Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

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. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Book Reviews Opinion The Syrian Virgin (REVIEW)

    The Syrian Virgin (REVIEW)

    The Syrian Virgin, by Zack Love. CreateSpace, 2015. The Syrian Virgin, by Zack Love, is a very interesting novel. Equally a political and romantic thriller, at times a real page-turner, it gets you intimately involved in the dire situation in today’s Syria, as well as in the romantic entanglements of its mostly New York-based characters — whose entanglements just might determine the fate of that dire situation in Syria. Along the way it introduces a really important idea that somehow […]

    Read more →
  • Features Unpacking the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict and Its Ripple Effect on Israel’s Region

    Unpacking the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict and Its Ripple Effect on Israel’s Region

    JNS.org – Aside from Israel itself, those with a vested interest in the Jewish state are accustomed to tracking developments related to Middle East players such as Iran, Syria, Jordan and Egypt. But much global attention has recently focused on the Caucasus region at the Europe-Asia border, specifically on the suddenly intensified violence between Azerbaijan and Armenia in the mountainous Nagorno-Karabakh area of western Azerbaijan. The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, while not taking place in Israel’s immediate neighborhood, does have what one scholar called […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Features Earth Day 2016: Israel Shines in Water Technology, Recycling, Renewable Energy

    Earth Day 2016: Israel Shines in Water Technology, Recycling, Renewable Energy

    JNS.org – On Friday, April 22, 196 nations across the world mark Earth Day, the annual day dedicated to environmental protection that was enacted in 1970. Not to be forgotten on this day is Israel, which is known as the “start-up nation” for its disproportionate amount of technological innovation, including in the area of protecting the environment. For Earth Day 2016, JNS.org presents a sampling of the Jewish state’s internal achievements and global contributions in the environmental realm. Water conservation Israeli […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture World New Documentary Explores Holocaust Humor, Role That Laughter Played in Death Camps

    New Documentary Explores Holocaust Humor, Role That Laughter Played in Death Camps

    Holocaust humor and the role that laughter played in the lives of Jews during World War II are the focus of a documentary that made its world premiere on Monday at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. In The Last Laugh, first- and second-generation survivors, as well as famous Jewish and non-Jewish comedians, discuss their thoughts on when joking about the death camps is appropriate or taboo. “Nazi humor, that’s OK. Holocaust humor, no,” Jewish comedic giant, actor and filmmaker Mel Brooks says in the film. “Anything I […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Tragedy Culminates in ‘Celebration,’ Says Israeli Author Who Lost Son to Terror

    Tragedy Culminates in ‘Celebration,’ Says Israeli Author Who Lost Son to Terror

    JNS.org – Sherri Mandell’s life was devastated on May 8, 2001, when her 13-year-old son Koby was murdered by terrorists on the outskirts of the Israeli Jewish community of Tekoa. Yet Mandell not only shares the story of her loss, but also celebrates the lessons she has learned from tragedy. Indeed, “celebrate” is this Israeli-American author’s word choice. Her second book, The Road to Resilience: From Chaos to Celebration (Toby Press), came out earlier this year. The lesson: in every celebration, there is […]

    Read more →
  • Features Opinion For Alan Gross, Cuban Prison Didn’t Harden His Heart or Weaken His Ambition

    For Alan Gross, Cuban Prison Didn’t Harden His Heart or Weaken His Ambition

    JNS.org – Alan Gross used to be nothing more to me than a tragic headline. When I started my position at this news service in July 2011, Gross had been imprisoned in Cuba since December 2009 for what that country called “crimes against the state.” Gross, a subcontractor for the United States Agency for International Development, went to Cuba to help the Jewish community there access the Internet. After his arrest, he received a trial he describes as a “B movie,” […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Features New Movie Shows How Global Economic Instability Grew From Very Local Greed

    New Movie Shows How Global Economic Instability Grew From Very Local Greed

    JNS.org – When I saw the recent Academy Award-winning film “The Big Short,” I was struck by the sheer genius of the financiers who devised the schemes and packaged the loans for resale, but it left me with unanswered questions about how the properties these loans represented were moved. “The Big Short” was largely about paper transactions, big money, and wealthy investors, and it mildly touched on the way the actual end-users — the home buyers and brokers — played into this […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Book Reviews Psychiatry and the Spirit

    Psychiatry and the Spirit

    Why do we think so negatively about psychiatrists that we still insult them by calling them shrinks? Some medics might be quacks, but we don’t generally refer to them as witches! Shrinks; The Untold Story of Psychiatry, by Dr. Jeffrey Lieberman, is a sobering account of how psychiatry has swung from a marginal, unscientific mixture of weird theories into one of the most common and pervasive forms of treatment of what are commonly called “disorders of the mind.” Is it […]

    Read more →