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Postmodern Village
est. 1999
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"We Are All Made of Stars": Using Celebrities for Self-Discovery
by Sharla DeFresno

In Moby's most recent video outing, "We Are All Made of Stars," he wanders in a spacesuit among some of the minor celebrities we faintly recognize, although primarily from hearing about them and not their own creative efforts. Spaceman Moby encounters Kato Kaelin (houseguest to the stars), Gary Coleman (child star turned violent security guard), Todd Bridges (child star turned felon turned "Celebrity Boxer"), Angelyne (famous for being famous), Verne Troyer (a.k.a. "Mini-Me"), and 1970s porn star Ron Jeremy.

What is most illuminating about Moby's journey through the underbelly of Hollywood is not the status of such celebrities, but our recognition of them. Watching the video is like playing Where's Waldo? I propose that the meaning that we assign to the celebrities in the video is much more important than the celebrity itself. It is our ability (or lack thereof) to identify the celebrities that express a lot about ourselves. There is a serious psychological difference between the person who recognizes every celebrity and those who can spot only one or two. This difference should be viewed as not a value judgment, but merely an indication of alternative experiences, exposure to media, an fascination with current events.

I hesitate to call the ability to identify most of the celebrities as "youth culture," for Ron Jeremy is hardly a household name among fifteen-year-olds of today. Dominique Swain of Lolita would appeal to a different audience than Dave Navarro of Jane's Addiction. Pop culture's beginnings are hard to place, but pop culture as we currently know it spans across multiple decades. "We Are All Made of Stars" visually shows the necessity of cross-generational pop culture knowledge for full awareness.

Nowhere is this need more evidenced than in several corporate workshops I have led. In these encounter groups entitled "We're All Stars," we use celebrities to discover more about ourselves. Participants are encouraged to make a pie chart of their individual components in terms of celebrity. The Osmonds' familiar "she's a little bit country; he's a little bit rock 'n' roll," might about to a pie chart split with 10% Johnny Cash, 10% Supertramp, and 80% Mormon Tabernacle Choir. In one group, the manager of a slightly successful business claimed to be 30% Donald Trump, 30% Bill Gates, and 40% Willy Loman (from Death of a Salesman): such a description leaves us (if we understand the clues) with a more clear understanding of the very ambitious, but also self-doubting businessman.

As the boss explained his chart, a sales clerk in the organization expressed her lack of understanding with the pointed "Who the hell is Willy Loman?" Her clear puzzlement indicated not only her unfamiliarity with Arthur Miller's play, but also suggested a possible inabililty to deal with that aspect of his character simply due to lack of exposure. After hearing the boss explain Willy Loman (a very moving reading, indeed), the sales clerk had a new understanding. Likewise, the boss had never been exposed to Pink, a singer with whom the sales clerk heavily identified. After explaining briefly about the singer, the boss could understand.

Explanation of the charts is necessary after their creation, if they are to be shared successfully with others. Martha Stewart may signify cleanliness, beauty and success in one person, but another sees cold-hearted manipulation and anal-retention. This sharing time is where the real self-discovery comes into play. The pie chart is not the end of the analysis, but just the beginning: it forces people to think, discuss, and share.

Why use celebrities, fictional characters, or other recognized beings? Why could the boss not just say "I am very ambitious, love money, but fear that I have had the wrong priorities all along?" Using celebrities allows the participant to depersonalize the process, hiding behind a collective unconscious shorthand. Yet that shorthand is not easily read by everyone, and the explanation of that shorthand is the crystallization of understanding.

"We're All Stars" allows the participant an initial cloak of anonymity and lulls the participant into a false sense of security. When forced to explain their choices, participants are often fearful, embarrassed, irritated, and defensive, yet that soon dissolves as they are given the option to discuss celebrities as if they were standing around the water cooler. We are taking the gossip so many already engage in and infusing it with meaning. We are humanizing celebrities and forcing people to react to them instead of just blankly accepting their presence.

In this age of quizzes such as What New Year's Resolution Are You? and other oddly popular self-discovery games online, the quest for self-knowledge is keenly high. Why should we not dedicate the same kind of attention to ourselves as we do to celebrities in popular shows like Behind the Music or E! True Hollywood Story. Unlike Moby's video, our experiment with celebrities is based on the notion of personal interpretation. Whereas Moby wants us primarily to gawk as he does, donning a space suit while traveling through Hollywood so none of the muck gets on us, at the Celebrity Boxing fodder, we encourage people to interact with their own ideas about celebrities in "We're All Stars." We understand that our celebrities, as much as we may desire them to be, are not truly aliens - they represent a part of ourselves, no matter how hidden.