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
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,
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