The western culture reveres excellence. Starting at a very young age, we learn to harbor indifference, or worse, disdain, for mediocrity as we seek and strive for the best, the most beautiful and the brightest. Anything less elicits dissatisfaction, anxiety or even unhappiness in a culture wired for achievement, performance, productivity and victory.
We reward excellence with accolades and admiration. In the arts and entertainment world, Hollywood produces quality storytelling made for throngs of fans, critics and self-proclaimed wannabes. We rush to theaters, stadiums and arenas year-round to witness, learn from and be in awe of incredible talent so powerful it makes us double over with laughter, nostalgic for bygone eras or teary over love lost. The red carpet rolls out for the glitterati as annual traditions of billion dollar awards shows commence full of glitz, glamour and glory, keeping the blogs, TV stations, tabloids and magazines abuzz with every possible iteration of the best and worst (dresses, speeches, jewelry, etc.). To the best of the best, the most coveted awards are bestowed for stirring the most hearts, breaking the most records, or bringing in the most bank.
In humbler circles of the workaday sort, awards and rewards are as ever-present though in much less ostentatious scale. The well-oiled machine of an operation awards a gold star to the “Employee of the Month”, offers pay raises to good workers and extends promotions to those who prove themselves more than competent at their job.
The Feel Good Factor
No doubt we gain inspiration from actors, athletes and rock stars whom we admire for their superlative skills. We watch in amazement as these god-like creatures push the bar further; wowing the most sophisticated of audiences, showing a new paradigm of excellence. If we’re being brutally honest, their victory must feel ten times better than flipping the digitus impudicus to every naysayer who offered no encouragement on their way to the top. What’s sweeter than making the dream real? And if we adore them, their success feels, if only a little bit, like it’s ours.
The Feel-Not-So-Good Factor
But by virtue of the nature of competition and comparison, we can’t all be the winners, the brightest, the most beautiful or the best. When the show is over and the screens fade to black, we must face our realities that may or may not be as dazzling as those designer shoes and dresses prancing around in front of the cameras. They may or may not be full of mediocrity and ordinary moments; moments filled with a losing battle with laundry and never-ending shoulda-been-done-yesterday lists, lowered expectations and possibly even daily disappointments.
Reality, Bittersweet and Gray Reality
It would serve us well to remember that manufactured spectacles of the global-viewing kind, rife with jaw-dropping multi-million dollar paychecks and even bigger invoices, exist not for our expectations (of ourselves and of others) to be blown out of proportion and not to intentionally make us feel inferior in any way. Showbiz exists for entertainment. The best and the brightest actors, rock stars and athletes are indeed incredibly talented, but no matter how much glitter and chatter they generate, their movie, music or ballgame is not for mandatory consumption. It’s optional. It’s as much of a choice to escape to, be entertained by and possibly learn from, as reading a paperback is. Isn’t it? What is mandatory is for us to be able to separate showbiz from our real lives. And if we’ve been around the block, we know that the stars are fine for watching but they’re not our guiding light; we hold the steering wheel and the internal GPS to our own direction.
But what about our children? They may or may not be as savvy when it comes to delineating between real-world standards versus artificial standards that are made (or nipped, tucked or suctioned) to look real. Not that I have anything against it. I don’t. But for those in their teens or younger whose sense of self is still developing, who have yet to feel good in their skin, they may feel a little more pressure than someone like me who is a grownup, has dealt with my share of insecurities and has somehow landed on a place of self-acceptance.
Perhaps showbiz is fine as it is. Perhaps we need first to define what humanity means before we or our kids get too caught up in the oh so convincing stories, effects and camera work that showbiz offers.
Excellence, beauty, and reality — what gives?
Image by Vectorportal