Mariah in Oz
by Michael Spencer
Celebrity might arguably be called America’s favorite religion. The amount of energy, money, time and trouble invested in the adoration of celebrities surpasses almost any public display of religion in America. Secularists and humanists may wince at the shenanigans of religious fanatics, but the sort of hoopla that accompanies the cult of celebrity makes even Pentecostals look like Stoics. Americans scream at their celebrities, imitate them, stalk them, read about them, adorn themselves with their image, canonize their every saying and general make entertainers and athletes every bit the equals of the gods of Olympus.
Oddly, Americans also like their celebrities to crash, burn, self-destruct and otherwise go through as much hell as possible. Case in point: Mariah Carey, pop diva and apparently, one depressed and disillusioned young lady. Ms. Carey has dominated the headlines recently not for her likely oscar-caliber performance in something called “Glitter,” but for her spiral into mental illness and hospitalization. I will refer readers to the generally sane account of Mariah’s troubles in the August 13 Time Magazine for a needed separation of fact from internet inflated hype. As I have listened and read, it appears to me that somewhere in the buzz is the interesting tidbit that Ms. Carey, a certified workaholic, control freak and extraordinary vocalist, has discovered that the Emerald City is, alas, an illusion. On her way down, she was mumbling about the sham of it all!
Yes, America, Oz is just a lot of curtains, lighting crews and special effects. It’s a city of press releases and “Making of…” specials. After the multi-million dollar contracts and the obligatory film roles, (Why do singers do this? Think Elvis, Elvis, Elvis) it’s a sham. That’s right folks. Tinseltown is, uh, tinsel. And Mariah saw it clearly- just before they locked her up.
One of my psych professors once uttered the truism that “Sanity is whoever has the keys,” or to state the converse, “Crazy is whatever the people with the keys say it is.” Increasingly, the keepers of the cultural illusion of celebrity have attempted to say that the ridiculous images of celebrity superiority sent across the world are reality and you are crazy if you doubt it. Apparently, Ms. Carey, in the midst of her ninth album and third movie, began to doubt this orthodoxy and began to say so. Careful, girl, worse things than a hospital stay could happen to you if you start seeing the emperor has no clothes.
Is it possible that it’s actually a relatively healthy urge that keeps Americans watching the endless versions of “Behind the Music” that rehearse the decline of celebrities to the level of savages before finding salvation in rehab and oldies tours? Are we telling ourselves “Hey, I’m actually doing better than all those famous guys! I’ve sortof got it together in comparison to millionaires in hoc to the IRS drinking themselves to death rather than go through another heroin rehab.” As painful as it is to admit, I think the public fascination with the self-demolition of celebrities may serve a good purpose: we see the truth that money, power, fame, movies and headlines don’t rescue you from being a miserable idiot.
Mariah, call Meat Loaf. You all remember Meat, right? The oversized and over-emoted singer of “Bat Out of Hell” parts 1-50. According to a superb celebrity bio that I watched on VH-1, Meat really has been to hell and back. And guess what? He now has it figured out. Wife. Daughters. Some steady work. Lots of gratitude for being alive and lots of forgiveness for the mistakes along the way. He’s dropped a few pounds and he has a nice smile. Mariah, the guy was truly nuts at one point, but he made it through. Now he’s dull, doing oldies, and happy enough to live to 120 if nobody gets in the way. Hint, hint.
There are a lot of people like that, and most of them aren’t celebrities. They are the guy who fixes your car, the lady who serves your kid in the lunchroom, the elderly woman next door, the young man building cabinets for your kitchen. Unknown to you, they made it through all kinds of hell that will never be on television. They will never write a song about it. They simply discovered life is a gift, an incredibly resilient gift. It bounces back, and often gets a lot better.
It would do Mariah’s fans a lot of good for her to recover and say what she was saying before they locked her up. The music biz, the celebrity cult, the illusion of diva-hood and all the rest of it is a lie telling all of us we need applause, attention and money to be really happy. Fact is, a good hot fudge cake at Jerry’s does it for me. And hundreds of things that cost a lot less than that. Happiness is whatever you decide it is. And it can be very simple indeed.
Those of us who know something of true happiness need to remind the screaming, tattoo-covered cultists that misery loves company, and happiness does just fine alone. Mariah, believe it. Try it. You may have wound up in the wrong place, but I think you might have started on the right road.