Thursday, November 30, 2017

99 Reasons Not to Be Famous (No. 31 Will Amaze You!)

Having had a brief flirtation with fame in early adulthood, and having had famous friends, I believe fame can be summed up as always being able to get a table at a restaurant, but then not being able to enjoy your meal. From the moment you’re seated, people will be gawking at you, straining to overhear your conversation, or coming over wanting to take a selfie with you, or to get an autograph — never for themselves, but always for a third party like a sister-in-law who’s loved you ever since your second album. It wasn’t that she didn’t really like several tracks on the first album, you are to understand. While your soup grows ever colder and your date wonders more and more aggressively if dating a celebrity was a good idea, your uninvited guest will eagerly provide a detailed inventory of which songs he or she did and did not adore.

When I and a famous friend I’ve not seen in decades made plans to meet for lunch recently, he nixed several venues I proposed for fear of being besieged by well-wishers and selfie-seekers. Even as she or becomes able to fly first class anywhere in the solar system, the famous person’s world inevitably constricts unless he or she is that very rare person who likes cold soup and endless flesh-pressing.

What a lot of people don’t understand is that the really nice, adoring fan can be far more exhausting than the abrasive, demanding one who feels, on the basis of having recognised the celebrity, that he or she is entitled to several minutes of the celebrity’s rapt attention. Whereas celebrities can tell — or get their bodyguards to tell — the obnoxious, entitled fan to take a hike, they might very well feel duty-bound to listen patiently while the kinder, gentler fan explains how their music or movie or even book gave his or her life new meaning. 

If I happen to find myself behind Dame Helen Mirren in the checkout queue at Aldi or Primark, it’s very likely to be the most notable part of my day. It will have made not the slightest impression on Dame Helen. What a burden to star in the most noteworthy moment of a succession of strangers’ lives as you move through the world minding your own business! 

Failure is an orphan, while success has many fathers. David Bowie spoke once about how, when he first got huge, he would wake up in the morning to find his house full of people he didn’t recognise, every one of whom would have had him believe his success wouldn’t have been possible without him or her. And Ringo Starr, of all people, has spoken of how, once fame becomes a much greater source of pain than of pleasure, one simply can’t turn it off. Once having become a household name, he or she can become fame’s prisoner, submitting to what amounts to house arrest, moving to a part of the world where the food or water will give her savage diarrhea, or grin and bear it.

In the United Kingdom, and increasingly in the USA, the famous are hounded mercilessly by paparazzi and the tabloid press. The former’s newsstands abound with magazines called, approximately, Celebrites Looking Utter Rubbish Without Their Makeup. Can you imagine how maddening it must be not to be able to leave your home  hung over and rumpled without photographers descending on you, hoping to get damp-underarm shots they can sell to Celebrities Whose Deodorants Don’t Work? And in the UK, the paps will commonly shout things like “I shagged your kid sister last night! Without a condom!” in hope of your turning around looking furious. Fury sells magazines. 

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