(Air Date: Week Of 10/16/96)
A few years back, Clive James examined the nature of "Fame In The 20th Century" for a clip-filled PBS series & accompanying photo book. Tiation. There is a cruelty to that, but then it would be hypocritical of me to mind too much because...I get tremendous pleasure from other people's failures and I'm a reader of the tabloid press." As we are all to some degree or another. It's the tee-hee-glad-it's-not-me syndrome once identified by the late John Lennon. Hugh Grant makes a fool of himself with Divine Brown so we can savour the realisation that the charming, presumably canny young star is unlikely to receive an application form to join MENSA. We don't KNOW the man on the screen, the tube or the weekly rags and he doesn't know us at all. Like a real relationship, it is fueled by need, but unlike a real relationship, we may never get to meet each other. And when the recipients of fame meet the admirers who've bestowed it on them, there's always an implicit threat. Whitney Houston laments, "You've got people who love you so much they hate you. Hate to love you." Moreover, the most threatening person in the world may be the face in the mirror. While Robert Downey, Jr. plays the jester before & after court appearances, the toll of "the old lizard-brain addiction thing" is clearly no source of amusement to him when he is alone. "Then it's 'Oh, my God.' Then you feel ashamed and you feel like an impostor and you're hiding."
In the Nowhere To Go But Down chapter, a philosophical Henry Winkler observes, "No one stays that hot, but I thought I could," while level-headed Morgan Freeman asks, "What you want is to work, isn't it?" But the time fame is well underway, the most trivial activities are thrown into SUCH enormous relief. Success & failure take on far more disproportionate significance than they would if they were experienced in the luxury of anonymity. While "Toxic Fame" does take note of the perks, the vast majority of its many insider quotes are downbeat. We may never tire of celebrity gossip, but at least we can choose to close the book whenever we like. As over 500 pages of examples from Joey Berlin make clear, the first thing that the newly-famous lose is the sheer simplicity of that option.
Copyright 1996 Monica Sullivan
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