Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Brushes with Fame.

What is it about a brush with fame that so captivates people? There are well over 6 billion people on earth, yet a very small minority of them are assumed to be of general interest. In many cases this interest is driven by the corporate-owned media. What's really so special about Paris Hilton or Ozzy Osbourne's wife? We've been led like sheep- our attention directed toward whatever the shepherd wants us to see. Are their special answers to be found? Do famous people hold the keys to your particular problems in life? Americans are obsessed with celebrity. It seems only right to ask why that is.

Growing up, I remember falling into this trap. Baseball was a constant subject around our home, and we went as far as amassing huge collections of collectibles. We'd attend baseball card shows and sometimes we'd wait in line to get the autographs of whatever players they were featuring. Often we did so only because it was free. It felt rewarding somehow to make contact with someone who had attained an element of success in the game. It didn't matter whether the person was on our favorite team, or if we had ever really cared about their career. At some point the autograph appearances became big business, and promoters began to charge fees for signatures. My father was wise enough to discourage our interest at that point. However I do remember waiting nervously to pay for the opportunity of having my all-time favorite ball-player tag my own little piece of cardboard. When I got to the front of the line, the guy wasn't even looking at the crowd filing by his table. I actually had to greet him loudly to get him to acknowledge me. I don't even know the current whereabouts of the souvenir he signed for me. But at the time it was a prized possession.

Nowadays I can't think of anyone that would inspire me to wait in line or to pay money to have them scrawl their name on a relic. Truthfully it probably wouldn't even occur to me to ask for an autograph, even if I admired them greatly. Perhaps I would snap a photo or two, but that would be the only concession I would make to the memory of the interaction. By this point in my life I have met a number of small-time celebrities. I've even shared a beer with a few of them. And I do have to admit that I have felt there was something special about getting those opportunities. Maybe like so many others, I have a subconscious feeling that their fame and success will somehow rub off on me. Of course that's completely irrational, unless they are actually in the position to help you with something. If that's the case, then the whole dynamic shifts.

I guess that I believe that all people are basically the same. They have to eat, shit and sleep- just like you. That realization takes away some of the anxiety I might otherwise feel in measuring up to their fame. Yet I must concede that I am so curious and fascinated by certain individuals that I would go out of my way to meet them. There would have to be some specific purpose behind the meeting. I would certainly pay large amounts of money to sit in a class taught by one of my favorite directors, artists, or authors. In that case there is a defined relationship that governs the experience. Ideally each party understands the expectations. A contractual agreement looms over the interaction, and insures against disappointment.

This entire train of thought is inspired by a book about a young man who established written correspondence with several famous serial killers. In the last fifty years, even the most transgressive of psychopathic criminals have developed fan bases. If you could strike up a conversation with Charles Manson, Gary Ridgeway, or Dennis Rader- would you do it? Do you believe that you could learn something from them? Or would it be a strange novelty to be able to tell your friends and family that you have made some extremely odd pen pals? The author of the book in question (Jason Moss, The Last Victim) has apparently gained his own form of notoriety from the relationships he has forged with conventionally-defined "monsters" like Manson, John Wayne Gacy and Jeffrey Dahmer. His pursuit of infamy begs the question- What was he hoping would rub off on him?

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2 Comments:

Anonymous jefg said...

Thought provoking, as always. It would be interesting to hear about the differences in encounters with celebrities in person as they are in their public/perfomance personna (signing autographs, after a play, book signing), and those while the person is doing something in their private life (shopping, walking, drinking...or studying their lines for an upcoming play or movie while sipping a beverage in a coffee shop in Chelsea).

As you mentioned in your blog, there are some things it doesn't seem right to be charged for, like autographs.

Coincidently, I just heard a multiple choice question on the radio concerning what celebrity charged $2,500 for an individual to spend one minute with them. The anser was Barbra Streisand (I got it right). However, I figured she was doing it while raising money for some candidate. Rather, as I found on on the Net, the story was taken out of context. Those who saw her in some of her final concerts, and who choose premium front-row seating at $2,500 per, got to spend a little time with her backstage. I'd have respected the idea more had it been for charity. However, it got me to thinking who I'd pay money to spend a minute with, and how much I'd spend. Now that would make an interesting question for further discussion.

Another good question would be which celebrities (and I include politicians) you'd go up to talk to, and which ones you'd leave alone. I think I'd usually opt for the latter (and usually have).

12:45 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

I wouldn't spend a lot of money to have a minute with anyone (except maybe the historical Jesus Christ). I don't know what you could expect to accomplish by that.

I generally feel the same way you seem to- I think we should leave people we don't know alone. That is, unless you meet them in an explicitly social context, like a party.

3:46 PM  

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