[This is the column version of a comment I left at Rob Asghar's site and which I posted here earlier today. The column I write appears in the Community Press newspapers in the Cincinnati area.]
Singer Michael Jackson’s recent late-arrival at his trial, dressed in pajamas and sports coat, set me to thinking about the phenomenon of fame.
Fame, particularly that gained at an early age, can do heavy damage to us as persons, coloring our relationships and our whole lives.
Fame undoubtedly messed with Elvis, made John Lennon insufferable, and in spite of his being one of my favorite musicians, turned Paul McCartney into a raging egomaniac.
Someone said after George Harrison died that he'd always wanted to be successful without being famous. That's a hard ambition for an artist to hold in our fame-driven world.
Some celebrities and would-be celebrities suffer from what I call "Morgana Syndrome." Morgana, you'll remember, was the busty woman who made a pest of herself kissing celebs, especially athletes, in a bid to achieve her goal of "fame." "I want to be famous," she would tell reporters, "and I can just feel that I'm getting more famous all the time."
Of course, Morgana's pathetic and shallow ambition was essentially benign. There is, however, a truly horrible turn that the hunger for fame without success can take.
I remember, years ago, reading Jim Bishop's hour-by-hour account of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and of the conspiracy that led to it. At one point, in explanation of John Wilkes Booth's personality and his decision to murder Lincoln, Bishop took an excursus into the childhood of the assassin. He cited the testimony of a Booth boyhood friend who recalled a conversation from their young days. In it, Booth explained that the whole point of his life was to do something that all the world would notice, whether it was a good or evil thing. His friend expressed surprise at Booth's amorality. But Booth was intent on fame, even if it took the form of infamy.
Fame, especially when accompanied by financial and popular success as Michael Jackson has experienced, is addictive, I believe. Those granted such success often view it as their due and find it difficult or impossible to accept their lots in life once the cheering and the royalties stop.
In Jackson's case, it seems that he's so accustomed (and so addicted) to fame that he has little notion of personal limits. No wonder Jesus said that it's harder for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a wealthy person to enter God's Kingdom. People who enter God's Kingdom are acquainted with a fundamental fact of the universe, the foundational fact that drives them to God for forgiveness, mercy, and hope: God is God and we're not. Fame achieved early in life can delude the famous into thinking that maybe they are gods, of a sort.
I have no idea if Michael Jackson is innocent or guilty of the charges against him. But I do know that he doesn't help himself by seeming to arrogantly disregard his accountability to the court or the jurors who stand in judgment of his case, which he seemed to do that day he arrived at the court house in his jammies.