Tuesday, September 09, 2008

When Celebrities Make Good

All of us have heroes. Anyone who says he has no heroes is either lying or a very spectacular narcissist for whom his only hero is himself. And for must of us, some of those heroes happen to be "celebrities", in one way or another. Now I don't just mean "celebrity" in the rock star/hollywood sense, but in the more fundamental sense of the root word, as in someone whose very existence we collectively celebrate.

And of course, as often happens, because those celebrities are in the public eye, they often fall from grace. It might be a politician embroiled in a scandal, or an actor/musician who says/does something remarkably stupid, or sports figure who commits a crime. But what about those celebrities who we see as personal heroes, fearing all the while that we'll learn something about them we find distasteful, some sort of "deal breaker", about whom we then discover even greater things, perhaps unrelated to what made them our heroes in the first place? Such things rarely happen.

Of course, I wouldn't be writing this if it had not happened to me. One of my own personal heroes, for a variety of reasons, is Food Network host Alton Brown, of the show Good Eats. Never seen his show? If you like food, or you like science, you're missing out in a big way. The gist of it, for the uninformed, is that, in each episode, Mr. Brown takes a particular food topic -- possibly a single ingredient, possibly a certain type of dish, or even a method of cooking -- and delves not only into how to cook this particular dish, or how to perform that particular task with utmost care and precision, but also, the exact nitty-gritty science of why the methods he describes are the correct methods. I'm talking physics and chemistry here, not just vague generalizations, including prop models of molecules and chemical reactions. And he does it all with a cheesy irreverence and sense of humor that prevents the show from every being boring to even the most uninitiated viewer.

Since I am a fairly hard-core "foodie", and a big science nerd as well, you can understand how I appreciate such a program, now in its eighth-ish season (too lazy to do a check here). We (Mrs. Red Shirt and I) even own his books, I'm Just Here For The Food, its imaginatively-titled sequel, I'm Just Here for More Food, and the nigh-indispensable Gear For Kitchen. I suppose the only criticism one could level at Mr. Brown is "get a grip, man!" as he tends to be a bit over-the-top in exactitude, but it's all for his art, clearly (one is reminded of the old Phil-Hartman-portrayed "Anal Retentive Chef" SNL skit). But he occasionally adds caveats pointing this out, so all is forgiven.

Anywho. Just last night Mrs. Red Shirt and I were watching his episode on Omelettes (only 10 easy steps to the perfect omelette!). A discussion between us about nitwit celebrities came up, in the wake of the British host of the MTV VMA show the previous night begging us to vote for Barack Obama and ridiculing our "retarded cowboy president" (and you all know how much I value the American political opinions of foreign celebrities!). One of us pointed out that one thing we appreciated about Alton Brown, who happened to be a celebrity, was that he didn't foist extraneous opinions on the audience, sticking to his subject matter of expertise. I followed that up by saying something to the effect of "Yeah, I assume he's probably a liberal twit, since he's on TV. But he treats the audience with respect, so it wouldn't bother me if he was."

Of course, not knowing whether he was a genuine liberal twit or not wouldn't stand, so I hopped on that most trusted and respected source of all celebrity biographical information, Wikipedia, and pointed by browser (seriously, how did "pointing one's browser" make its way into our lexicon, anyhow? It makes no sense!) to Alton Brown's entry. In the text, under "Personal Life", what do my eyes behold?
Brown is a born-again Christian and a member of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Georgia.
. Didst mine eyes deceive me? Fortunately, the entry contained a reference after this factoid, which led to a 2007 article in "Atlanta Magazine" featuring an interview with "AB", as he is sometimes known. Buried down at the bottom of the article, which is totally worth a read to any fan of his:
In 1992, Brown says, he found God, or maybe God found him, but he blundered away until he became a born-again Christian. "The single biggest life-changing thing for me is I just got baptized last year. Everything else pales in comparison to acceptance of Christianity. That's number one." He keeps a Bible in his dressing room now, not to show he's pious but because he needs the help. "At Johnson Ferry Baptist Church, baptism is a full-immersion thing, and we joke that the water didn't spit me back out."

Although he was on the cover of the August 2006 issue of the inspirational magazine Guideposts for a story about the connection between food and faith, Brown is not about to start a career as a celebrity proselytizer. "I keep praying I'll be able to do my job and I'll be useful," he says.

Wow. Not only is one of my biggest heroes "Christian" in some sense, but he's an authentic, born-again Christian (a Baptist, no less!), full of the newness of life in Christ. That explains why he hadn't offended my oh-so-delicate sensibilities! He's One Of Us! I was actually excited by this revelation, so much so that I even had a difficult time sleeping (well, the tea I had had right before bedtime probably contributed to that just as much, but still).

So yeah, I'm pretty jazzed about that.

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Anonymous Marty said...

I love his show. My wife, for some reason, doesn't. I'm amazed that he only took up the serious study of cooking back about 10 years ago because he was unsatisfied with the quality of cooking shows on American TV!

7:14 AM  

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