I didn’t grow up in a family that watched much American television. In fact, my family didn’t watch any television– we owned a TV for years without actually knowing how to turn it on.
As far as I know, there were no truly strong moral objections to television. There was just always something better to do. My dad was a bookworm and my mom was always busy with something, so I rarely saw anyone watching a show or reading a magazine.
More importantly, my lack of exposure to TV– and all its nightly wonders–became a point of embarrassment. In middle school, I didn’t watch the shows that all my classmates were watching and talking about. I didn’t follow sports. I didn’t know who was in, who was out, who was hot, who was not, and who was the next best thing.
As I gained some independence and some Internet savvy, I decided it was time to learn all these names. Whether or not I had seen their movies or shows, I wanted to recognize these public icons that everyone seemed obsessed with. It was as though our lives would not be complete if we weren’t up-to-date on theirs.
The problem with “keeping up”
You might expect me to say that following the Joneses (or the Kardashians) through all their family adventures and drama can lead us to discontentment with our own lives. That jealousy will emerge from comparison and we’ll forget to be grateful for all we do have.
To be honest, I find that point to be rather shallow. I believe that we should be concerned with more than just our self-esteem. We are called to be generous with ourselves. Many of us are capable of giving and sharing so much. To think that the only evil that can come of stalking celebrities is our own insecurity, is to cheapen all that we were meant for.
The true evil of following the lives of people we don’t know is that we miss opportunities to influence the lives of people we do know.
Our attention is more precious than we think
I remember back when I was in college, chasing the coattails of some rather self-absorbed old men, begging just to have “a minute of your time.”
I’ve jettisoned that sycophantic posture, partly because I’ve learned the value of my own time. I’ve learned what it means to be generous with my availability. I don’t want people to have to beg me for one minute. And I want to give away more than one minute.
So, if we think about the amount of time we spend catching up with celebrities who will never know our names, we might be shocked to realize that we don’t spend that much time on any single friend of ours. In other words, keeping up with celebrity gossip often means that we are not keeping up with someone we actually know.
I stopped caring whether I was up-to-date on the latest and greatest when I realized that I would prefer to spend that hour on the phone with a long-distance friend. Or my parents. Or basically anyone I actually know.
If you don’t think anyone needs your time and attention more than Beyonce does, then think again. Someone needs your help. Someone needs your call. Someone needs your attention, your listening ear, your open heart.
I want more time for people.
For as long as I can help it, I don’t want to be the friend who says, “Sorry I would love to listen, but I just don’t have any time.” And I already struggle to have enough time for the people I love. I’ve become increasingly aware that I have very little time for people I will never actually know.
Perhaps what is scary about keeping up with a friend rather than a celebrity is that this friend can hurt us. Maybe we’ll choose to be vulnerable with someone only to discover a cold steely heart that’s not ready for much depth.
There’s risk involved in investing in a real relationship. Perhaps we feel safer scrolling through our Instagram feeds– chock full of images from lives we can’t touch– than actually reaching and touching someone in need.
But there are rewards too. Heroism is the stuff of true friendship; it’s in those little moments of support and solidarity that the real dragons are slain.
So we can ride the roller-coasters of celebrity life without a moment of true relationship with those individuals. Or we can go on a real journey, galloping through rugged, beautiful terrain with those whom we love and who can actually love us back.
Only one of these is an adventure.