Want to be famous? Some thoughts on celebrity culture…

Posted: May 26, 2010 in Reel Life
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

“Everyone will be famous for 15 minutes”
Andy Warhol

“Be careful of what you wish for, you might get it”
Colloquial Wisdom

When I was a kid I wasn’t sure of much, but one thing I was sure of was that I wanted to be rich and I wanted to be famous. This twosome, rich and famous, seemed to embody all that I thought I desired in this very early stage in my life. I mean, it just looked like so much fun. Rich. Famous. What’s not to like? Well, as it turns out, both of these acquisitions come with a price, and it’s a steep one.

Rich changes you. Your entire way of interacting with the world around you has changed in scale. Now, this change may or may not be a good thing. Some people do rich very well, and others, not so much. The landscape is littered with lottery winners whose lives have been torn apart after the big win. Divorce. Social alienation. Business failure. No happy dance, there.

But where rich changes you, famous changes everything. Sure, you’ll never have to pay for a cup of coffee again, but welcome to life in the fishbowl. If you have successfully managed to convince the public that you are worthy of their special attention then you better be ready to handle all the other unanticipated, unwanted, and other forms of attention that become part of the deal – like it or not.

And you better be able to stand up to the public scrutiny – often relentless – that is sure to accompany your fame. If you’re found wanting, that same adoring public can turn on you in a New York minute. And a public dismantling of anyone’s life is never a pretty picture. Just ask Tiger.

So, is the fishbowl really worth it?

Some people do fame very well. They have learned how to handle, no, manage, the showbiz machine that has made fame a calculable commodity. They manage the press and, in turn, have their lives left alone. Some, not so much.

Although I’m sure she’s laughing all the way to the bank, ask Kim Kardashian how it feels to have every pound she gains chronicled on the front page of every supermarket tabloid around the world? Ouch is still ouch.

Kim, of course, is one of the new breed – people who are famous just for being famous. The public appetite for worthy icons had grown to such a fever pitch that we are now willing to put some people up on the pedestal just because they’ve managed to catch our attention in some… er… memorable way.

Anybody who stars on The Hills can tell you of the benefits of being in the right place at the right time. Spin-off shows, public recognition and, of course, the merch, the merch, the merch. Just ask Lauren Conrad, now of LC Fashion, about how to do it well and ask Heidi Montag about how to become a caricature of yourself for everyone to see. And those implants seal the deal. Unbelievable what some people think are a good idea.

When I was younger I went through a phase where I was quite enthralled with the idea of being around celebrity. For many years I haunted the Film Festival in the hopes of adding to my ever-burgeoning autograph collection. But after all the screenings and all the parties and all those famous people, I learned a valuable lesson: Don’t meet your heroes; they will only end up disappointing you.

I remember one year I was dating a Publicist whose job it was to babysit a big, big star who was in town for a few days during the Festival. As her official date I was occasioned to spend a great deal of time with her and this big, big star, who I had previously regarded as an amazing acting force. And he is an amazing actor, unfortunately for me he wasn’t a very amazing human being. This publicly heterosexual star stepped off his private jet with his hands stuffed down the front of his 16 year-old male travelling companion’s pants.

And the groping never stopped.

In the limo, at the restaurant (under the table, of course), everywhere the cameras weren’t, and everywhere that I was. The gay thing didn’t faze me (or really surprise me). It was all the child sexual abuse, and his attitude about it, that really got me. Although he was officially 19 years-old, the boy-toy at one point quietly confessed to me that he was really only 16. I have all the time in the world for gay folks; I’m just not that hot on paedophiles.

And now this actor, whom I had previously respected, is ruined for me. I can no longer watch anything with him in it without thinking of that leer on his face as he fondled his freshly pubescent companion. Ruined. And don’t ask me who it is. Let’s just say that year it was one of the Usual Suspects

Don’t ever meet your heroes. Double for rock stars.

There is now a multi-billion dollar industry that has cropped up that is devoted to nothing but keeping us informed on everything that is any small way notable about people who are famous. Shows like ET, Access and a hundred others, and websites like TMZ.com and Perez Hilton and too many magazines to mention, have made the star’s business, their business. And quite a business it is, too. Billions are now spent promoting, chronicling and dissecting every last piece of minutiae that comprise the life of celebrities.

And boy, we can’t get enough.

The other day my 10 year-old daughter nonchalantly told me about the difficult decisions that are currently plaguing Miley Cyrus. Not Hannah Montana – Miley Cyrus, the actress who plays her. Apparently, she’s putting an end to the Hannah Montana juggernaut and is having trouble deciding where to board her horse. I asked Hyla how she knows all of this and the dismissive answer was “the Disney web site, of course!” which, according to Hyla, is quite a reputable news source. “Of course it’s true, Daddy. It’s on the Internet!”

Somewhere along the way, the line between publicity and news got a little blurry. Newscasts now regularly report the doings of celebrities right along with the car crashes and other trials that fill their airwaves. And we are salacious in our appetite for more as insatiable demand creates an abundant supply.

Now, I know the difference between entertainment and news but I’m afraid that my daughter doesn’t as well as I’d like. The big studios have become very adept at marketing their stars like commodities and have learned how to feed this machine quite effectively. They want that line to be blurry, for us to think that someone’s dalliance is, in fact, news. It is not.

We want to emulate celebrities because they seem to have what we don’t – successful, glamorous lives filled with lots of sex with really good looking people. And somehow we’ve acquired the notion that if we do like them, we’ll be like them. We won’t. Ever. And that’s probably a good thing.

A number of years ago I decided to get as far away from the world of celebrities as I could. I deliberately avoided situations where there would be celebrities present and declined invitations to same and feel my life is all the better for it, that I’m a better person for it.

Have you ever been around someone really famous? If so, you’ll be able to attest to how completely stupid normally very together people get when around someone famous and that is something I don’t miss at all. People do some pretty unseemly things to get near celebrities and I don’t want to be around people who bring out my worst qualities. My fawning days are over.

At the end of the day we must remember that these people don’t have superpowers. They are once ordinary people who managed to get our attention somehow. Talent is a great thing to respect but it doesn’t call for the deification of its originator.

I do worry for my daughter, though, who barely owns a single piece of clothing that isn’t branded somehow by Barbie or Hannah or whoever. It makes me so crazy that this is what she looks for in her consumer decisions. Not quality. Certainly not price. But branding. The more High School Musical, the better.

In his Inaugural Address, Lincoln talked about inciting “the better angels of our nature”. My experience has been that most celebrities bring out the worst angels of our nature. Even Tiger has become a repository of derision. I do everything I can to help Hyla see the cynicism behind the dogma she so happily consumes but I fear it will never be enough. At the very least I can teach her to be critical.

Rich would still be nice but, famous? Not so much. I’ll take a life, please. Andy can have his 15 minutes back. I don’t want it.

And we can all hold out hope for the timely emergence of those better angels…


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