View Full Version : A Few Words About Fame

01-27-05, 06:32 AM
A Few Words About Fame

January 26, 2005

by Burt Prelutsky


Years ago, I had a friend with whom I had a running debate over the merits of fame versus money. He, having family money, naturally argued in favor of fame. All he wanted out of life was to have strangers recognize him in the street. My rebuttal was that if you had money, you could easily acquire fame. I still stand by that. For goodness sake, all you have to do is look at Donald Trump.

In our society, money spent on behalf of self-promotion will always pay off. For the first time in history, huge numbers of people have become famous for no other reason than that they want to be. There are publicists in every major American city who earn a decent living simply by getting their otherwise anonymous clients invited to social gatherings, and then getting the guest lists published in the papers.

It has always mystified me why people would pay to see their names in print in such a context. I mean, what's going on in their heads? Do they imagine their friends and neighbors will read the list and then gnash their teeth, while muttering, "I'm green with envy! How is it that the Kluttermans get invited to all these chi-chi events when old Charley can't tell the difference between rumaki and pigs in a blanket?!"

There are large numbers of people who obviously subscribe to the nutty notion that it doesn't matter what is said about you just so long as your name is spelled right. But, if you don't happen to be one of those people, they can seem as alien as Martian fruitcakes.

The whole idea of fame, of celebrityhood separate from achievement, is a unique modern concept. It wasn't that long ago that you had to be a Chaplin, a Garbo, a Lindbergh, an Einstein, a Hemingway, an Edison, a Babe Ruth, to be notable. Now, thanks to the mass media's gigantic maw, it's no trick at all. Be a victim, be a hostage, be a sex toy, be a monster, be a freak, be Monica Lewinsky or Charles Manson, and, overnight, Barbara Walters and Larry King will turn you into a household name.

One odd side effect of fame is that, in spite of its often highly publicized pitfalls -- drug addiction, poverty, loneliness, even suicide -- millions of youngsters are lined up, dying to emulate their icons. Some of them are confident that they will somehow manage to avoid the excesses that doomed the likes of Elvis, Marilyn and James Dean, while others simply don't care -- ready and willing to swap forty or fifty years of life for the chance to wind up on a poster.

Fame as a bought-and-paid-for commodity strikes me as most peculiar. In its basic form, it means you are widely known to countless numbers of anonymous people, most of whom you would despise if you knew them as individuals. And of course the irony is that once your fantasy comes true, you have to build high walls and employ armed bodyguards to keep the horde of goofs at a safe distance.

Finally, I would say there is nothing wrong with fame, in and of itself. Cure polio, you deserve to be famous. But, go to a party, you only deserve to be fed.

Burt Prelutsky