Psychologist Robert A. Johnson has written extensively about a psychological concept called “inner gold,” which refers to a tendency we all are guilty of at one point or another in our lives. It consists of projecting our own inner power and strength onto someone else, whether it is a lover, a stranger, or – as in many cases – celebrities. According to Johnson, we do this because we are not in a psychological state of being able to own and appreciate our own innate goodness, abilities, and beauty. It becomes easier to have someone else, usually against their knowledge, hold and possess it for us, and this results in their seeming to “glow” upon entering a room, captivating our admiration, respect, and sometimes obsession.
In countries like India, there exists a custom of actually walking up to this person and formally asking them to hold our gold for us until we feel ready to take it back. And the person being approached to do this usually understands this ritual and happily agrees to safeguard our inner gold for us. This ritual is psychologically cleansing and is no doubt designed to speed up the process of coming to be able to re-possess our gold.
To me, the biggest, most glamorous example of this universal giving away of our inner gold has manifested in the cult of celebrity, namely Hollywood stars. We photograph, film, admire, chase and dream about these beautiful people, plastering their god-like images on buildings, billboards, magazines, books, and immortalize them on the culmination of the Western eye, the silver screen of cinema. They become the poster children of our own exiled inner sense of self-worth.
We are all paparazzi, paradoxically hounding and pursuing the avatars of our projected inner selves, represented by the men and women racing from their limos to their restaurants, strutting down the royal red carpets while being blinded by the snap-snap of cameras; they are the prey to our predatory eye, surrogates to our malnourished self-esteem.
This mass personal anxiety has produced much great art, from Nefertiti to the Mona Lisa, and finally Angelina Jolie. Mothers and husbands and sons spend hours staring at the images of actors and actresses while their own relationships crumble, while they steadily become more and more estranged from themselves, and seek momentary solace in the vision of the utterly exposed face, body, and person of the star. They become objet d’art, contained statues of worship, frozen in a frame of composition. Through that freezing, we still our anxiety, our inner crises of identity, but it is only temporary. It is exploitation, meat on display, a new Jesus flagellated for the guilt of the guilty, the unrealized inner gold that has yet to be mined within each of us. Indeed, we are all culpable.
That is, until we can begin to reacquaint ourselves with our own innate strengths, make friends with the majesty that resides in us. While we catch up with ourselves, these stars will continue to flit across our screens, occupy our focus, and be the mascots of our inner all-stars.
This phenomenon certainly serves a purpose; the presence of movie stars, elevated to the point of being akin to the Olympian gods, is not altogether something to be done away with. However, the key is in awareness, in understanding their place and what exactly they are doing in our stratosphere. In many ways, they are our prophets, our sages, our immortal painters. The twentieth and twenty-first centuries will leave a cinematic legacy not unlike the Sistine Chapel, an arched vault glittering with the gorgeous, the almost heavenly sybilene men and women who are the faces of our times. First Michelangelo, then Fellini.
Psychology has worked in tandem with art, pushing civilization and culture into the new phase of expression, which has been called Hollywood, Tinseltown, and Show Business. To look at the timeline of film is to see the playing out of our psychologies, inner angst, and tortured self-divinity.
Rather than attempt a conclusion here, I pose a question: what would be the next phase of cultural arts if we all took back our inner gold? Would the royalties of Hollywood be on the streets, hobos stripped of their mantle composed of their audiences’ glory?