Should Pop Stars Be Celebrated with Flags at Half-Staff?

February 17, 2012 12:26 pm 2 comments

Whitney Houston. Photo: wiki commons.

Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey is a bold man who has that single most important characteristic of leadership, namely, moral courage. Without a preparedness to be hated for pursing the courage of your convictions you simply cannot lead. Christie has that courage in spades. He’s saving our state from the oblivion of out-of-control taxes and he’s been prepared to challenge the unions to make concessions on contracts that can otherwise bankrupt us. New Jersey has huge problems and people are leaving, as is reflected in how we just lost a Congressional seat. Christie is slowly tackling the challenges and making considerable progress and it’s wonder he’s being widely regarded as possessing presidential timber.

But much as I admire our great governor, I’m not with him on flying flags at half-staff for Whitney Houston. Now let me be clear. The issue is not the biggest deal and I don’t want to make too much of it. We Americans have far greater problems to address right now. Moreover, I regard the untimely death of the pop diva as a terrible and sorrowful blow. Whitney Houston’s death is an American tragedy and she should be rightly mourned.

But flags at half-staff should be reserved principally for those who have made great sacrifices in the pursuit of selfless, patriotic service. Our celebrities get plenty of attention. Our soldiers barely get any at all. We mostly pay lip service to our support of the troops. Don’t believe me? Ask the average American how many Grammys Adele won the other night and a huge number would know the answer is six. Ask them how many soldiers died in Afghanistan since 2011 and I’d be surprised if even five percent of the population knows. (I myself had to look it up. According to Wikipedia it’s 2765 Coalition deaths as of 31 December, 2011.)

Our soldiers get paid little for their service. Our celebrities get paid a whole lot more. And just about the only acknowledgment our service men and women receive is the knowledge that their patriotic commitment is appreciated by a grateful nation, that there are certain great honors – like the flying of flags at half-staff should a soldier G-d forbid pay the ultimate price – that is reserved almost exclusively for them. The same is true of other Americans who distinguish themselves by great service to our nation.

Celebrities entertain us. They take the edge off of life. Their music inspires us and uplifts us. Their sitcoms make us forget our troubles. Their movies transport us to a more exciting time and place. We are grateful for the amusement and inspiration they can bring to our lives. But that’s not the same as patriotic service to the flag.

I can completely understand flying the flags at half-staff for a celebrity very dedicated to the USO, someone who is out there visiting our troops in Afghanistan and the like on a regular basis. I can see the flag at half-staff for a celebrity who dedicated their life to highlighting genocide or helping to end world hunger. But making a considerable contribution to the arts is not the same as serving the flag.

This is not a criticism of Ms. Houston. No doubt there are countless acts of kindness she undertook in her life that enriched the downtrodden and the poor. Still, she is known primarily for her incredible voice and capacity to entertain through music. But that does not rise to the level of a marine whose young life is snatched away for stopping the Taliban from beating women in the streets.

There is something else. One of the only courageous celebrities who spoke of the corrosive and dangerous nature of fame in the wake of Ms. Houston’s tragic death was Celine Dion. She was roundly pilloried for doing so. But she is right. I watched Michael Jackson’s fame slowly rob him of a healthy life. More recently it did the same to Amy Winehouse. And now it has claimed Whitney Houston.

Now fame, in and of itself, is neutral, just like money and drugs. All can be used for blessed purposes or they can become a curse. It all depends on how it they are handled and to what use they are employed. But the reason that so many celebrities die under fame’s influence is that fame teaches them they don’t have to play by the rules of mere mortals. They are worshipped by the masses. They develop a sense of invincibility. Nothing can hurt them. They are living gods, immortal, until one day they tragically die at a young age and the aura of immortality is dimmed forever. And the only way to save oneself from this fate while being a celebrity is to understand that fame is nothing but the attention one earns from a large amount of people for having a particular skill that draws a crowd. That’s it. You’re not a god. You’re not superman. You are human and frail and you have to lead a healthy life, like anyone else.

But when we make the mistake of elevating our celebrities to national icons when they haven’t necessarily earned that exalted status, it somehow perpetuates the myth that just because you can sing and dance you are performing something of vast global significance.

The great men and women are those who are born for service rather than adventure, living for the needs of others, possessed of such a strong and radiant inner light that they their actions need not always be highlighted by fame’s bright glare.

Shmuley Boteach, ‘America’s Rabbi,’ was the London Times Preacher of the Year at the Millennium and received the American Jewish Press Association’s Highest Award for Excellence in Commentary. The international best-selling author of 27 books and award-winning TV host, he has just published “Kosher Jesus.” Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley. His website is www.shmuley.com.

2 Comments

  • I usesally don’t agree with you rabbi but I must admit you make sense.

  • I agree with the entire article – except the first paragraph. His actions today show that he has no courage, no moral fortitude, and insists on laughing in the face of the Democratic Process.

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Music US & Canada Lady Gaga Accepts ADL Award: ‘Your Philosophies Are So in Line With Ours’ (VIDEO)

    Lady Gaga Accepts ADL Award: ‘Your Philosophies Are So in Line With Ours’ (VIDEO)

    Pop superstar Lady Gaga on Thursday accepted an award from Jewish human rights group the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) on behalf of her Born This Way Foundation, which strives to combat bullying among young people. “Your philosophies are so in line with ours,” she said of the ADL upon accepting the Making a Difference Award in a videotaped message, which was shown at a ceremony in New York City. “We want to help young people know that their feelings and who they are on [...]

    Read more →
  • Music Personalities At 80, Singer-Songwriter Leonard Cohen’s Jewish Roots ‘Very Much Intact’

    At 80, Singer-Songwriter Leonard Cohen’s Jewish Roots ‘Very Much Intact’

    JNS.org – Eighty years young, Leonard Cohen fits many descriptions—singer, songwriter, poet, novelist, monk. From his Jewish upbringing in Canada to the present day, Cohen has always explored his spiritual side. This month, the singer-songwriter released the CD (May 12) and iTunes (on May 8 of this year) formats of his latest album, Can’t Forget: A Souvenir of the Grand Tour, which features live recordings from his world tours in 2012 and 2013. Last year, Cohen’s Popular Problems was voted by Rolling Stone [...]

    Read more →
  • Europe Sports FIFA Head Says Israel Should Not be Booted From World Soccer Association

    FIFA Head Says Israel Should Not be Booted From World Soccer Association

    JNS.org – Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) head Sepp Blatter said during a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that contrary to Palestinian complaints, Israel has not violated any FIFA statutes and should not be suspended from international soccer’s governing body. “We should not come to one federation saying we will exclude them,” said Blatter, the Jerusalem Post reported. “If the national association is fulfilling its obligations then there is no need to intervene,” he said. “I’m on a [...]

    Read more →
  • Featured Middle East Sports Jewish Rights Group Slams Palestinian Attempts to Suspend Israel From FIFA

    Jewish Rights Group Slams Palestinian Attempts to Suspend Israel From FIFA

    Jewish human rights group the Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) said on Tuesday it was “appalled” by a Palestinian Football Association initiative to suspend Israel from FIFA, calling it another “front waged in the context of the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign.” “We are appalled at the temerity of the Palestinan Football Association (PFA) demand that FIFA suspend Israel at your forthcoming Congress in Zurich,” wrote the group’s international relations director, Dr. Shimon Samuels, in a letter to FIFA President Joseph [...]

    Read more →
  • Theater US & Canada Star of Auschwitz Thriller Says ‘God Was Holding the Hand of Every Jew in the Gas Chamber’ (VIDEO)

    Star of Auschwitz Thriller Says ‘God Was Holding the Hand of Every Jew in the Gas Chamber’ (VIDEO)

    The lead actor in Son of Saul, an Auschwitz thriller featured at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, told the UK’s The Guardian that he believes God was “holding the hand” of each Jew who died in the Nazi gas chambers during the Holocaust. “I do not for one nanosecond like to pretend that God is off the hook. He could and should have stopped it at a much earlier stage,” Géza Röhrig, 48, said. ”But I would not be able to get [...]

    Read more →
  • Music Backstreet Boys Singer Howie D Gushes Over Masada During Israel Trip

    Backstreet Boys Singer Howie D Gushes Over Masada During Israel Trip

    Backstreet Boys singer Howie Dorough took to Instagram on Tuesday to marvel about climbing the famed Masada fortress with his band during their visit to Israel, where they will perform this week for the first time. The group’s second day of sightseeing in the Jewish state included the Masada hike, and taking a mud bath at the Dead Sea. A picture from the band’s official Twitter page shows the five singers covered in mud. While relaxing in the Dead Sea, [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews US & Canada ‘Arms and the Dudes:’ New Book, Film Detail How Ex-Orthodox Yeshiva Guys Became Top Suppliers for Afghan Army

    ‘Arms and the Dudes:’ New Book, Film Detail How Ex-Orthodox Yeshiva Guys Became Top Suppliers for Afghan Army

    A new book and its upcoming film adaptation tell the true story of how three former yeshiva students who habitually smoked marijuana scored a $300 million contract from the U.S. government to supply weapons for the Afghan Army, the New York Daily News reported on Sunday. Arms and the Dudes details how the Miami Beach potheads became “the most unlikely gunrunners in history,” according to the book’s author, investigative reporter Guy Lawson. The tale begins with Efraim Diveroli, nephew of [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Theater Natalie Portman: Israel-Themed ‘A Tale of Love and Darkness’ Not Political

    Natalie Portman: Israel-Themed ‘A Tale of Love and Darkness’ Not Political

    JNS.org – Natalie Portman, who directs and stars in the new Hebrew-language film adaptation of author Amos Oz’s A Tale of Love and Darkness, says that despite Oz’s record as a vocal left-wing critic of Israel, her film is not political. Like the book on which it is based, Portman’s film is about a young boy at the time of the founding of the state of Israel. “I think the movie is very much about this very particular, specific family story. Of [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.