Suns of God

Christopher Henderson

EARLIER THIS MONTH, I attended In the Heart of the Beast Puppet Theatre's production of The Hunt, an updated Nativity with Maria and Josef as illegal immigrants. With its regal, looming wise men, frisky puppet dog, and vicious King Herod, The Hunt makes for an awesome Christmas pageant--one that doesn't diminish the tale's nightmare features. (It was disconcerting, though, when the white boy in front of me pointed his gunfinger and helped Herod's henchpeople pop off the Latino children.)

Just before that, on November 22, INXS vocalist Michael Hutchence hanged himself in a Sydney, Australia, hotel room. INXS, chart-toppers in the mid-'80s, had been gathering to practice for a comeback tour or a comeback album or, in any case, a comeback (can you practice for a comeback?) when Hutchence took his life. The long-maned singer, a dedicated romancer of models, was also just weeks away from marrying professional celebrity Paula Yates, the mother of his 16-month-old child.

What do these events have to do with each other? I'm definitely not equating Hutchence with Christ, although, per John Lennon's adage, Kick did go platinum times 10 while "Israel in 4 B.C. had no mass communication" (to quote Judas, as revivified by Rice/Webber). To my eye, INXS had nothing to sell beyond a few well-worn guitar hooks and Hutchence's leather-clad hips. But Jesus, well, he was the man who sold the world. Still, the life of the rock god bears a certain resemblance to that of the son of god, a point Jesus Christ Superstar exploited 20 years ago. The likeness lies in the protagonist's relationship to glory, as he mutates from unknown rebel to prime-time hero to abject corpse, crucified for/by his celebrity. And is eventually resurrected and rejoined with the disciples in Heaven, i.e., the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Why have people cherished this narrative for nearly two millennia? Why do we keep acting it out? And what's in it for the martyr? There's the sex, drugs, and toadies, of course. If you've ever known individuals crowned by fame, you've been exposed to their heightened sense of personal significance--which ensures that any return to "normal" life, the one where other people don't honor every belch, will seem a cruel and bitter hell. Suicide's an attractive option, because you're guaranteed one more headline. It's advisable to jump at the top of your game, though--leagues more tragic, god knows.

Meanwhile, the rest of us clutch our copies of Entertainment Weekly to our breasts and beat the celebrity drums. What is the payoff for the sheep and the mule and the cattle, gathered so close as a star is born? Is it just the chance to catch a few reflected rays, relieving our Seasonal Affective Disorder? Speaking for myself, I know the audience feels some measure of avarice, envy, and jealousy. Imagine a crowd honoring my every belch! I can burp better than she does! Where are my disciples?! It's the discontent buried in the fan's awe that makes the fall of the star so damn pleasurable--and inevitable. Jesus died for our sins (of greed) and his own (of power).

However hideous the fan-star bond, I have to respect the intensity of this mass dreaming. In the midst of communal reverie, even this lowly fan has experienced her every sigh as a significant gesture in the ritual. I can hardly grasp the incandescence that must fill the artist as she moves through the ceremony, adoration pouring down from the balconies. It is not a small or unmagical thing for a theater, an arena, a nation of people to focus their energies onto one or even 30 individuals and lift them up. It is not a small or unmagical thing when a great artist, like Jesus, shapes the energy and sends it back to the people as wisdom and love.

Unfortunately, that doesn't happen enough--I think because our stars are just people, and people forget that the strength they borrowed is not theirs to own. I wish we could stop worshipping people (or gods that masquerade as people). Because, in this deep week in particular, a story about a brilliant sun that comes to warm and heal us, then dies to darkness, only to rise yet again--a story such as that is comforting to hear. If together we could dream that star and that darkness, perhaps the energy they send back would help us to know, and value, both the day and the night. And perhaps the people, acting out their ritual as equals under the sky, could learn to love each other without grasping.

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