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...

  • Arts and Culture First English-Language Trailer Debuts for Natalie Portman’s Hebrew Film ‘A Tale of Love and Darkness,’ Based on Amos Oz’s Memoir (VIDEO)

    First English-Language Trailer Debuts for Natalie Portman’s Hebrew Film ‘A Tale of Love and Darkness,’ Based on Amos Oz’s Memoir (VIDEO)

    The first English-language trailer for Natalie Portman’s directorial debut — A Tale of Love and Darkness — based on Israeli author Amos Oz’s memoir, was released on Thursday. The movie, originally filmed in Hebrew, tells the story of Oz’s childhood in Jerusalem at the end of the British Mandate and the early years of Israel’s independence. Portman, who was born in Israel and speaks fluent Hebrew, plays the lead role of Fania, the author’s mother. She struggles to raise her son as she deals with inner demons, a […]

    Read more →
  • Features As Berlin Prices Rise, Israelis Turn East for German Real-Estate Bargains

    As Berlin Prices Rise, Israelis Turn East for German Real-Estate Bargains

    JNS.org – Sonnenallee, a street in Berlin’s Neukölln district, looks like it comes straight out of an Arab city — so much so that it goes by the nickname “Gaza Strip.” Kebab and bakery shops are advertised in Arabic; men sit in men-only coffee shops; and bridal shop windows showcase glittery, not-so-stylish gowns. But take a random turn, and you’ll find a swath of bars, burger joints, and Indian restaurants where hip Berliners announce that they have arrived to urban coolness. […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Israeli Actress Gal Gadot Slays in ‘Wonder Woman’ Trailer (VIDEO)

    Israeli Actress Gal Gadot Slays in ‘Wonder Woman’ Trailer (VIDEO)

    Israeli actress Gal Gadot engages in fierce action sequences in the new Wonder Woman trailer, which Warner Bros. premiered during the San Diego Comic-Con on Saturday. The nearly 3-minute trailer, the first to debut for the superhero film, shows scenes of Diana, princess of the Amazons, fighting alongside men in the battle against the world’s toughest enemies. The first shot of the video shows Wonder Woman discovering a man, Steve Trevor (played by actor Chris Pine), washed ashore. The clip then takes viewers to the all-female island where Wonder Woman was born. […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture A Theatrical Look at Diplomacy and the Oslo Accords (REVIEW)

    A Theatrical Look at Diplomacy and the Oslo Accords (REVIEW)

    Is diplomacy worthwhile, even if the end result isn’t what we hoped for? That is the question, among many others, posed by the new play Oslo, by J.T. Rogers. Making its New York debut at Lincoln Center, the play examines the secret diplomatic process that led to the historic 1993 peace accords. The character of Shimon Peres makes an appearance onstage — and he, along with Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat, tower over the proceedings. But they mainly do so in absentia. Instead, […]

    Read more →
  • Spirituality/Tradition Sports Israeli Trailblazer Dean Kremer Brings Jewish Values to Nascent Pro Baseball Career

    Israeli Trailblazer Dean Kremer Brings Jewish Values to Nascent Pro Baseball Career

    JNS.org – Other than being part of the Los Angeles Dodgers organization, Sandy Koufax and Dean Kremer have something else in common: a respect for Jewish tradition. Koufax — who was recently ranked by ESPN as the best left-handed pitcher in Major League Baseball (MLB) history — decided not to pitch Game 1 of the 1965 World Series because the game fell on Yom Kippur. “I would do the same,” Kremer said in an interview. Last month, the 20-year-old Kremer became […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Lead Guitarist of British Rock Band Queen Asks Adam Lambert to Sing in Hebrew During Upcoming Israel Concert

    Lead Guitarist of British Rock Band Queen Asks Adam Lambert to Sing in Hebrew During Upcoming Israel Concert

    The famed lead guitarist of British rock band Queen, Brian May, encouraged Jewish singer-songwriter Adam Lambert to perform in Hebrew during their upcoming joint concert in Israel, an entertainment industry advocacy organization reported on Tuesday. During a recent interview with Israeli television personality Assi Azar, May was played a 2005 video of Lambert singing the popular song Shir L’Shalom, (Song for Peace). May was so impressed by Lambert’s singing of the Hebrew track that he told the American singer, “We have to do that. Let’s […]

    Read more →
  • Sports Kenyan Marathoner to Compete for Israel in Rio Olympics

    Kenyan Marathoner to Compete for Israel in Rio Olympics

    JNS.org – Kenyan-born marathoner Lonah Chemtai is expected to compete for Israel at the Olympics Games in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil next month after gaining a last minute approval. “I am very proud [to represent Israel] and I hope to achieve a new personal best time,” Chemtai told Reuters. Chemtai, who grew up a rural village in western Kenya, first came to Israel in 2009 to care of the children of her country’s ambassador to Israel. The 27-year-old runner recently gained […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish Identity Will Laughs Lead to Love on Show About Orthodox Dating?

    Will Laughs Lead to Love on Show About Orthodox Dating?

    To date or not to date? That is not the question for most Modern Orthodox singles in New York. The question is when will they find their future spouses, and when will their families stop nagging them about having babies? Inspired by the success of the Israeli show “Srugim,” Leah Gottfried, 25, decided she would create and star in her own show, “Soon By You.” “Dating is so serious already,” Gottfried said. “We wanted to take a lighter approach and laugh at the […]

    Read more →