Of course, if you’re a Christian, or a Jew, or a Muslim, there are deeply serious prohibitions against idolatry (and no, neither iconography nor Jesus Christ are “idols,” so knock that argument off).
Now, things get be “idols” too (Drugs? Money? Bloodlust?), which can obviously be problems.
But let’s get back to people. Putting faith in human beings is bad, isn’t it? It’s harmful to be so obsessed; it’s common knowledge, after all.
You see, Frank Zappa helped me get through high school.
Now I know what you’re thinking: Aren’t you a guy who routinely mocks celebrity and celebrity culture?
Yes. Yes I am. But I’ll tell you what I dislike more than celebrities: A lack of balance.
Back to Mr. Zappa.
I was fifteen when my older brother first played the Hot Rats, Over-Nite Sensation, and Apostrophe(‘) albums for me, and my immediate thought was: “I get this.” After hearing how Zappa was an “acquired taste,” I acquired the taste almost instantaneously.
And then I defend into the music and the man and found a, sadly deceased, kindred spirit: “A control-freak composer of a Mediterranean background with a ‘weird’ ‘ethnic’ name and heritage, a big nose and long hair, who doesn’t do drugs or care what other people think of him? Sign me up!”
Zappa’s music and life philosophy gave me the courage to avoid peer pressure and do my own thing in those awkward teenage years. He got me interested in seriously practicing my bass and guitar,thinking outside the box compositionally, and listening to more orchestral and avant-garde composers.
And he was funny! And caustic! And stuck it to authority, including the education establishment!
Sure, he was an atheist who pretty much hated Christianity, but I didn’t take that aspect to heart.
Which brings me to my point: It’s good–indeed, necessary–to use the lives of people in the past to inspire and inform yourself. Great men and women have stood on the proverbial shoulders of other great men and women since the dawn of time.
Just make sure the lessons aren’t destructive and that you use your own filter to take what works and leave the rest.
So I would say that having idols, for lack of a better word, is okay if you remember that hoary old principle subject to that time-honored tradition of axiometry:
Everything in moderation, including moderation.
I’m using Mr. Wilde’s formulation, since it provides an important caveat against absolute rigidity.
(Wilde himself was, of course, a noted iconoclast and free-spirit.)
Be inspired by other people, but don’t become obsessed. You know who was obsessed with celebrity? Mark David Chapman. Don’t be like Mark David Chapman.
And recognizing that your idols are flawed human beings makes the inevitable disappointment much easier to bear–see? Here’s that whole “moderation” thing.
Have idols, but don’t let your fondness for them become an obsession preventing you from developing your own identity.
See? That whole “moderation” thing.
Of course, Oscar Wilde also said this:
History, and even the present, has a treasure trove of inspiring figures. I’d say use them, take the lessons from their words and deeds and incorporate them into your own.
As long as they don’t involve murdering or otherwise harming anyone.
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