From the desk of Lawrence Neil: Reverence & Curiosity
When I was younger I collected baseball cards. I had thousands. The fronts were splashed with posed photos or action shots, and the backs held all kinds of information: statistics, data, birthdates. I looked at them to see in what small towns they’d played minor league ball — Chattanooga, Lowell, Hagerstown. I read a fun fact about each one of them. I felt like I knew them. My dad brought me and my brother to games in our childhood hometowns, and we stood and waited outside of player parking lots in Detroit, Boston, Cleveland. We reached balls and hats and cards through breaks in the fencing and got their autographs. For one reason or another or none, they became our heroes.
I never thought too hard about the fascination and closeness I feel towards celebrities. I’ve stopped waiting outside of parking lots for baseball players, but will still tweet at a rapper, read a profile of an actor, or ask an artist about her childhood when I interview her for this magazine. My friends and I talk about who we’d most like to have lunch with: Zinedine Zidane, I say. Tina Fey, Keanu Reeves, Barack Obama, they say. Admiration feels natural.
But I’ve recently been pausing and interrogating this instinct. Something about it feels immature, or, even worse, almost toxic. Is it wrong? Perhaps a childhood instinct has developed into a fetish for the money, power, or glamour in figures that I’ll likely never meet.
I get a buzz when my favorite basketball player hits a big shot. Something primal stirs in me when I read a great sentence by favorite writer. I love the work created by my favorite artists. But we don’t know one another. They don’t know my name. We might not even get along. Is the appreciation of their art where the relationship between me and my (former) heroes should end?
I don’t think so. I think I’ve been looking at it the wrong way, because what I see, hear, and feel reads like a trailer to the inner life of that person.
I don’t read gossip rags. I’m not digging for dirt. But I breathe stories. I seek them out when they’re told, in a newspaper article, a profile, or a placard by a painting, and when they’re shown, in a song, a book, the way a line is drawn, a conversation on the phone or at a bar. I thirst for real things, unscripted moments and unfiltered gestures in a world that feels more and more prepackaged. It’s a large part of why I love my friends and my family, those whose stories I know which allow me to empathize with them, learn from them, really see them.
There is an access granted to us by public figures, an access rarely granted by a bus driver, a father sitting by the playground, an accountant, an access given or refracted through a film or a camera or a smile or the swing of a baseball bat. We get a glimpse at the stories of the famous, but aren’t privy to the interior life of the hundreds of people we pass on the street. And maybe in these glimpses, what we recognize and are drawn to are the same things we seek in potential friends, mentors, lovers.
Because we see them, we approach and treat the famous with reverence and curiosity. And instead of fighting against this instinct, I’d rather expand it. If the stories I do see inspire fascination and connection, I should strive to discovering as many stories as I can, stories that are overwhelmingly ignored. I won’t apologize for wanting to know the intricacies of Kendrick Lamar’s mind, as long as I feel the same urge towards the man who checks me out at the grocery store.
What have his hands felt? Where have those feet tread? What world has those eyes seen? James Baldwin said that people are too various to be treated so lightly, and he wasn’t just speaking about the people on my T.V.
Celebrity, then, is less a celebration of fame, and more a celebration of human depth; we are all rich, complex bundles of thoughts and memories, flesh and bone and organic structures. The things we do, the way we look, the jobs we perform and the art we make are just book covers, some more revealing than others, but promises of stories within, the minute, discrete triumphs and tragedies that we live through and carry around like stones in our pocket that change our stride, change us.
Photo by Todd Lappin
Published: May 12th, 2016