Cicero once said: “Live as brave men; and if fortune is adverse, front its blows with brave hearts.” From the beginning of humanity, bravery has been revered and thrust normal men into extraordinary situations. When this happens, society takes note by elevating the brave one to god like status. Regardless of the path taken, the person becomes idolized and worshiped. Normal Joe wants to be that person because life must be better once you step out of the crowd – right?
It has often fascinated me that in Ancient Rome, the gladiator was considered a celebrity – someone to admire for their survival instinct, ruthlessness, and showmanship. The ironic twist is that gladiators were mostly prisoners, forced to fight for their life for the sake of entertainment. Some who were lucky enough survived long enough to actually win their freedom. Countless others perished under the hot sun of a Roman afternoon, with the smell of blood in their nostrils and the sound of the mob in their ears. The elevation of such men (and even women), reveals quite a bit about Roman values. As in any age, that which is esteemed is that which attracts the attention of the mob. In Ancient Rome it was strength, bravery, adaptability, and at times, basic brutality.
To get to know any society, present or past, just look at its celebrities – those that were the most famous, the most wealthy, and the most revered. It is within the characteristics of these people that the heart of the society at large is revealed. In Ancient Greece, philosophers were admired for their great mental skill. Names like Socrates, Plato and Aristotle still survive because of their genius. Military prowess was valued in both Ancient Rome and Greece, as evidenced by names such as Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar – great men with great deeds that echo through time for thousands of years.
What about American society today – what do we value? Who do we place upon the throne of celebrity and why? What does that say about us as a society? Will any of our “heroes” stand the test of time? And, why are everyday members of society starved for celebrity? Take a look at any newsstand tomorrow and you’ll see tabloid after tabloid recounted the salacious details of a celebrity life. Why are we drawn into this as a society? Is it wander lust – we basically escape into another person’s life and live vicariously? Is it the sign of the times – dark and gloomy predictions of economic catastrophe have driven us all into rose colored glasses with Paris Hilton as our savior?
Socrates would roll over in his grave…