It’s fascinating. The word lionize emerges from a time when the ability to see a real, live lion in a zoo setting was rare. In some places, London in the late 16th century, for instance, it was so rare that “everyone” went to the zoo to see the lions. Consequently, to lionize came to mean that a person was made to seem so significant that it was almost sacrilegious not to want to go see them. The significant part of this word study is that the object of the viewing is passive. It is not they who create the lionization…the need is created by others.
There are gazillions of people who want to be famous and they will go to any extreme to achieve that desire. I suppose that any writer (myself included) strives to be recognized and revered. If that were not the case, we wouldn’t jump through all the hoops required to be published and marketed. But the fact is that all of our marketing techniques won’t be significant if we aren’t identified by respected critics and promoted by them. Reviews are more valuable than expensive ads. It takes someone else to tell the world that our work is outstanding and deserving of the purchase by the reading public.
There is a whole world of interesting people out there. I remember the first time I was told about Greg Mortensen, the author of Three Cups of Tea. I had never heard of him. But the person who told me about him was so excited and so demonstrative that I didn’t dare not run right out and buy the book. It captured me. I then began to hear about him on TV, in the news media, and in literary circles. People were reading his book in book clubs.
When I read that he was speaking at Harvard it was a no brainer. I stayed on the line for over an hour getting tickets the day they were made available. My wife and I made an excursion of it, including dinner in Cambridge. It was a highlight of our month and remains one of the more memorable things we did that year. I could not have not gone; it seemed that important. Greg Mortensen had been lionized.
The media is capable of lionizing lots of people. Some of them deserve the attention; some of them don’t. There are artists, musicians, actors, writers, political persons, athletes, and others in the public realm who get shoved into the limelight. Somebody with a following decides that this person is worth knowing about, and (before you know it) they are in the headlines.
I happen to believe that Sarah Palin is one of those people. Prior to her selection as a running mate of John McCain she was a relatively obscure, insignificant Governor of a state that didn’t make the front pages of major newspapers regularly. An intentional marketing plan put her on the stage with the Republican candidate for President, and the next thing you know she was a “must see.” In today’s mysterious political world she is a top crowd gatherer and fundraiser. Her name is on the lips of people throughout the country. What is being said by those lips varies, but she is no longer an obscure person. Had a group of hungry Republicans not captured her and put her in the political cage for the world to see, she would be living in Alaska, struggling for re-election. Instead, she is traveling the country, drawing big checks for appearances.
To lionize someone can be a dangerous thing. It can make a person famous, and that fame can transform them into an exceedingly happy person. Or it can expose a person and lead to their destruction. That list, beginning with the names John Edwards and Bernard Madoff, is a long one. We live in an age of instant, constant news. It is ruthless, and the rules of proper conduct are still in the process of being written.