Fame and projection are really vital parts of this culture, with all of their attendant distortions and confusions. The overall message is one of incompleteness. This is the advertiser’s alchemical gold: when s/he can spell out the lack and then hold forth the remedy, virtually in the same breath. You didn’t realize you had the problem before, didn’t know you were incomplete, but now you know - and here’s the cure.
There is a link between this and the way in which celebrity culture works, because what drives it is that same sense of incompleteness. People who feel whole within themselves don’t pass out at Beatles or Michael Jackson concerts. They aren’t looking for a missing piece of themselves in the form of a fantasy image on the stage or on the T.V. Basically it’s this sense that someone’s life is not only more glamorous but - more significantly - more legitimate than your own; that your own life is somehow counterfeit.
And we are indeed vulnerable to this because there is a gap between our conscious ego and the deeper voices within us, the Source of our lives that lives within. We’re dependent upon this part of us for our very existence, but that doesn’t mean we have to listen to it. We can believe it doesn’t exist, or that it’s this unsavory basement portion of our minds where repressed horrors dwell (the Freudian interpretation) or that it has its own agenda, separate from our own personal desires and aspirations (the Jungian interpretation) and so on.
Partaking of Magic at One Remove
Popular beliefs don’t generally credit the inner world with much. And yet you sense it… so what are you going to do with that sense? You can’t live without it, and thus can’t really ignore it, but your beliefs prevent you from taking hold of it and owning it. And so instead you perceive it in another person, so at least you get to partake of that luminous light at one remove. You can see your own divinity in a pop diva or movie star. This kind of thing goes on constantly.
And it creates a real dilemma for any artist with a conscience, because of course we all want to be successful, we want our work to reach people and affect them, and yet - truth be told - the way in which that’s often accomplished in this society is by playing upon people’s fantasies and inviting them to project upon you. That’s the game. Marketers and image consultants build their whole careers around it. Some artists embrace the projection and bask in the illusions that are woven around them.
A Focus for Projection
I suspect that the ones who really go crazy as a result of fame are the ones who start believing the whole story, forgetting that it’s a play-acting fantasy. But there’s this popular line that fiction is the lie that tells the truth. Maybe we’re just making due with what we’ve got to work with. After all, there isn’t any functioning mythology within Western culture - Christianity is more a bake sale than a myth, and that’s the most popular option - there’s no place in the cosmos where you can identify the corridors and wonders of your soul; as far as popular culture goes, movie stars and rock stars are about the closest thing we’ve got.
And so maybe, despite all the distortion, even those who are constantly manipulating this dynamic for personal gain are still doing society a favor because they’re providing you with a focus for that projection. They consciously choose to step into the role of the deity, to invite the fantasy. So then you end up with a pantheon, and a host of people who identified strongly with a portion of it - say the starlets of the 50s, or the grunge bands of the 90s - and never were able to let go of that era in their personal history because that was the last time they touched the luminous inner magic with the help of a few celebrities.
It’s interesting when artists use their own platform, their art, to try and fight this thing. Virtually John Lennon’s whole Plastic Ono Band album was about shattering the myth that’d grown up around him as a Beatle; and this depressed a lot of people; they didn’t want him singing about not being the walrus anymore. “Don’t Damn Me” by Gun ‘n’ Roses is another good example, Axl warning of the dangers of vicarious existence and trying to argue - does it always fall on deaf ears? - that he’s not speaking for you, he’s speaking for himself; and if his doing so inspires you to find your own voice, all well and good.
Projection was a central theme of my novel Humanity’s Way Forward. This hadn’t been my conscious intention at the onset. Brandon was such a solitary loner figure, though, with a peculiar vision that didn’t resonate in many places within society as we know it, so it just seemed logical that he would find mass acceptance of himself and his band bewildering and stressful.
And because this perspective gave him some sort of emotional distance from what was taking place, he had a unique insider’s perspective about the whole thing: He saw that the majority of the audience wasn’t really “loving him”; of course not, they didn’t know him; they knew his image from magazines and live performances and the odd television appearance. So he saw the machinations, the churning wheels of the projection machine getting in motion; he has some outbursts with the manager when he discovers that she’s been consciously exploiting this; and then of course he’s stuck, because what’s the alternative? Is he really going to go back to bussing tables because he can’t stand that people get starry-eyed when they look at him?
And for that matter, he was getting projected upon plenty before, long before the fame hit, because of the way he was dressed and all that. Now it’s just happening on a much broader scale - and it’s adulation, rather than fear and hostility that’s being projected his way.
All of which is to say that projection and pop culture are evils but perhaps necessary ones, given the lack of viable options for a great many people in this culture. Brandon’s answer to this was to use his band to create a myth for society and then distance himself, personally, from that myth. Of course this didn’t solve the problem of what to do about the incessant creative fire that burned within him, the ceaseless voice of his Muse… but no single answer covers all eventualities, right?