In times of trouble, Mother Mary doesn’t comfort me. Instead, I’m visited with visions of John Mitchell from BBC’s Being Human, Raymond “Red” Reddington from NBC’s The Blacklist, and Sam and Dean Winchester from Supernatural.
While I wouldn’t claim them as saints (they would most likely claim the title of sinners), I do see these characters as icons, marking important places in my life with words of wisdom, comfort, or truth.
Religiosity may slowly become a thing of the past, but many people will continue to want some spirituality in their lives. Spirituality, faith, and belief are for those who seek truth, answers to life’s toughest questions, and we look to those who have gone before, following in their footsteps as pilgrims to saints’ remains.
Pop icons are, I think, a side-effect of this human search for understanding. If someone is famous, they are usually also wealthy and/or powerful, and since those have become the pillars of what we term “success”, we spend time watching them, drinking in their words with a holy fervor, sure that if we can glean enough of their truth, it will translate directly into our lives.
We chant icons’ names in hopes of recognition, we devoutly wear their merchandise, and we even tithe, in a way, purchasing tickets to see them in person, and we create works of art depicting them, like an offering on an altar of fame.
We’ve elevated these people to a point where they have followers (albeit on social media), and they’ve become spokespeople, urging us to contribute to this charity or that, telling us how to live healthy lives, and sponsoring products aimed at us, their loyal followers.
Strange, isn’t it?
We’ve done this with characters in television, film, comic books, and other story forms as well, and some of the effects aren’t bad. We need someone to inspire us, and something to aspire to. We need to know where to look for answers because we will always have questions. There are those of us who look for answers in story, and find comfort in a character’s words.
For me, whenever I experience an urge to return to an old, unhealthy habit, I think of Mitchell and tell myself, “I won’t end up like him.” His struggle to maintain his humanity while drawing closer and closer to a tragic end reminds me that I am responsible for my own choices, and I can’t avoid the consequences of them. He inspires me to stay healthy and love those around me.
I live with clinical depression, and while I am on medication and do attend therapy regularly, there are days when I need to hear that there’s a reason to keep breathing. Raymond “Red” Reddington’s speech in Season 1, Episode 9 of NBC’s The Blacklist about how he wants to read one more good book, eat one more good meal, and visit one more favorite place reminds me that there’s always something to do, something to create, something to see and that life is meant to be lived. His emphatic declaration, “I won’t allow him to get the best of me, or the last of me” helps me push through the darkness and keep looking for light on the other side.
Along those same lines, I recently purchased the “Moose & Squirrel Say Always Keep Fighting” to support Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles’ Always Keep Fighting campaign. Whenever I put that shirt on, I feel a little bit stronger, a little bit braver, able to face the world and fight the monsters I battle in my own life, like the Winchesters do on CW’s Supernatural.
I think we all have icons — heroes, saints, or what have you. I think that’s a good thing. To have someone to look up to, to turn to in times of trouble, to help us become better people as we live our lives, it’s healthy.
I would only caution that we stay aware of the fragility of sainthood and that we pay attention to who our icons are. You can gain understanding from a negative character, a positive character, or a gray area. What words are we imbibing, and how are we putting them into practice in our lives? Is it positive, or negative?
Who are your pop icons, and how do they affect you?