Fame. Notoriety. Our fascination with famous people. Our fascination with those who are famous. One of the things I like to do in podcasting is to focus on the first thoughts I have at the beginning of the day. You might think podcasting in this manner is easy. Unfortunately sometimes these first thoughts turn out to be a lot deeper and complex than first imagined.
Two thoughts ignited Podcast 589-Celebrity Worship. First, the concept of fame itself. Where did it come from? When did it start in the United States? What makes someone famous these days? How is that different from what made someone famous three hundred years ago? Second, we form a bond with famous actors and musicians because of a movie or a song we connected with at a certain time in our life. The performer is forever part of our life because of a performance.
The kick off for these first thoughts is the HBO documentary ‘Bright Lights’ detailing the relationship Carrie Fisher had with her mother Debbie Reynolds. Both of these women are recently deceased. Carrie Fisher from a heart attack and her mother from a stroke shortly thereafter. Some of the content in the documentary has to do with Postcards From The Edge, first a book and then a movie about the relationship between Carrie and her mother, in which Meryl Streep played the role of Carrie Fisher.
All of this connected for me because Streep’s recent comments about the President-Elect at the Golden Globe Awards. The Golden Globes usually has lower viewership than the Academy Awards and would be forgotten save for unsavory comments from Streep this year. While any citizen has the right to say what they want about political events, stars seem to think they can use their fame to tell the rest of us what we should feel, how we should vote and how to live our lives
Back in the day, people became famous for doing something. They discovered a continent, or won a big naval battle, a war, or saved western civilization. One became famous for building a bridge, mass producing an automobile or opening the east to western trade. Great artists and performers became famous for work that changed the world. Today it seems like people become famous for being famous.
The roots of this kind of fame, or notoriety go back a long time. Dime store novels, traveling road shows, Vaudeville, Tin Pan Alley, and the movies. It wasn’t long before you could become famous for just playing someone who had actually accomplished something. Actors who played western heroes, Pharaohs, and Great Leaders became associated with the accomplishments of someone else.
2016 was the first time I’ve seen the media tally the deaths of ‘Celebrities’ as they might natural disasters. We ‘mourned’ the loss of people we did not know as though they were part of the family, and seemed to forget the thousands who have been killed in America’s violent big cities, or in war zones across the world.
Prince, David Bowie, Carrie and Debbie Fisher and many others. Oh! What a loss!
Some people who are famous for a role they played in a movie forty years ago have insights into how fleeting fame is. Carrie Fisher reluctantly came to terms with her connection to the character she played in the original Star Wars, comparing it to her mother’s performance in ‘The Unsinkable Molly Brown’.
Fisher considered herself the ‘caretaker’ of the Princess Leia character, and felt she was irrevocably connected to her. A fact fans sometimes did not seem to understand. Or did they? We wonder what fame and fortune is like because we think of people who are famous and rich at the height of their powers. What is it like when people who live every day of their lives in scrutiny begin to age and decline?
We all love our movies and TV shows. We love our favorite music and performers. Human beings need entertainment. We all love a good story, told well. Great artists don’t do what they do because they want to change the world. They do what they do because doing it is what makes them happy. Sometimes the result of their work is world-changing. I don’t think they know this when they are creating these world changing works. Sometimes too, a movie is just a movie, or a song is a one-hit wonder, or a show only airs for two or three seasons. We want to know the people who write and perform these works, and some of us put them up on a pedestal.
Do we mistakenly worship these people and their works and believe they have some insight or power to be able to tell us how to live our lives or what kind of political system we have? What happens when the works of Hollywood form a bond with the works of fame-seeking politicians in our capitols? Are the performers worthy of our worship? What happens when powerful media mechanisms make politicians famous for being famous?