Chip Kelly and JD Salinger. The former is revolutionizing offensive football and the latter wrote “The Great American Novel” of the twentieth century.
The famous football coach and the iconic author are not similar on the surface. But the relationship between their work and their public personas epitomizes how we consume popular culture.
Football fans are fascinated by Chip for the same reasons readers were fascinated by Salinger. He’s a progressive innovator, we enjoy his work as a result, and he’s the rare celebrity who closes the shades on his private life.
We are beyond obsessed with fame and celebrities. We seek fame through modern technology and follow famous people religiously. So we expect celebrities, especially innovators like Chip and Salinger, to let us in. When they don’t, our minds run wild imagining potential reasons why, and the subject becomes even more interesting in an urban legend kind of way.
After “The Catcher in the Rye” captured imaginations in the 1950s and 60s, Salinger hid for almost half a century. He didn’t publish an original work after 1965 and never gave an interview after 1980. Fans created wacky theories about why he was laying low and what he was doing.
Salinger never stopped writing, he kept all of his post-1965 work in a safe, and he told his son to publish this work after he died. Some of it may be true, other parts may not be. Either way, Salinger’s reclusive twilight forced fans to speculate, which made them even more interested.
Unlike Salinger, Chip cannot work in private. Like Salinger, Chip keeps everything private besides his work, which makes his personal life that much more interesting.
In a Washington Post profile last week, Kent Babb reported that Kelly was married for seven years in the 1990s. Naturally, Philadelphia media splashed the story across front pages and television screens like a presidential election.
Pundits and fans reacted the same way: Kelly probably has the most visible job in the city, so it’s weird that we are just finding this out now.
Chip mania is not limited to Philadelphia. Much like Tinder and gratuitous pictures of nondescript meals, Chip is a national phenomenon. Google “Chip Kelly” and links with adjectives like “interesting” and “fascinating” will line the first page.
Everyone wants to know more, but Chip’s reclusive life forces fans to speculate. Why is Chip 51 and still unmarried? Maybe he’s gay. Maybe football is his only love, and on and on.
Like every episode of “Lost,” Babb’s profile answered one question but opened many others. “(Kelly’s) middle name is absent from many public records, and even Mark Saltveit, who has written two biographies of Kelly, has had trouble accounting for a six-year period of Kelly’s life, between his final game as a college player at New Hampshire and his graduation from the school,” read one paragraph.
All of this raises an essential question: why do we need to know more about the people who entertain us? Maybe we want to understand what makes them brilliant, what motivates them. Or maybe we’re just bored.
Whatever the answer is, one thing is certain. Fame should be earned. It should be a result of brilliant, or at least quality, work. We have enough celebrities like the Kardashians, the Paris Hiltons, and the Stephen Baldwins of the world, who are famous solely because of their personal lives.
It’s refreshing that, at least once every generation or so, we get the opposite, a celebrity like Chip or Salinger, who makes it all about the work.
By refusing to let us in, they also make the celebrity worship game a lot more fun.
Think about it. When we learned the truth, Chip is neither gay nor in love with football nor anything else unexpected. He’s just a middle-aged man who was married and divorced, like roughly 50-percent of the population.