Who’s a Celebrity? What’s a Hero?

While people are still kicking at the embers of the Tiger Woods fire, let’s see if we can sort this out.

Whom do we crown and why? What makes a celebrity and what makes a hero?

Celebrities get crowned strictly by the media. Attaining “celebrity” requires a certain number of pages in a certain number of print vehicles and a certain amount of electronic media time with a great shower of tweets and facebook pages. Pictures count —the other info comes after the pics.

So what gets the paparazzi inflamed to go after and create celebrities– to bring us every last tidbit of their lives, however minuscule and uncomplimentary they may be?  Simply who’s current and who’ll buy their wares. It takes so little to become anointed—doing something dumb or illegal is as good as doing something right. Do we need to hear any more about the White House party crashers? Or for that matter, the latest of Tiger’s various adventures outside the lines?

Hitching a ride on any current celebrity’s flash is quite common and ever so tempting. (Think how it worked for those party crashers…) Some come and go, like Britney Spears or the UFO-generator in Colorado. And some seem to last and can always generate space – like Paris Hilton. The list is long and we buy into it daily. But what’s the difference between celebrities and heroes—those other people whom we admire?

Heroes get crowned for what they’ve done, not for how they look or how new and flashy their shtick is.

Heroes represent choices people made in their lives- real lives. Showing great courage or amazing generosity and caring, daring to go against the tide or putting oneself in danger for another. They represent actions and experiences we can all identify with – choices that we too could be called upon to make.

Celebrities represent something the rest of us cannot and do not do, and lives that we’ll never live.

So the difference? One represents fantasy, the other reality. Celebrities  make us spin dreams about them and their illusory dramas. Heroes make us see reality and generate admiration about how we – people – can and do respond to real –life dramas.

One generates unreal goals, the other generates humility and aspiration toward real goals.

And to look again at Tiger, he was a hero for what he accomplished: from humble beginnings, he developed tremendous will and talent to achieve astronomical success and become golf’s multiracial ambassador.

We held Tiger to a very high standard– much of it from his own making. Tiger played both games well; golf and the building of his brand. He leveraged his success on the course to capitalize on the brand he so carefully built. He exploited the myth that his integrity was as rock solid as his talent. We assumed that his professional accomplishments translated into a flawless character.

But it’s when we got to the celebrity part, to how he lived his sub-rosa glamorous, cheating lifestyle, that we lost him as a hero.


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