I heard over the news, on this southern tip of Africa, that Kylie Jenner had become the world’s youngest teenage billionaire. And it’s all done with make-up. I thought how appropriate it was that her cosmetic business and celebrity status should make her a star for the age. It really is a sign of the times that she and her family should be so ‘successful’. I’m not detracting from her business acumen and the penchant for publicity that her family displays, or the number of ‘likes’ that she scores on social media, but I think that the whole scene needs interrogation.
It reminds me of Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, in which Daisy, one of the shallowest characters ever created, said that her ambition for her daughter was that she should grow up to be ‘a beautiful little fool’. Except that Kylie is nobody’s fool, but a product of this century, nearly a hundred years later.
We need to ask ourselves: ‘What do we find admirable?’
Whatever happened to humility, the love of use, and attributing all the good things of life to the Lord? They do exist, but finding them in popular culture is becoming exceedingly rare. Strutting self assertion has taken centre stage.
I heroine-worshipped the Prime Minister of Myanmar for some time. She won the Nobel Peace prize, so I wasn’t the only one. She wore exquisite fresh flowers in her hair to offset her singular beauty and seemed the epitome of grace and poise. Myanmar was opening up to democracy and the benefits of a human rights culture. That was then – she was a worthy heroine for our times. It all changed when the Rohingyas Muslim minority left the country in waves of human misery and she did not curb the excesses of Buddhist populism. Nor has she since.
In our own country, South Africa, Winnie Mandela, ex-wife of the fabled Nelson, became a national heroine. She endured painful years of harassment and solitary confinement at the hands of Apartheid thugs to keep the name of her husband alive while he was in jail. She became political royalty in the first post-Apartheid government, despite a messy divorce and some highly questionable behaviour over the years. After she died she was elevated to ‘Ma Winnie’, acclaimed as a heroine and practically a saint by the populace at large. Any mention of her less sublime actions would label her doubters as ‘traitors’, unfit for the human race. It was astonishing. Her funeral was notable for its bile and hate speech with her husband being labelled as a ‘sell-out’ by the most extreme of her devotees. It was actually a disgrace.
This all leads me to conclude that as human beings we have a deep-seated instinct to worship at a shrine. However, we have to be very careful which shrine we choose.