The Problem of Fame – Free Ebook

We don’t always feel comfortable admitting it to our friends; it’s embarrassing, but secretly the idea of being famous has great appeal. Fame seems to be the solution to so many problems. When you’re famous people will make way for you in crowds. You’ll get warm smiles from admiring strangers. You’ll be safe from rejection. You won’t have to explain who you are at each new occasion. People will be convinced by you before you even meet them. If ever you’re unhappy about something, your complaints will be taken very seriously. Your happiness become the focus of everyone’s effort. You’ll be boss. The intense desire for fame probably has its roots in the experience of neglect– in injury. No one would want to be famous who hadn’t also somewhere in the past been made to feel extremely insignificant: perhaps one’s parents were hard to impress, that’s why one dreams that one day the world would pay attention. Or, maybe our parents were great, but it was the wider world, starting with the schoolyard, that was intolerable after early years of adulation at home. In the end there’s a problem: fame cannot really accomplish what is asked of it. Every new famous person who disintegrates, breaks down in public, or loses their mind, is judged in isolation, rather than being interpreted as a victim of an inevitable pattern within the pathology of fame. You want to be famous because you want people to like you, but the world isn’t generally kind to the famous for very long, and the reason is basic: the success of any one person involves humiliation for lots of others. The celebrity of a few people will always contrast painfully with the obscurity of the many. Being famous upsets people. When we imagine fame, we forget that it’s inextricably connected to being “too visible” in the eyes of some people. To bugging them on duty, to coming to be seen as the plausible cause of their humiliation is symbol of how the world is treating them unfairly. Fame makes people more, not less vulnerable, because it throws them open to unlimited judgement. Everyone is rooted by a cruel assessment of their character or merit, but fame has had an added challenge in store– the assessments will come in from legions of people who would never dare to say to their faces what they could not express for the safety of the newspaper office or the screen. We know from our own lives that a nasty remark can take a day or two to process. Social media hasn’t helped; it’s made it far easier than before to be famous, and therefore by necessity, far easier to be hated. The minor celebrity can now regularly face all of vitriol previously accorded only to Hollywood stars. Psychologically, the famous are of course, the very last people on earth to be well-equipped to deal with what they’re going through. After all, they only became famous because they were wounded, because they had thin skin, because they were, in some respect, a bit ill. And now, far from compensating them adequately for their disease, fame aggravates it exponentionally. Strangers voice their negative opinions in detail, unable or simply unwilling to imagine that famous people bleed far more quickly than anyone else. They might even think the famous aren’t listening; that one wouldn’t become famous if one didn’t suffer from a compulsion to listen too much. Every worst fear about oneself– that one’s stupid, ugly, not worthy of existence– would daily be confirmed by strangers. One will be exposed to the fact that people one’s never met about whom one will only have in good will, actively loath one; one will learn the devastation of one’s personality is, in some quarters, a badge of honor. Sometimes the attacks will be horribly insightful; at other times, they’ll make no sense to anyone who really knows one. But the criticisms will lodge in people’s minds nevertheless, and no lawyer, court case, or magician will ever be able to delete them. Needless to say, as a hurt celebrity, one won’t be eligible for sympathy. The very concept of a hurt celebrity is a joke– about as moving for the average person as the sadness of a tyrant. To sum up, fame really just means you get noticed a great deal– not that you get understood, appreciated, or loved. At an individual level, the only mature strategy is to give up on fame. The aim that lay behind the desire for remains important; one does still want to be appreciated and understood. But the wise person accepts that celebrity does not actually provide these things. Appreciation and understanding are only available through individuals one knows or cares about– not via groups of a thousand or a million strangers. There is no shortcut to friendship– which is what the famous person is, in effect, seeking. For those who are already famous, the only way to stay sane is to stop listening to what the wider world is saying. This applies to the good things as much as to the bad. It’s best not to know. The wise person knows that their products need attention, but they make a clear distinction between the purely practical needs of marketing and advocacy, and the intimate desire to be liked and treated with justice and kindness by people one doesn’t know. At a collective political level, we should pay great attention to the fact that today, so many people, particularly young ones, want to be famous, and even see fame as a necessary condition for a successful life. Rather than dismiss this wish, we should grasp its underlying, worrying meaning: they want to be famous because they’re not being respected– because citizens have forgotten how to accord one another the degree of civility, appreciation, and decency that everyone craves and deserves. The desire for fame is a sign that an ordinary life has ceased to be good enough. The solution is not to encourage ever more people to become famous, but to put massive efforts into encouraging greater level of politeness and consideration for everyone– in families, in communities, in work places, in politics, in the media, and all income levels, especially modest ones. Only then will a society give up on the understandable, but erroneous belief that fame could guarantee the kindness of strangers.

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