Everyone wants to be famous.  If anyone has ever looked you in eyes and said “You know, I don’t care for fame,” you were looking into the eyes of a liar. I think most people want that rush of having to make their way through a crowd of screaming adoring fans, to be invited to the most exclusive events, and to be asked their opinion on a multitude of topics while on camera for national broadcast.  What’s more, I don’t think such desires translate to an inflated ego or megalomania, rather it’s just a sign that you’re human.

Wanting to be famous is wanting to be valued more than your worth.  Don’t believe me? Okay, even if you despise Dane Cook (as you should) you know who he is, right? Now, without looking it up, can you tell me what Joseph Lister did? Give up? He discovered anti-septic surgery! Dude is the reason that millions upon millions of people were/are able to have lifesaving surgery without dying from infection, but instead of knowing that you know who Dane Cook is…Dane Cook.  Think about that. Honestly, let’s admit that there are very few famous people who deserve to be famous.  Oh, you disagree? Then how come more people can tell me who the hell “Snooky” is, but draw a blank when I ask them the same question about Abigail Adams…No, it’s not the little girl from Little Miss Sunshine.

Look, I’m not saying that being famous makes you overvalued scum.   I’m also not going to claim that I’m immune to craving fortune and glory.  I regularly have daydreams about being profiled on some TV news magazine for a variety of reasons—writing a literary bestseller, leading political/cultural movement, or foiling a terrorist plot in a Die Hard like scenario (It could happen!).  But in the past couple weeks certain events have made me think about what it means to be famous and I’m beginning to think that maybe it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.

Earlier this month, 80’s teen movie star Corey Haim died. Early reports seem to indicate that it was an accidental overdose of illegal prescription drugs. If anything Haim’s death illustrates the dark side of fame.  Money and notoriety can get you in the door of the most exclusive parties, but it can’t cure the addiction that may come with it.  Why is it that there is such a wealth of personal tales detailing drug and alcohol problems out of Hollywood that it’s practically become a cliché?  We applaud those that overcome it and empathize with those who don’t, yet we never question why it happens so readily.  Where does the idea that because you were in Lost Boys you can take half-bottle of oxycontin a day and not have a problem come from?

Meanwhile Lindsay Lohan filed a lawsuit against e-trade because one of the company’s commercial features a “milkaholic” talking baby named Lindsay.  Lohan’s lawsuit is a trifecta of fame-induced egomania.  Not only is she claiming she’s a first name star (she isn’t), but that people would recognize the commercial as referencing her (Uh…I don’t think anyone did until she suggested it), and thusly she’s entitled to $100 million (What the hell?!).   My friend Christine was actually excited at the news, because, as she says, “it pretty much gives me the green light to sue Stephen King for his book Christine. Aside from the obvious name similarity, I always thought that the characteristics of the character drew a clear parallel to my life.” Wait, wasn’t that the one about the car that came to life and killed people?   “Yep. That’s right. Clearly a rip off of my life,” she said, adding later: “Hello $100 Million!”

And most recently Sandra Bullock’s husband, apparently, cheated on her.  I’ll be honest here: I couldn’t care less about that fact.  But it seems most people do. And as much I can attest that Sandra Bullock staring in a film is the main reason I won’t go see it, even I don’t think she deserves to have all this played out in the media.  Hey, your husband cheated on you, that sucks. Oh, and EVERYONE in America knows about, mainly because of your recent career success.  I think that’s motivation enough for her to unleash Miss Congeniality 3 on the movie going public as payback.

This month alone we’ve seen that the excess of fame can last well past one’s success (Haim), the constant attention can lead to unbelievable heights of self-aggrandizing (Lohan), and that even your most embarrassing personal problem can’t stay private (Bullock).  And yet people will still resort to almost childish means for their 15-mintues of national attention, something I like to call “Balloon Boy Syndrome.  The most example of this: the guy in California who quite possibly faked his out of control Toyota Prius.

I think that, in the end, as much as I want to be famous, I just as badly want to have a life of substance. I want to be able to keep things in perspective, especially my own self-worth, and still have my privacy.  I still want fortune and glory, but if I never get it… well at least I have the consolation that it definitely has a downside.

[Pic via]

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michael_jacksonSo apparently, a bunch of famous people died last week. We started off with the passing of Ed McMahon, then Farrah Fawcett, followed by the sudden deaths of Michael Jackson and Billy Mays. McMahon and Fawcett were not really a surprise, the former was well into his eighties and the latter had been in a well documented battle with cancer.  Jackson and Mays, though, were truly surprising and sudden.

And as I read the bemoaning of this past week of loss via people’s twitter updates and facebook statuses (a personal favorite was someone who tweeted in all earnest “Not Billy Mays too!”) the thought “Why do we care?” kept running through my mind.  I understand the devastating loss of an artist cut down in his or her prime (à la Marvin Gaye or Janis Joplin) but we saw nothing like that this week.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying that when someone dies, it isn’t a horrible thing—but to their friends and family.  For a public figure that moved people with his or her work, like John Lennon or Kurt Cobain, I get a need for communal mourning, but do any of these people meet that requirement?  Seriously.  Can someone please tell me a classic Ed McMahon joke? Or tell me what besides a TV show and a poster Farrah Fawcett was known for? And has long as we’re being honest: let’s admit the Michael Jackson that we loved—the one who made Thriller and Bad—died a long time ago.  If Michael Jackson had put out an album last year, would you have bought it?  He’d become known more for the freak show that his life had turned into than his music.  And Billy Mays?!  Really?!  Even he would have been the first to admit that people shouldn’t think of him as a celebrity.

And with so much else going on in the world, why are we paying so much attention to it all?  God forbid the 24-hour news media should actually cover something that is actually newsworthy.  Why does it affect us so much?  Are people really “devastated?”  The more I pondered the idea of people truly saddened by these passings the more I realized how much fame plays a part in it all.  I’m beginning to suspect that we’ve reached a point in our society where the constant static of information has forced us to value anyone who can reach through the rushing noise, no matter the reason.  We don’t value celebrities for any worthwhile contribution anymore, we value them because well…hell, we all know who they are.  In world of so much out there, recognizing someone moderately famous is something that we all share. “Hey, you think Kate from ‘Jon and Kate Plus Eight’ is a bitch? Me too!”  Fame is no longer a reward for talent or circumstance, but a method for the rest of society to interact.  They’re no longer celebrities, they’re connecting points.  And when they die, we’re not mourning the loss of human being, but the connection that they provided us to other people.

[Pic via discodemons.blogspot.com]