TV tower
Today's celebrity system represents a potent form of secular mythology.

A prevailing assumption that the world we see depicted in the media is somehow more important, or charged with higher meaning than the environment the vast majority of us have to cope with, breeds peculiar attitudes toward the people who appear to inhabit the "mega-world."

It turns celebrities into sociocultural icons—and sometimes a great deal more.  This happens in the perceptions not only of marginal or unstable people, but also among the most practical and well-grounded of us.

Consider the enormous sums recently paid at auction for the personal effects of Jackie O.  Just being able to bid large amounts for such artifacts indicates a fair degree of practical worldly success on the part of the bidders.  Yet the very size of the bids also indicates the depth of the bidder’s yearning to be near, in even a small way, to a "great presence."  At what point does this yearning become worshipful?

The novelist Kathryn Harrison, in a recent magazine article about the appeal of relics, bounces quite naturally and plausibly from Achilles’ spear in the Temple of Athena at Phaselis to Babe Ruth’s glove at the Baseball Hall of Fame;  and from the enshrined body of St. Francis Xavier, who died in 1522 (two of whose toes have been bitten off, apparently by overzealous pilgrims) to a chamber pot once used by FDR (as displayed at Yale University’s Beinecke Collection);  then on to Elvis Presley’s used Selektronic razor and the bathroom sink from John Lennon’s apartment, both offered to collectors for large sums of money by Guernsey’s auction house in New York.   Harrison notes that "who we consider holy changes over the centuries; what we want from them has not."

Other forms of fascination with people who inhabit the "larger realm" permeate all levels of society, including even the most minor forms of media celebrity.