In order for this post to make any sense, you must understand something. I was a rabid talk radio fan for many years and after God shifted my life in a dramatic way, I stopped that nonsense. However, I still prefer to listen to someone talk when I am driving than to listen to music. About a year ago, I started listening to the Mortification of Spin podcast because I had just finished Carl Trueman’s book The Creedal Imperative, but I have to admit I mostly keep listening because I want Aimee Byrd to be my best friend.
And that creepy note is the point of this blog post.
During my NaNoWriMo writing marathon, I was checking twitter more often than I usually do, because the NaNo crew communicated word challenges and the like through Twitter. I follow Rev. Todd Pruitt on twitter because I listen to the podcast, and one evening he posted an article. I had read the article earlier, and it had struck me as one of those “anger the masses” ad hominem editorials that serve no purpose other than to polarize. Several of my friends had linked to it. I didn’t respond to any of those people. I responded to Todd Pruitt.
Here is the thing. I feel sort of like I know Todd Pruitt. Every Wednesday he and Aimee and Todd show up on my iPod. I plug in my ear buds and have a lively conversation with them. Only, and here is the most important point here, I don’t actually have a conversation. The rational part of my mind knows that they can’t hear all of the witty and insightful (in my ever so humble opinion) comments I add to their podcast. The part of my brain that lives in the real world knows that if they were booked for a speaking gig in Moncton, not a single one would say, “Well, if we’re going to be that close, why don’t we swing up and see how Coralie is doing.” I know that they don’t know me.
I really do know that.
Except apparently I don’t.
In a rash twenty minutes of tweets, I suddenly felt I had the familiarity and relationship with a man I have never met, to try to correct his choices in 140 characters or less.
Interestingly, the Mortification of Spin cast speak often on this topic of celebrity. Dr. Trueman often speaks about the false familiarity that can be created in which people feel that they know someone personally because they have encountered them through varying types of media. I had thought he was talking about other people. Crazy people. The people who don’t have boundaries and think they can respond on twitter to someone they have never met.
The issue of celebrity is a complicated one. What gave me the impression that I could respond to Rev. Pruitt in a way and a medium that I wouldn’t with my friends? What makes us think we can pick apart the marriages of people we have never met based on headlines in a grocery store aisle? They are one and the same. The issue of celebrity isn’t that we feel a sense of intimacy or relationship with someone else. It is that we don’t really believe they are real. We create an idol of them in our mind, and mold it in our image. They are not image bearing humans, they are fictional characters in our mental world.
When I say something strange and creepy like, “I want Aimee Byrd to be my best friend,” I am not speaking about a housewife in Maryland who cooks and mops floors and attends her children’s sporting events. I am speaking of the image in my mind of a woman who would sit at my kitchen table at my convenience and discuss only the theological points that I want to discuss and not challenge my mental laziness or personal blind spots. I am not speaking of a real human. I am building an idol. Rev. Pruitt’s posted article elicited a strong response from me not so much because of my personal distaste for the article, but because it did not fit into my mental image of who he was. When I sought to edit him back into my script, he stubbornly refused to conform. He insisted on being human.
While the internet didn’t create celebrity, it, combined with years of self-esteem culture, has built a culture in which celebrity has become the expected norm, not the exceptional experience for remarkable people. Ethan Renoe wrote a fascinating piece about become an overnight internet sensation. He says “It soon felt like little burglars were running through the halls of my cyber house . . .But while I became Internet famous, but what I did not become was known.” In our desperate search for celebrity, too many of us are willing to sacrifice true relationship to become idols in someone else’s cyber-world. Todd Pruitt resisted my efforts to celebretize him into my image, but too many of us don’t. Too many of us would rather have millions know about us than be known by a handful.
I don’t know Rev. Pruitt or Dr. Trueman or Mrs. Byrd. They don’t know me. Their 20 minute podcast once a week is fine, as far as it goes, but if someone told me I could have dinner with them, or with my sister, I’d pick my sister every time. I’d pick Jawan or Becky or Sarah or . . . you get the idea. I would pick real relationship over the inevitable disillusionment of idolatry.