Palm Sunday and the failure of celebrity

“In general, celebrities are highly visible, well-known individuals who are widely recognised at either a national or international level. Although individuals such as Judi Dench, David Beckham, Mick Jagger, Lady Gaga or Princess Mary of Denmark may be instantly recognised, they do not know or recognise us. This is a one-dimensional relationship in which our consumption of celebrity news provides a level of one-sided intimacy and knowledge of their lives (Ferris 2004). Bauman (2007) has described this phenomenon as consuming life; when individuals appear closer because ordinary details of their lives are known, yet these lives are better than those observing. Put another way, the consumption of the lives and activities of celebrities provide a way for ordinary people to cope with the monotony of the everyday (Rojek 2001).” (Fitzgerald and Savage, 2014)

Audiences are notoriously fickle. We tend to have a love/hate relationship with celebrities which is grounded no doubt in envy and the one-sidedness of the relationship. It’s not even a relationshop really, it’s idolatry, fetishization. Nevertheless we insist on having celebrities and many people are weak enough to be sucked into that construction of themselves- to their downfall.

Can we understand the Palm Sunday Jesus in this way? I would hope not from his side, but certainly from the perspective of the crowd (which next week will condemn him with equal enthusiasm).

Greta Thunberg is perhaps a similar character. She’s been both praised and adulated, and condemned and criticised. Those who praise her want to use her as a “feel good” story, a license to be saved by her and not to do more. Those who condemn her point to any way in which she is not pure of ideology or lifestyle, her perceived attention seeking, her youth.

We also have a similar attitude to politicians. Jacinta Adern, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, AOC, perhaps for some Anthony Albanese. Who will be our idol? Who will save their people? How can we rest on our ordinariness, giving worship in exchange for permission to do less and worry less? Arguments over whether they are as good as they are portrayed or whether they are actually flawed- selfish or dupes of other powers abound. Either side of this misses the point. They are human. It’s not healthy for individuals OR the communities they represent to be singled out and held up in this way (for all that as far as we know it has been done in Western history in all times).

Is there greater wisdom in First Nations cultures, or in other cultures that have not colonised the globe? I’m a boring white-person so I can only speculate but if anyone from any culture that DOESN’T do this celebrity thing would like to comment feel free- only if it is your culture though, no co-speculating please.

What I can say is that the story of Jesus would undermine this way of viewing the world. Pyramid shaped power-structures are for Herods and Caesars and Pharisees, not for the Bread of Life, not for the Mother Hen who would rescue us if they could, not for the mustard seed which takes root everywhere and anywhere and is as tenacious as it is common. Jesus’ celebrity status at Palm Sunday is at least ironic (on a donkey) he comes to threaten not support the status quo and he is always/already condemned to death by those who would use his celebrity power to increase their own privilege. The sad fact is if the crowds had stopped demanding miracles and holding up a celebrity, instead they could have built a movement to eliminate the oppression they hoped he would single-handedly dismantle.

If Jesus is God, then God does not work that way. God is not an influencer, God is a mentor. God is not a “role model”, God is a parent (sort of, allowing for how problematic that metaphor is too). God is not an obstetrician, God is a midwife. God is not the one who stands over us in Lordship and glory (despite the way the Constantinian church/es has misused his message), God is the one who works with us- a God of mustard seeds and donkeys not hothouse blooms and warhorses. The difficult part of the message here is if God works WITH us not OVER us then we ar expected to do some of the work ourselves, and that includes the intellectual and emotional work. We don’t get to beg and obey and be saved, we get to be scaffolded and supported and encouraged (and perhaps sometimes debated or critiqued).

Instead of “Hosanna to our King…crucify him” we need to shift to “welcome to one of our own…nurture him”. But we didn’t, and generally we don’t, and now the planet is dying like Christ and we talk about how much we love it and make up all sorts of hippie narratives about it but we haven’t made the connection to NURTURING it and respecting its boundaries.

The crowds in Jesus’ day chose Barrabas. We in the days of the earth, kiss her with green-washed consciences and then choose economy. We are no better than they.

But please, please, prove me wrong on that. Let’s stop idolising people and things and start working with any good movement- seeing both what needs to be amplified and what needs to be constructively criticised. How do we get in amongst it all, not as spectacle but as connection?

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