Are you celebrity obsessed? Do you find yourself chattering about celebrity-related subjects such as who’s currently doing what with whom? When you sit in a waiting room do you read a worthwhile book you’ve brought with you, or do you graze the celebrity mags, hypnotically pouring over colorful pics of stars with their children, stars with other stars, stars post pregnancy, stars coming out of scandal, and stars plunging into scandal? If you are free from celebrity fascination, congratulate yourself; you are the equivalent of the person whose neighbors have all been replaced by peapod-grown aliens in the ‘50’s sci-fi classic, The Body Snatchers. You therefore cannot afford to ignore this piece. The obsession is all around you.
You may try to brush off any concerns by claiming that people have always been interested in celebrities. The advent of movies generated the first wave of instant fame for an elite few by providing mass audiences that had not previously been possible. But the present nature of fame is different. Those who reached stardom in days of old had actually done something. They turned in memorable performances and sometimes – like Charles Chaplin – directed, produced, scripted, and even composed music along with their performance work. In other words, famous people used to become famous for a reason. Today, we have an array of figures who are famous merely for being famous.
To illustrate the point, let’s start with the Kardashians. The very name is a ubiquitous entity not only in pop culture, but everywhere. The ‘K’ word is impossible to escape; you can run but you can’t hide. Although I’ve never seen their reality show, I feel as though they (whoever they are) have simply always been. And what is it that they do? Like the Queen of England, they appear. They go about the business of being famous. Paris Hilton is another such case. We understand that she descends from Conrad Hilton who actually did something by establishing a world famous hotel chain, but Paris is just there. And so is Simon Cowell. Have you ever asked yourself what Cowell’s credentials are for determining who has talent? If Paul McCartney is sitting there telling me I can’t sing, his word is absolute. But Cowell? What would he do if he were placed on the same stage where so many hopeful performers have suffered his scathing critiques? It would be an awkward moment indeed. (And by the way, if a person is on national TV, can he please not dress as though he’s just come in from cleaning the garage?)
There are many, many more synthetic celebrities we could discuss, but why do so? Giving them more attention merely feeds the Frankenstein. However, we should apply some skepticism to what is happening with the concept of celebrity and what its effect is on public perceptions about accomplishment. This is a time in which wealth is acquired all at once through either the lottery – or when that fails – civil law suits. Likewise, in a dazzling display of circular reasoning, one becomes famous by being famous (or is it the other way around?). In The Wizard of Oz, the Scarecrow somehow gets a brain when he is handed a university degree that he didn’t earn. Do you know the name of the actor who played that role? No? Then I’ll leave it to you to illustrate the ways in which his example demonstrates my point. (Hint: Ray Bolger – the Scarecrow – was an entertainer who gave a lot of pleasure to a lot of people over a long show business career. Unlike the Kardashians, he’s now largely unknown.)
In the 1954 film It Should Happen to You, a young woman becomes an instant celebrity by placing her name on a billboard. In other words, she becomes famous for being famous. Back then, the idea seemed comical.