Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Word of the Day: FAMOUS

"The fame you earn has a different taste from the fame that is forced upon you."
Gloria Vanderbilt

"In the future everybody will be world-famous for fifteen minutes."
Andy Warhol

To many people, the idea of being famous is appealing.  Look at anyone who is famous and you're likely to see that person getting attention, sometimes lots of attention, and usually lots of perks.  They are well-known, liked by some or many, hated by some or many.  That's one of the aspects of fame: it is not an all-encompassing across-the-board thing.  Fame means there will always be those who understand why you are famous and celebrate you -- thus the word "celebrity" -- and there will always be those who cannot figure out why in the world so many people like you so much.  ("What did he/she ever do that's so wonderful?") 

There are also huge drawbacks to fame: gossip stories, death threats, extortion attempts, paparazzi, over-zealous admirers, lack of privacy, and people wanting to know all your business, to name a few.  I once heard Harrison Ford during an appearance on 'Inside the Actors Studio' say, "You have to be willing to live in front of people."  Easier said than done.  As a fairly private person myself, it was probably a good thing, in hindsight, that my attempt at an acting career twenty years ago never came to fruition. 

My focus today, however, is on what being famous has become in the last dozen or so years.  Growing up, some of those persons who were famous were astronauts, sports figures, entertainers, scientists, and authors.  Many of those same types of persons remain famous today, rightfully so.  There is, however, another kind of fame that has gained a lot of traction.  I chalk it up to the unfortunate phenomenon called Reality TV.

Reality stars, as they're called, get a lot of attention.  They also expose not only the good inside them, but all of the bad, too.  In fact, it is the bad that gets the most attention.  Look at shows like 'Survivor' and 'Big Brother' (which are more game show/reality TV hybrids) to see people scheming to screw over someone else for their own gain.  Other shows like 'Ice Road Truckers', 'Swamp People', and 'Deadliest Catch' (all three of which, in my opinion, do not belong on the highly reputable cable channels The History Channel and Discovery Channel) simply show people doing their jobs.  Granted, they are dangerous jobs, but a TV special on these and other jobs would be sufficient; a series is overkill.  Programs such as the Paris Hilton/Nicole Richie series 'The Simple Life', 'Keeping Up with the Kardashians' (and all of its spinoffs), and 'Jersey Shore' merely show people being famous for ... being famous.

All of the above-mentioned shows feed into this whole concept of being famous for being famous.  In other words, if you can find a director and a producer who's willing to stick you in front of a camera, you can be famous.  No special talent or skills are required.  No major notable life achievements are required.  No solving of any major problems or issues here or around the world is required.  Just a director, a producer, a subject, cameras, etc., and a desire to show trumped-up conflicts that bring out the worst in people and, wham-o, you have a TV series.

And you will have a following.  And people will laud you as though you have done something spectacular.

While fame is a fleeting and fickle thing, being famous for doing something of major importance seems appropriate; the fame those on reality shows have is just plain ridiculous.  It makes being famous cheap and shallow.  This kind of pre-fab fame overshadows earned fame, and that is truly sad.  I think of someone who recently died, Neil Armstrong.  In the summer of 1969, he became the first person to walk on the moon, uttering the famous line: "It's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."  He knew going into space and walking on the moon would make him famous, but he never sought the spotlight for himself afterward.  He was humble and his fame was earned.  The only thing reality TV stars earn is a paycheck.


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