A few weeks ago, I was watching CBS Sunday Morning on Sunday morning. During winters or on rainy days when I cannot walk to church, my Mom’s husband drives me, and we watch pieces of CBS This Morning before we leave. One of the pieces a few weeks ago was about actor J.K. Simmons. We usually call him “Jonah Jameson” because he played that role in the Tobey Maguire Spiderman movies, the role of the over-the-top newspaper editor who hates Spiderman. On CBS Sunday Morning, he was profiled because he was nominated for an Academy Award for the movie Whiplash, in which he plays an obnoxious music teacher.
Up to this point, the story was saying, we knew J.K. Simmons’ face, but we didn’t know his name. We saw him in the Spiderman movies and other films, insurance commercials, and some TV shows, but a lot of us didn’t know what his name was. Now, more people know his name on account of his Academy Award nomination. In perhaps the most poignant part of the story, J.K. Simmons was reflecting about the fame that he has received after decades of acting. He is now in his sixties, and he said that he is glad that he getting famous now rather than in his younger years, for in his younger years he would not have been able to handle it.
I admired his maturity, his perspective, and his self-reflection when he said that. This morning, I was reading an article about Chevy Chase and how a number of celebrities can be rather pompous at their peak; the article also said the fame can so easily be lost—-one can be at the top of his game, then he’s shown the door. That’s one reason that it’s important for people not to believe their own press, not to root their identity and their sense of self-worth in fame and success.
I read a blog post this morning by Bruce Gerenscer, a Christian pastor who became an atheist, and he had this to say: “What drives the cult of personality? Here in America, we are enamored with success. We tend to give respect to people who give the appearance of being a winner. Even in the blogosphere, we often judge the value of a writer by the number of people who read their blog and follow them on Facebook,Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and Google+. We forget that these numbers say NOTHING about the person. I have to constantly guard against this. I know my blog readership numbers, page views, and subscriber numbers are growing. Does this mean that I am ‘more’ successful than I was years ago when a hundred people a day read my blog? Should people respect me more now that thousands of people read my writing? Of course not. A person’s success proves nothing.”
I personally try to root my sense of worth in God’s love for me, but I find this to be easier said than done. I can easily find myself longing for applause and being upset if I do not get it. I can be like Raj on The Big Bang Theory: What can I do so that more people (in his case, women) will love me? This is not entirely bad because the desire for affirmation, community, and support is a part of being human. Plus, there are cases in which we may need to sell ourselves and go with what works rather than what does not work: the product may not be bad, but the marketing needs work. A message may be good, but it should be expressed tactfully and effectively. But being obsessed with trying to earn people’s love can compromise one’s integrity. How many times have I been less-than-honest about my beliefs because I wanted the people around me to like me, because I wanted to fit in? I think of what the apostle Paul said in Galatians 1:10: “For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ” (Gal 1:10 KJV).
Back to the topic of actors, I would not say that actors as a rule are arrogant, at least not entirely. I used to watch biographies of actors on A&E, and I learned that Jennifer Garner had to pay her dues and be in a lot of crap before she hit fame, and that George Clooney before his big break was in a lot of shows that did not get very far. I one time watched one actor whose career has ended say that he will miss acting because he feels that he has gotten good at it over the past ten years—-he does not put on airs, but he sees acting as a craft at which he has improved. Several actors admire the work of older and experienced actors. These things tell me that actors are not entirely narcissistic and arrogant. Still, there is the temptation for people, once they become famous, to start believing their own press.
I am not sure if I am the type of person right now who can handle success maturely. I will still strive for success—-heck, the fact that I will have to pay off my student loans makes some measure of success necessary on my part! It also makes humility necessary on my part, for I should not believe that I am too good for any job or grunt work. In a time when I am not as successful as I’d like, it is easy for me to lean on God’s love and grace, on things that are truly important in life. I hope that I can have that sort of perspective even after I become successful.