Looking around my apartment, I realize I will never fit in with other people in life. I do not have the requisite Salvador Dalí or Vincent Van Gogh posters. I do, on the other hand, have two prints on my wall of two very different people. On the left, looking radiant and fervently passionate stands Kurt Cobain. On the right, with head bowed in deep thought, sits John F. Kennedy. The most striking similarity between the two photographs is that both have a shining white light beaming down upon their subject's heads. It looks as if both men have halos.
Was this intentional? Have these heroes to so many young men and women taken on a more spiritual quality? It seems we have now begun to place pop culture icons on the same level as religious icons. More people are looking to media for icons, for the waning power of the Catholic Church cannot keep up with the ever-changing demand of the public. Before the advent of modern media, Christ was depicted in more images than any other person. Today he cannot compete with a Cobain or a Kennedy. Media has turned mortal men into immortal gods. Despite the fact that both Cobain and Kennedy had their shortcomings, we seem to brush them away and concentrate on their more admirable qualities. Cobain was a master at turning his self-destructive tendencies into beautiful and thoughtful music. Sadly, these same tendencies also got the best of him and caused his death.
Kennedy was charismatic and confident, which made him a political force to fear. But again, these same skills also lent themselves well to his womanizing. While scandalous in its day, most people now would applaud Kennedy's affair with Marilyn Monroe. If Bill Clinton can maintain a 60 percent approval rating and have an affair with Monica Lewinsky, Kennedy would probably have ticker-tape parades thrown in his honor if he were alive. I have even heard the term "martyr" being used to describe Cobain and Kennedy. When did such men with glaring problems ascend to sainthood? With the advent of mass-produced images. I perpetuate this blasphemy by having their images in my apartment. Once you take a man and strip him of his environment and individuality by placing him on a wall, he no longer resembles a man. He has become more abstract, more of an ideal than a man.
He has become an idol. Picture Cobain in front of thousands of fans, screaming along to his sorrow-laced, yet angry, lyrics. Picture Kennedy standing before thousands with everybody straining to hear him utter his next syllable. These men wielded enormous power and influence, so much so that even after their death their music and words live on. Not only do they live on, but you can access them 24 hours a day from a plethora of different Web sites, books and compact discs. Christ never had it this good. Which brings us back to him now. How has he fallen so far in the public's eye? Attendance at church is at an all-time low and according to Pat Robertson; immorality is at an all time high. So what gives? People have slowly become disillusioned with the church, as its stranglehold on the consciousness of the western world has receded. With a closer examination of its past actions, people were outraged that priests could sell absolution for five bucks a pop. And even while some deviated from the church when Martin Luther made these atrocities known, these same puritans didn't jump ship when "civilized" Christians were "killing in the name of God" during the Crusades.
As church and state slowly separated themselves in America, England and France, men and women began to branch out from the suffocating gas that surrounded Vatican City. By the end of the 19th century, Nietzsche had already proclaimed God to be dead. Around this same time, photography was born and has changed the way we see, interact and judge people. And this is where we are today: alone and without a true figurehead to praise. Luckily mass media knows what's best for us and has given us thousands of writers, poets, politicians, musicians and actors to admire. Who needs God when you have Britney Spears? All sarcasm aside, there is a sad reality present in today's world. We no longer have one idol; we have thousands. Maybe this is a good thing, a refreshing change from the brainwashing that has been perpetuated by a sordid church for so long. Or maybe this is a bad thing and we no longer have a moral compass except our remote controls.
Perhaps we've become unwilling to give the intangible a chance. Perhaps it's safer to hold on to reality than to venture a little deeper and examine what is beneath it. Perhaps neither makes a difference because if we all want to live just lives, it doesn't matter if their sources are natural or supernatural. So take what you will from whom you will. Whether it is Cobain's passion, Kennedy's charisma or the good spirit of religious dogma, it does not make a difference. We choose idols for the certain characteristics they embody from which we wish to learn. As long as you continue to learn the good ones, it does not matter if the idol is false or not. I want to clarify that I'm not lamenting the demise of religion; I'm lamenting the demise of spirituality. Whether that be worldly or non-worldly, I'm not sure if it makes a difference. But what I see exhibited through media on a daily basis makes me ill. I can almost taste the acid in my throat. We live in a time where everything is for sale and anyone can be made an idol with a 15-minute lifetime.
How is it that I even know the name of Richard Hatch? I never even watched Survivor and yet I cannot even go to Ralph's without seeing his ghastly face on some $3 glossy magazine. What disturbs me even more is that he will probably write a book and people will buy it. Idols are not bad, but they are dangerous. I would not have wanted to live either Cobain's or Kennedy's life, but I feel their respective experiences have changed humanity for the better. Whether it was eloquently communicating grief or having the strength to push through the civil rights legislation, these men added something that I feel was worthy to society. In the deep cold sea that is media, there will always be idols beckoning at you to admire them. There will be personified Towers of Babylon and there will be prophets. Without a religious figurehead, you will be left groping in the dark, searching for idols. But after 2,000 years of being led by our collective manes, maybe it's the best thing for us.