I have always beheld celebrity culture with a varying mixture of admiration and disdain, and both of those reactions are kicked into high gear during January and February, or what the industry regards as the culmination of awards season.

Golden-Globes-2014-Tina-Fey-Amy-Poehler-Will-Host-Again-391472-2Just as the divinely-drenched (or -devoid, depending on preference) holiday weeks come to an end, Hollywood begins a series of convocations at hotels, theaters, and convention centers (and one attempt at beach-swept nonchalance) aimed at recognizing and rewarding the creative entities behind film and television. In other words, they congratulate themselves for all they’ve accomplished over the past year, and we common folk perch in front of our TVs, audience members yet again, to take in the spectacle of fashion and speeches and gaffes (oh my!) so we can turn around and critique their clothes, judge their sincerity, or–if you’re my husband–ask, “Who is that and what has she been in?”

Here’s where the admiration kicks in: when I see a particularly well-chosen gown or well-coiffed hairstyle; when I spot a revered actor taking an irreverent swig of champagne; when I hear a humbler-than-required acceptance speech. As for the disdain? Let’s just say…the rest of it. Or, to be more specific (since you asked): the idea that a community of hundreds spends a glut of time, money, and effort rewarding its most high-profile members for pretending to be other people for a living. I mean, come on–I’ve spent most of my life doing that, and no one ever handed me a trophy for it.

It’s a reflection of our culture–our car-crash-gawking, armchair-expert, priority-mishandling culture–that the morning news carries the results of such awards shows right alongside news of terrorism and disaster stories (“And now to switch gears…Who wore it best?!”). And it reveals the time we’ll devote to indulge in ready-made opportunities of escapism–whether they show up in our favorite films, in our Netflix queues, or on the red carpet–that our DVRs and monitors are filled with hours of such entertainment. There must be a fine line between involvement and obsession, and I’m certain that I walk it constantly and cross it occasionally. Dissertations could be written (and probably have been) about what that celebrity obsession, and their self-obsession, says about everyone’s mental health, but I’m more interested in what it says about our spiritual state.

There was a moment five years ago that made me feel like the emperor with no clothes as I watched everyone else’s garb parade across the screen while I appointment-viewed the Emmys. Temple Grandin had premiered on HBO that year and was nominated for several awards, including a nomination for Claire Danes as best actress. Danes brought Temple Grandin–the person, not the movie–to the ceremony and posed for pictures with her on the red carpet and after her win with the trophy held between them. That image crystallized for me how ridiculous self-congratulation can get: the person who won an award that night was the one portraying everything the real person had actually been. Grandin herself walked away from the evening trophy-less (but with a free dinner out of it, I suppose). How inane, I thought, this celebration of professional artifice, everything from the chemically-smoothed faces to the mesmerizing performances. And here I am buying into all of it with a glass of champagne and three hours’ attention.

templeOf course, that didn’t stop me from watching the Golden Globes and Oscars a few months later. Or the next year. Or last month and in a few weeks.

But this chasing after awards–a tangible version of approval–this premium placed on performance, it characterizes all of us, really. And the thing about celebrities is that their livelihoods depend upon others’ positive perception of them. We actually measure people now, did you know this? The Q score takes an individual and turns him or her into a number, a quantifiable amount of appeal, and it can make or break a person’s career. Just as I’m beginning to replace my judgment of celebrities with pity (to the same end, I should point out, which is thinking I’m better than they are), I consider the fact that the rest of us have come up with our own Q scores and, though we don’t need them to pay the rent, we check in with them daily in the form of likes and comments and page views (oh my!).

We all face the temptation to play a version of ourselves, customized according to circumstance. Peppermint Patty once asked Charlie Brown if he’d like to be Abraham Lincoln, to which he replied, “I doubt it. I have a hard enough time just being plain Charlie Brown.”

How many of us have made peace with just being plain Charlie Brown?

The praise of the praiseworthy is above all rewards.

The panacea for this and all our ills is, as ever, grace. What Tolkien, by way of Faramir, called the praise of the praiseworthy. If we believe the only review that matters, then the rest won’t resound and we wouldn’t feel the compulsion to be anything–or anyone–other than that which we were made to be. Life would feel more like a party than a networking event.

It’s the “believing it” part, I guess, that’s trickiest.

One of these days I’d love to see–and be the kind of person who could sincerely give–an awards speech that expresses gratitude for the trophy alongside acknowledgement of its limited value in life compared to the things that matter. A gratitude extending beyond the horizontal limits of publicists and agents, and deeper than the “keep God first” empty overtures of stage and song. Is it too crazy to ever happen?

I’ll keep you posted. After all, you know I’ll be watching.