As with a few of the other blogs on this here site, like the one on the letter X or the color red, I’m choosing to write about what a star is and what it means because it is a symbol so ubiquitous to be almost without meaning anymore, making it worth taking a few minutes to contemplate. In other words, twinkle twinkle, cute little star. How I do wonder what you truly are...
You might be thinking that this is just some lame deconstruct-the-homonym game. It’s not. The truth is there is a lot of connection between the different things named with the word “star”: a word just as sharp, bright, and elegant as the many things it signifies.
Gina Rodriguez photo credit: Dominick D
First, let’s acknowledge that there are billions upon billions (obligatory Carl Sagan reference) of burning balls of gas out there in the universe, and one of them, our sun, is lucky enough to have this beautiful blue marble whirling around it. In I Heart Huckabees, Dustin Hoffman's character says, "There's not an atom in our bodies that has not been forged in the furnace of the sun." Not only is that assertion difficult to dispute, but it certainly rings us all together with one great big metaphysical lasso.
Wikipedia says a star is “a luminous sphere of plasma held together by its own gravity.” I could figure out what that means, but instead I’d rather focus on what we see when we’re in the middle of an Illinois hayfield at night: perfect pinhole points of light, as Sagan might say, poking through the black cloak of oblivion. Stars have long been considered symbols of the divine, sparkling above our heads from distances too big to understand, massive objects far beyond our lifetimes. Fulfilling the dream of travelling among them would be the among the greatest of human accomplishments. (Whoops…there’s my Sagan again.)
But the word “star” can just as easily conjure up a different image in our head, depending on the context. You all know it: the five-line symbol that can be made without lifting the pen from the paper. Every time my grade school teachers made that thing, the ball-point pen snapping across the paper, I was amazed. I wanted to learn how to do it. It looked so cool, and that’s perhaps why it sat at the top of every well-done multiplication worksheet. This is my attempt at it in MS Paint:
Stephen Colbert photo credit to Cliff.
But this white male millennial also chooses to see stars in an iconic in a not-so-sinister video game franchise, for it is a star that grants Mario temporary invincibility with which he can kick goombas and pirhana plants without shrinking all with a big smile under his ridiculous mustache. The comment is not subtle: just as many spiritualists have used the star symbol as a ward against malicious spirits, so it has become the primary ward in the most iconic western video game franchise to date.
But why do they call celebrities “stars”? Perhaps because they are as far away from us as stars are, beyond the reach of our hands or social standing. They are beautiful, stunning in appearance and action, leaving us in awe at their power and presence. And when each actor makes it big enough, what do they get? A star on the lauded “Walk of Fame” in Hollywood. Funny how those stars are flat on the ground.
Because, in the end, a star is both a symbol of—and agent of—the purest ideal of potential. Potential for what one can accomplish. Potential for what one can stretch to. Potential for awe. Potential for beauty and goodness. And, as in the case of our Sun, potential to create worlds. The potential to create all our human lives. And plenty of other lives as well.