Yesterday was a good day. Two months removed from eye surgery, I was able to finally read an actual printed book for the first time in what has seemed like forever. I need to quickly acknowledge my gratitude to my e-reader and its adjustable font for not leaving me totally out in the cold during my recovery, but still… There is something about the feel of a book.
For whatever reason–it would take a blog twice this length to discuss how I arrived at the starting line–I decided to read a collection of Euripides which included Andromache. This play, not one of his best known, was attractive to me for its connection to Hektor, the actual hero of the Iliad (but there IS another blog theme entirely).
Within Andromache, I discovered this delightfully searing line:
Celebrity, celebrity: you inflate the lives of countless good-for-nothing mortals.
Immediately, I knew this was a line to which I could write, but still I wondered exactly what such a post would focus on. Might I wish to discuss the celebrity that exists within the publishing industry? Might I wish instead to ruminate on Reality TV or even on the coming election?
As much as the quote had inspired me, I felt that a potential rant, often more an aside than a truly thoughtful contribution, wasn’t quite where I hoped to go. Content with the good start, though displeased by the lack of conclusion, I turned in for the evening.
It was here, as it so often is, that something truly special happened.
My mind often roams from Classics to Classical and so I decided to relax to a TED Talk I’d watched once before by Classical conductor Benjamin Zander. Zander’s talk, an exposition on the “transformative power of classical music” dissects the power of Frederic Chopin’s Prelude 4 in E Minor. Hearing Zander describe Chopin’s use of certain notes to change the emotional value of others (“C’s job is to make B sad”) and his use of ‘deceptive cadence,’ a kind of false ending, one could see the parallels between Classical composition and the writing of a play or novel.
By the time Chopin arrives at E–a moment Zander labels ‘coming home’–the listener has undertaken an emotional journey, one for which the modern conductor often receives adulation and fame.
So moved was I by Zander’s talk that I felt immediately drawn to consider the following:
- Sharing the TED Talk on my Facebook page
- Writing this blog post entirely on Zander
- Writing this blog post entirely on Chopin
- Going online to buy a book on Zander
- Going online to buy a book on Chopin
- … I think you get the point
It was then that I returned to Andromache. Might the enthusiasm I felt as I finished Zander’s talk have been an example of one of the other dangers of Celebrity? Though the talk in question had featured two men–one a composer, one a conductor–who were both deserving of praise, wouldn’t worshiping one or both of them cut me off from the greater discovery which was being born in that moment?
Zander’s talk, again, was meant to show the transformative power of Classical music. Was his goal for his audience to go from indifference towards a genre to feeling obsessed with one three-minute morsel? Hardly. In this way, his great charisma and the power of this piece of music both ran the risk of becoming the endpoint for the listener’s journey, not its point of departure.
So then, is Celebrity evil because it promotes the unworthy or is its true danger the way that any stimulus, no matter how worthy, can seem like the end and not the beginning?
To his credit, Zander seems to have recognized this same danger when he observed that he, the conductor, doesn’t actually make a sound. The conductor, he continued, has his picture on the CD case, but his power comes from his ability to make other people (those that play the music) powerful.
Zander is a celebrity. He has earned his fame (or kleos if we want to return to this blog’s Greek beginnings).
Should I therefore have avoided Zander and his dangerous Celebrity from the start? Of course not. I could not have learned the truths which this blog has flowed from without his lecture. However, to stop learning at the end of his talk, to stop listening to Classical at the conclusion of Chopin’s three minute journey from B to E, would have been a tragedy
So we should acknowledge Celebrity. Perhaps, we should even celebrate it. What we should never do, however, is view Celebrity as the destination. Instead, we can use Celebrity to push us on our way. For an example, let’s consider the piano-sized space probe which has recently been in our newsfeeds.
On its way to Pluto, the New Horizons probe gained invaluable momentum by way of a gravitational slingshot around Jupiter. This is precisely how we can use Celebrity as we move along our journey.
So travel towards Celebrity, enter its orbit for a time, and then use the power of Celebrity’s enormity to propel you to that next place… wherever that next place may be.