It’s estimated that anyone living in the middle ages saw maybe 100 people in their lifetime.
Yesterday, in the span of 5 minutes cruising on the Superficial, I saw 17 photos of Matthew McConaughey taking a jog, David Arquette yelling at paparazzi for trying to photograph his daughter, and Lindsay Lohan looking frazzled after having her Blackberry allegedly hacked by Paris Hilton. It goes on and on.
And the thought struck me, "Fame is a funny thing."
Fame depends on a person’s connection to their audience. That connection depends on whether the famous can project an interesting and/or pleasing exterior over an extended period. The “attention economy”, made up of publicists, PR people, studios, record studios, lawyers, agents, media companies, ad agencies, and corporations as a whole, is very good at manufacturing, nurturing, and building momentum for that exterior and, hence, that precious connection. That’s what they sell. They promote, they cross-promote, they create “intertextual networks”, and they prosper. The key to their art form and their success is pushing the fame while keeping it just beyond our reach.
Like the string and the cat, teasing us with fame keeps us endlessly fascinated. (Which is where stalking comes into play. But that’s another post altogether.)
Why do they do this? The answer, unsurprisingly, is money. Famous people these days are both icons for consumption and consumables themselves. The politics of fame are thus: Paris Hilton’s fame and public acceptance is flaunted, her wealth is flaunted, her sexual exploits are flaunted, and her massive consumption is flaunted by the “attention industry”. Everyone is invited to live within her suspended reality and have what’s known as a “para-social” relationship with her. The subsequent perpetual envy that teeny-bopper Americans feel has a small release valve with the word VISA written on it.
Some researchers suggest that socially isolated people use television to satisfy their need for actual relationships. And why not? The characters on TV will never let you down, never criticize you, and never never never blow you off. After all, they're on ABC at 9pm on Tuesdays.
If a celebrity doesn’t rivet the public’s attention they cease to exist. They are replaced at a moment’s notice with another icon so there is no interruption in the consumptive process.
Most of us desperately want to be blessed with the warm glow of perpetual validation. Yet there is a down side if you ever become the apple of the public’s eye. As much as people love to idolize you, the envy that they feel will make them want to rip you apart. Since you want to perpetuate your own manufactured and popularized myth, there is tremendous pressure from both internal and external hecklers. You gotcher rabid stalker fans, your gold diggers, insect-like paparazzi, critics, and formidable competition. Others gnaw from within: self-doubt, addiction, wanderlust.
And one hellcat of a fact just won’t leave you alone: someday this will end and you have no idea when that will be.
In the meantime they’re judged non-stop day in and day out. When they go out to grab the paper, step out of their trailer, or blow your nose.
As artists, they’re ALREADY prone to oversensitivity and self-destruction. Throw in the intense pressure, drugs, alcohol, and all-you-can-eat sex and it’s kerosene cocktails for everyone. Just ask River Phoenix about that. Well, you can ask people who knew River Phoenix before he died and they’ll tell you that he fell victim to the idea that since he was a star he could live “the life” and come out alright.
The lifespan of a celebrity is 58. No joke. That’s a serious price to pay for a life of misery punctuated by fancy cars and the occasional sexcapade with another celebrity.
Speaking of sex, Sharon Stone, was quoted as saying, “My new policy is this: I have a life of my own. Just a little, tiny one, but it’s mine.” A little one? Wow. You get the sense that their lives are full of boundaries that forever encroach on who they are. On the other side of that line they are expected to be who their fans want them to be. There’s little space to be authentic. And that must be hugely damaging.
Michelle Pfeiffer has said that she acts for free—but charges for the inconvenience of being a celebrity.
Just to summarize, the fame dynamic frustrates both the audience, who can never actually touch it, and the celebrity, who can never escape it. Who wins? The people who operate the attention economy win.