It is almost impossible to get away from the media's fascination with the self-destructive tendencies of modern celebrities. Whether it is the tabloid splashing a picture of Britney Spears in and out of rehab, or a video circulating across cyberspace of Amy Winehouse using a crack pipe, the trend seems ever-with-us.
And whether we realize it or not, teenagers are always the ones to bear the brunt of such trends, especially celebrity trends. In fact, it is marketed to them. Take for instance the string of suicides in a small mining town in the South Welsh Community of Briggend. At last count, 21 young people had committed suicide, most of them by hanging.
Investigators have not found a suicide pact, but they have found something that the teenagers shared in common. They each used the popular social-networking site called Bebo, similar to MySpace and popular among youth in that area. After the suicides of the first of these teens, memorial websites were created—sites where these teens who took their own lives enjoyed a kind of celebrity status. Many of those who subsequently killed themselves were among those who left messages of grief and visited these sites—and then ended their lives in a copy-cat style.
Child psychologist Kimberley O'Brien fears such sites could add to the appeal of suicide. She warns, "The web pages are usually placed in really beautiful positions, and it gives them some sort of notoriety." And Cathie Sherwood, a social-networking commentator, warns, "The fact that these people have achieved some kind of status through their deaths" may lead teenagers to see suicide as a way to fame.
What's wrong with this picture? It isn't the fact that imitating is a significant part of teen culture. We know that: From our earliest years we learn to imitate others, for good or ill. What is wrong is that teens more readily identify with celebrities and people they meet over the Internet than they do with their own parents, community, and church members.
What are these teens really looking for? I think it may be something that God imprinted on every human's heart: and that's the desire for immortality. In their own way, whether it is the celebrities or the teens who imitate their destructive patterns, they are crying out in one voice, "Make me immortal." Even in suicide, it is strange how often immortality is the real longing of the human heart.
As Christians, we ought to know, however, that immortality does not mean that our glory lives on forever in the memories of others—or even on memorial websites. Immortality means sharing in God's glory—living in His presence—forever.
And that is the danger of the celebrity culture for our teens: It presents a horrendously false view of what truly matters—not just now, but eternally.
In light of such serious trends, it is obvious that young adults need to know how their deepest desires can be fulfilled. And for that, they need not only loving role models, but also solid grounding in the countercultural truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
This commentary is part two in a four-part series.
From BreakPoint®, May 28, 2008, Copyright 2008, Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with the permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or distributed without the express written permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. "BreakPoint®" and "Prison Fellowship Ministries®" are registered trademarks of Prison Fellowship