01/03/2014 09:15 am ET Updated Mar 05, 2014

What Happened to Humility?

I'll call her Daphne Rouge. Her name has just been called out. She has won a new coveted international award. The crowd filling the immense hall is already on its feet, cheering her name. People are watching this event in Stockholm and Rio, Tokyo and Hong Kong, Seattle and New Delhi. Slowly, Daphne stands on her feet. She owns the prize. She is taking it home.

But first she must make her way carefully through the excited mob surrounding her. They shout her name. She is struggling to keep her balance. Long ago memories flood her consciousness. Maybe nobody in the world is more newsworthy in this single instant. Daphne owns it and is taking it home. But first she must make her way through this excited mob surrounding her. She vividly remembers those school drama classes when she was a child. It was a sheer mystery when she slowly but decisively began to stand out from the others sharing her space on stage. Actually she can almost pinpoint the moment when she knew all the way down into her soul that she was mysteriously earmarked to be a star.

Now she has reached the stage in the crowded hall. She manages to climb a few stairs. Now she can embrace the men and women shouting her name. Slowly the crowd grows quiet so she can speak. "I'm overcome," she says. "You have truly humbled me."

Ours is the Age of Publicity. Our celebrities have become for us symbols of various motifs of life. We share vicariously in their obviously tragi-comic lives, the fast pursuit of a happiness that must pall, the notoriety that must dim, the big money that must decrease and be taxed, even the passionate love affair on three continents which usually concludes in a dull courtroom. The hot burning flame of celebrity which too often sputters into unrecognizabity? The idol generally represents a strange combination of mystery, talent and an unknown "x" factor which may be the end result of genes, drives, repression, frustrations, setbacks and determination.

"Talent is dandy but you'd better have a little touch of the louse to go with it," critic Walter F. Kerr wrote in 1955. "'Louse is perhaps too strong a word. A trace of get-up-and
-go, a small habit of asserting oneself, a decent ability to outshout a hurricane and force it to reverse its course."

Superstardom and celebrity lead us all into multiple dark corners and strange behaviors. In 1951 Elvis Presley, the newest superstar of the moment, was in London. Variety reported: "He walks like Marilyn Monroe but at home he's a model son." Another superstar who has entered into a permanent Hall of Fame is Liberace. In London he received the press in a cerise, black-embroidered sweater, silken black trousers, and black alligator shoes. When asked about London youths who had been critical of him, he replied: "Everyone has to expect a certain number of non-believers and even enemies. I suppose that's why they shot Lincoln and crucified Jesus."

An ultimate question for us, I suppose, is: who is a celebrity? Well, the door is wide open. Clearly, the President of the Ulnited States is a celebrity. A big one. The celebrity business is no longer something to do with starlets and highly visible neurotics. It is big business.