Thursday, 2 April 2009

Palm Branches and Celebrity Culture.

I have been dusting off the palm branches this morning, the middle sized ones for the altar, the very large ones for the sacred ministers and the largish ones for the choir and servers. The processional cross is also decorated, although not as well as the one at the Brompton Oratory is, which is taken on procession from the Oratory to Harrods and back every year. I have also been writing and listening to suitable material for the prayer group tonight, which will take the form of a meditation on the days before the entry into Jerusalem and the preparations for that, as we prepare ourselves for that feast. Themes of the fickleness of crowds and the transience of celebrity will be explored, taking some cue from the treatise 'Crowds and Power' by Elias Canetti, author of the majestic 'Auto Da Fe' and some from our celebrity culture.

The recent death of Jade Goody, reality TV star, has brought people's attention, thankfully, to the problems of the celebrity culture - as well as exposing one or two positive sides to it. Goody was picked from a crowd of applicants to be on Big Brother (no need to explain, the format is more familiar to the world than the Pater Noster) and live under public scrutiny for a few weeks. She was thrown off for making racist remarks about one of her fellow housemates, a mistake in my opinion, I think that the casual racism of much of our country needs exposing, we are all equal inheritors of the Kingdom of God and I have no time for petty English feelings of superiority, it is casual racism which turned the benefits of the Empire into war and unrest. Anyhow, she was taken under the wing of Max Clifford, (a PR man who might be Bishop Williamson's last hope!) and became ubiquitous on our TV screens and in the smaller format newspapers, doing not very much of any interest, she became famous, eventually, for being grotty to her housemate, going bankrupt and having difficult relationships. Maybe she really became famous for living out a contemporary English life in public and there is no harm in that. Of course, she contracted cancer and did the two good public deeds of her life, she encouraged other young women to have tests for the cancer which killed her and she mentioned the name of Jesus publically, had her children baptised and her marriage solemnised by someone who confesses Christianity as his religion.

Jesus came into Jerusalem in triumph, but died in disgrace, by contemporary standards. Jade Goody came to prominence in disgrace and died quietly and with some good having been accomplished. I am not idealising her, I am not naive enough to think that she applied to be on Big Brother for any reason than to gain fame and wealth by the least dignified and fastest way possible and I am not naive enough to think that she employed Max Clifford as her publicist to lead a retiring life away from the cameras and to truly help her to overcome her racist tendencies. Fame, I suppose, is as addictive as anything else and the celebrity culture plays into modern attitudes of 'rights', 'I have a right to be famous/say what I want/have an abortion, I am autonomous and answer for myself' - in the end, Jade Goody showed that in the end, we need the grace of God, to whom we all ultimately answer. She also, remarkably, gave the answer to the question/statement 'if there is a God, why do I suffer', she turned to God in her suffering and showed her fans that she did so. She confessed the name of Jesus, and that may be her one great public act.

When Princess Diana died and the public hysteria mounted, we were all reminded of the discontent with 'them and the system' which had got under the skin of so much of the nation, exposing a restless helplessness in the country, garnered from years of an overbearing government and the erosion of civil liberties. This found voice in the death of a Princess. People related to her perceived struggle, maybe because of the shameful lack of a sense of duty which this secular state has instilled in so many of her citizens. In the death of Jade Goody, no such thing happened. Her grave stands as a sort of tomb of the unknown soldier for our postmodern world. She was so much like so many people and I hope that by visiting her grave those who go may come away with a resolve to move away from the celebrity obsessed, vain culture we live in and see that it ends by turning to Christ and having hope in His saving grace.