Suicide has staying power in our culture. It currently enjoys front-page news status, at least amongst Catholic-centric journalism fonts, in the aftermath of a priest who apparently gave a less than sympathetic homily during a young man’s funeral. The young man had taken his own life and the parents were so upset over the homily, they went straight to their bishop, who took administrative action against the priest.
Did not hear or read the homily so I will defer commentary and avoid the temptation to revisit the particulars regarding the incident, but its place in our public consciousness is a good starting point to see where the attitude about suicide has evolved or devolved in our culture.
Like the disclaimers that smoking can give you cancer, or one assumes a certain amount of risk when they skydive, it is also imperative, when talking about such a sad and devastating thing as suicide, to make it clear that no one knows what is in a person’s heart or what the dependability of any person’s mental state might be who takes their own life, so we must prayerfully leave all of those difficult questions to the mercy of God. Purposely destroying the greatest gift God gives us is always a grave matter, and one the Church lovingly embraces as one of those “Do Nots.”
The same can’t be said for our popular culture though. Take the latest installment of the property known as “A Star is Born.” This 2018 movie starring Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper is the FOURTH version Hollywood has produced. Choose whatever version you like, you’re going to get similar characters in similar plots with slight deviations of interchanging the movie industry for the music industry. Emphasis on the word “industry,” as all four renderings of this melodrama expose a corporate mindset thin on originality and thick with formula entertainment.
Every “A Star is Born’s” male protagonist is going to die at the end — sorry for the spoiler. In three of these retellings, the character’s demise is the result of self-inflicted action and in one, self-indulgent reckless behavior. This is not St. Maximilian Kolbe dying so that another death camp inmate may live; it is much more trivial than that, and in its banality, a more subversive message is delivered.
The message seems to be that it is better that someone die, not so another may live, but that they may have a nice career in either the movie or music business. Nobody writes movies about people sacrificing themselves so their loved one can carry on being the best barista at Starbucks or trash collector they were meant to be.
Since the original “A Star is Born” was born in the early 1930s, it’s clear our culture has a near 90-year track record of valuing something as fleeting as fame and pop culture notoriety and under valuing life itself. Yes, it is good to create art and yes, if that is one’s calling, and they are bringing God-given talents to bear and making a living at it at the same time, more power to them. But these movies, with their preference for self-annihilation toward the service of something so unimportant in the grand scheme of things as a movie or music career, cannot but diminish our culture just a little.
Maybe I’m making too much of a small thing, but when you collect enough small things in a bad way, like uncontrolled cellular growth, big bad things happen. And I think a big bad thing has happened, as many of the men and women who create the art we consume do not see life as the ultimate gift from God, but rather just another random happenstance or cosmic accident. In doing so, they must attach some kind of existential meaning to something…it’s the way God built us.
In the case of the “A Star Is Born” franchise, it is show biz that is worth dying for. Why is acting in a movie or singing a song and being idolized by people in the fleeting world of fame any more important than what the local barista at Starbucks or trash collector does?
A strong case can be made that your local trash collector does more for mankind than any acting or singing performance ever did…and in some instances, it is hard to tell the difference.
Robert Brennan is a weekly columnist for Angelus online and in print. He has written for many Catholic publications, including National Catholic Register and Our Sunday Visitor. He spent 25 years as a television writer, and is currently the Director of Communications for the Salvation Army California South Division.
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