Today I saw the sixth installment of the Harry Potter movies. I'll admit I got choked up when Dumbledore, the wizened old wizard of Hogwarts, was betrayed and killed at the end of the movie. I shouldn't have, because after reading the book I knew what to expect. But there came the tears.
I lost it when I read the same tragic event in the book two years earlier with my children. I had to stop and gather my composure and try to explain to my kids why I was such a blubbering mess. I had a difficult time trying to sort it out.
What is it about the death of Dumbledore that made me so damn full of grief. Here is what I think. I am grieving the loss of heroes in our culture. I mean real heroes. You know, men and women who are wise and have a rich, deep history with an ability to sacrifice themselves for the sake of the greater good. Heroes who are in this thing called life not for the massive amounts exposure they can garner but for the deep service they can render the human race.
There are no heroes today, really. They are all celebrities now. We live in a celebrity culture – a fact borne out in magazine sales alone. There are exceptions, of course: towering figures such as Nelson Mandela
and the late Mother Teresa. But these are not celebrities as such, but the
globalized world's saints, its few remaining heroes. They are to be admired and
wondered at, not aped, while everyone else craves their 15 minutes of fame.
Our adulation of celebrities highlight how crucial the surface level of life has become. If
nothing means anything beyond its surface impression, it is little wonder we
look for the gloss of celebrity rather than any depth of character, like that found in heroes (even fictional) like Dumbledore. We live off the
buzz that celebrity culture supplies without being involved with any form of
moral commitment. Celebrity is about appearance and spin: it cannot form
The problem with much celebrity is that it rarely lasts. More tragic still, the most enduring celebrity is the dead celebrity. Think
of Marilyn Monroe, John Kennedy, Jimi Hendrix, Elvis Presley, John Lennon, Kurt
Cobain and Princess Diana, and now Michael Jackson.
Thankfully, many people recognize the superficiality of
celebrity culture and seek some sort of alternative. Graham Cray, the current Bishop of Maidstone in England, states that an heroic response to the cult of celebrity must hold together several
- First, we have to acknowledge that there is a certain inevitability
about it. It is a direct consequence of deep changes in our culture, and we will
achieve nothing if we simply rage against it.
- Second, there is a fairly
widespread awareness of its superficiality, which means that celebrity is
usually consumed with a measure of irony.
- Third, it will be much more
important to grow some heroes than to rail against the B-list stars
put up for our consumption.
This may sound over the top and bit "wacky", but damn that Dumbledore, he exposed my deficiency in a depth of meaning and my yearning for heroes who can help me make life truly worth living.