house wares and clay walls as if they were gods. Yet, self-absorption and worship are no longer reserved for royalty and world leaders. It is available to almost anyone who can access the internet. We live with the advent of “selfies” and “usies”, conveniences, eases and privileges. Appearances can extend one’s reach and define one’s calibre.
Lofty praises are no longer exclusive. They are attainable for the participant in the latest scandal, the singer with a beautiful falsetto who plays acoustic guitar, the breakout athlete, the researcher coming close to a cure, the girl who strikes gold when she realises her nonsensical lyrics are addictively catchy. It ranges from the brazen to the gifted. It is conferred upon those who offer inspiration or those who offer entertainment.
There is a plethora of benefits which come with Social Media it allows us to commend those who have worked hard and would be otherwise overlooked. It lets humans lend support to each other from anywhere on the globe. It is a beautiful way of displaying solidarity and building esteem. However, there are factors that come with spotlighting we must be wary of ourselves, especially as Christians. Several events we see unfold on a daily basis herald these underlying problems. The Fame Monster can consume us unaware. And I don’t mean Lady Gaga’s album. While not many of us may be T.D. Jakes famous, we all have spheres of influence. And we may each do well to keep some of these notes in mind:
- Fame Can Become Addictive.
It can be exhilarating to stand on the pedestal for a moment. Some of us spend days planning the next post. The flashing lights and the increase in attention are flattering. The kind words spike the ego. It keeps us coming back like crack. Who doesn’t like to know that they are always relevant? The effect fades quickly. There are so many events and phenomena vying for notice. You can be news today and forgotten tomorrow. Consistent presence requires effort. The problem comes when we begin to invest so much in maintaining such a presence it becomes an idol.
We push everything out of the way for it. We constantly calculate ways to stay current. Sometimes we are so desperate to draw scrutiny, we exchange our integrity for some measure of regard. We leave friends who were committed to us when we were “nobody” for ones with more influence. We stir up drama and search for shock value. We scramble for titles without the hard work needed to earn them. We expose our bodies or try to assemble perfect ones. We empty our pockets on brands. We change who we are to appeal to the public. Before we know it, we forget who we are.
We must be so careful that in our pursuit to be heard, we do not prioritise earthly vanities. King Solomon rightly states, that “all is vanity and chasing after the wind”. After the exhausting hustle for attention, we find ourselves feeling empty on the inside and our need for fulfillment spurs us on to keep chasing it. We tell ourselves must be missing something.
Isaiah 45:20 reminds us that those of us who carry “idols of wood” are “ignorant”. We end up praying to gods who cannot save us. Although it puts food on the table for some, fame is unable to save us or grant unto us the long-term gratification we are looking for. The only One able to fill the deep longing of our souls is Jesus.
- Fame can breed arrogance.
Fame can breed arrogance in even the humblest and most well-meaning of us. We begin to equate likes and positive feedback to loyalty and reverence. Some gain a sense of invincibility when too accustomed to special treatment. Arrogance can show in how we treat others i.e. if we look down on them or dismiss the importance of their opinions or ignore their very presence. Similarly, it shows in whether we treat people like pawns or as if they are disposable. It shows in how we speak to others and in whether we withhold kindness and respect based on status. Proverbs 16:18 is a well-known portion of scripture and rightly so. Pride goeth before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.
How we deal with others is very important. Old people always say, do not walk on those who helped you get where you are. People help build us up. It takes a village to raise one child. Although we may not admit it, we do not arrive anywhere without the assistance of others. When we are inconsiderate, demanding and self-serving in our behaviour, no matter how famous we are, we stir up resentment among people we should positively influence. People will always say negative things about you but if you can avoid it, especially if your aims are charitable, do not let them have the power of highlighting true selfishness in you. Conceit is not equal to confidence. It is a pole which repels genuine people. Pride will always cause you to trip up. It may be in embarrassment when you (and others) realise you attribute too much to yourself and cannot live up to it. It may be at the end of our days when we will all encounter death the great leveler. He does not care how popular we are.
- Fame creates an impossible perfection problem.
This is one of the key effects of the Fame Monster. When you acquire any level of public regard, there seems to be a common expectation that you become a sort of role model. We try not to upset those who look to us. We attempt to be profound not only in our several crafts but in our lifestyles. We seek to impress always. Trouble follows when we assume a god-like elevation and present ourselves as pictures of perfection. I have seen how stars in the public eye have been dragged and vilified in ways that the common man escapes unharmed. A lost temper, a smart comment, a broken promise. The Fame Monster can conjure up an entire controversy, very commonly misconstruing or exaggerating circumstances.
When you are famous every aspect of your life becomes public fodder. In every speech, Barack Obama’s words were scrutinised, Meghan Markle’s every move observed and measured against the finesse of a royal. Even in our little islands, a small word could ignite a wildfire if it comes from the mouths of those in authority. We must try to remember that we are entirely human. Those we look up to are human also. Even scripture points out that none of us were found righteous, not one. As a result, we are all fallible and we must not reserve impossible expectations especially for people we do not know well. While we must be honest about wrong doing we must also be gracious to others.
I vividly remember when Barbados’ born superstar, Rihanna, shocked everyone when she outright stated that she is not a role model nor is she trying to be. She refused to be held by any onlookers’ standards but her own. I am not suggesting that we live without setting an example for others. But our integrity should be such that, we present the same standards in our living whether or not someone is watching. As Christians, we should not suddenly take on a cloak of righteousness to put on a show for others to see. We should to the best of our ability, and with the help of the Holy Spirit, live in pursuit of holiness both indoors and out.
- Fame draws fickle fandom.
Fame draws all kinds of followers. There will be those who love fads and are temporarily enamoured, those who are looking for a soapbox to air their concerns, the critics, those who are envious, those who want to associate with the well-known, those who seek the secrets of your success and those who truly find your contributions to the world worthwhile.
Regardless of which category they fall into we must be very careful not to define ourselves exclusively by fandom. Guard your heart well. Please, appreciate the support those who love and lift you up give. Yet in addition to those who mean well, there are those who come only to see what they can gain from you. Don’t become discouraged by those who fall away when the fair weather passes. Some people sing your commendation today and persecute you tomorrow when you make an error. Paul knew this experience all too well. In the brevity of only four verses, they changed their opinions of him drastically. They thought him a murderer when he was shipwrecked in Acts 28 and then when he was bitten by a snake consequently and remained unharmed they lauded him as a god. The rapper Lecrae has a famous line that if we live by people’s acceptance we will die by their rejection. Try not to get too entangled.
- Fame can distract us from the person of Jesus
In a selfie generation where we tend to be more focused on self-help and self-empowerment and how things can help benefit me or better position the I, it is important that we be kept in check. While it is impactful for us to be witnesses of what Christ has done in and for us, fundamentally the gospel revolves around Christ and His work on the cross. If we delight ourselves in His pleasure, we will be less distracted in living unsatisfactory lives of comparison with our fellow men. We do not live to promote our best selves in ourselves and for ourselves.
The Christian is given the opportune moment for Christ to live in and through us. If after the release of the Good News we are glorified as the dispenser over God as the source, we set ourselves on a pedestal where there is the impossible expectation of a man exempt from falling. We then find ourselves in frustration, bent on shading our blemishes, addicted to prideful promotion, self-preservation and painting glorious pictures of ourselves to others, unconcerned about their well-being especially if it threatens our own. We become fearful of putting our lives on the line to save others. Yet Christ had sacrificed Himself if even for the sake of one sheep to come home.
While we strive to emulate Him, others must be directed to pattern themselves after Him also, not after ourselves. Therefore, we must be careful to ensure that the light is always refracted in such a way that Jesus comes into focus and it is only then that our vision becomes accurately clear. Galatians 2:20