Thursday, 9 April 2009

The Price of Fame

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

Have just spent thirty-six hours ill in bed, feeling rather doleful and old-ladyish. I consoled myself with Nick Cohen's excellent new collection (the section on quack medicine is worth the cover price alone and reminds me that I must go back and re-read Francis Wheen on why mumbo jumbo has conquered the world) and also those kind of forbidden publications that feature large glossy photographs of the famous. I pretend that I never read these because I am excessively highbrow, and far too busy thinking about quantitative easing and the scourge of moral relativism to have time for fripperies. But occasionally even I have an unconquerable urge to find out what Brangelina is up to. And I was shocked, shocked I tell you, when I saw a banner headline yelling: Stars in Crisis!

I was concerned to find out what this crisis could be. Had the San Andreas fault finally taken its cosmic revenge? Were the studios going bankrupt because Bernie Madoff had run off with all their money? Was the collapse of Western capitalism causing the stars to question their very way of life?

It turned out that three women were having, according to 'sources', a not very good week. Madonna was not allowed to adopt a little girl ('Madonna does not do failure' apparently); Angelina Jolie was cross because Brad Pitt is acting opposite an attractive woman; and Jennifer Aniston has, and this may be my favourite, 'sworn off men' because John Mayer keeps ringing her up.

I admit that 'some famous women have not very good week' is not the kind of headline that grabs the attention in the same way that 'stars in crisis' does. I quite see that the entertainment industry runs on hyperbole, by its very nature. But there is a hysterical excess in this that gets the pedant and the puritan and the precisionist in me cross and ruffled. Words matter, as Barack Obama will tell you, if you ask nicely. In headline terms, a crisis is Darfur, or North Korea, or what is happening to the girls in Afghanistan. If crisis is Angelina Jolie having a bit of green-eye, then the very word is drained of meaning.

As I lay on my sick bed, aching as if I had been kicked all over by a small Shetland pony, I had one other thought about all this. One of the oddities of the contemporary age is that everyone, apparently, wants to be famous. I am not entirely certain this is true, but it is a constant trope - the young people do not want to learn to sing or dance or write, they just want fame as an end in itself. The more apocalyptic commentators regard this as the single proof of the End of Civilisation As We Know It. If it is the case, I wonder why. The famous always seem to be having a horrible time. Their marriages are on the rocks, their plastic surgery goes wrong, they are busted for crystal meth. Some of them, like Joaquin Phoenix, just go frankly nuts in public. Even if, like lovely Hugh Laurie, they earn big money and get awards and have number one hit shows, the magazines run one grumpy photograph as proof that the wages of fame is utter misery. The women must always be hungry, because if they put on weight their careers are over. If they break up from someone, they are 'doomed in love'.
Faced with all that, would you not just want to stay at home and have a nice cup of tea instead? I'm just asking.


  1. Must remind myself not to drink tea while reading your insights. My laptop is now covered. Oh the Shetland pony reference is going to have me laughing for days.
    Isn't the entertainment industry truly ridiculous. I live this everyday.
    My barometer of normalcy is my sister who's an Aid worker in Darfur.

  2. So Lovely - Am SO impressed by yr sister - spend half my life wracked with liberal angst about not going and saving the children of Africa single-handed. I know each to each and all that. But still. Hurl cash at the Red Cross in guilty compensation.

    Glad you liked Shetland pony reference. It has always amazed me that everyone thinks they are so cute when they are famously the most bad-tempered creatures in the world. All those poor little girl forced to ride them when small, and now are scarred for life. Thelwell to blame, no doubt.

    Meant to say - loved your aeroplane parable. xx

  3. I cannot imagine anything WORSE than fame. Because famous women aren't allowed to get old, are they? Rich - yes please. Famous - NO THANK YOU VERY MUCH!

  4. Being famous is my worst nightmare. To be recognised for what you do, to be respected and understood - yes please. To be attacked for what you do, known by all, stripped of all dignity - no thanks.

    Btw - over halfway through the book. Love it, and have already had a number of orders put in by inspired workmates as gifts of wisdom for themselves and those they love!

  5. Am starting to think I am preaching to the converted. One other thing I think must be exceptionally strange about fame: when you meet someone, they know everything about you, and you know nothing about them. This makes conversation extremely one-sided.

    Cassandra - Did you see the article by Kira Cochrane in the Guardian about how no one famous gets any older any more? Quite sinister. It's the kind of thing you sort of knew, but when you see all the ten years on pictures it gives you a bit of a turn.

    Mystery - SO SO pleased you are enjoying the book. Gives me a warm feeling all over.

  6. I have bought your book to take to hospital with me to read after I give birth to my third child (sorry, if I already posted this previously, my brain is so addled I can´t remember). I am dying to start reading it, but need to wait another week :)

  7. RML - what a great compliment that you should want to have the book with you at such a momentous time. Very best of British luck with the baby. Always thrilling to think of a whole new little human arriving in the world. Taniax

  8. Fame is a most pernicious drug. Having had a (pathetically and infintessimally) small, poisonous taste of it at an earlier point in my life I can quite easily see how people become addicted to it and find it hard to wean themselves. It is also all too easy to see how, in our celebrity crazed culture, young people (side note, I'm SO FUCKING OLD) do not feel that they are valid unless they are visible by others, and fame is the measure of this. What one is famous for is completely irrelevant, as is the distinction between fame and notoriety, so being a porn star has a similar cache to being an Oscar winner or Olympian (and perhaps more). There are too many people floating around feeling disconnected from themselves, from each other, from their communities and feeling thoroughly invisible and unloved. This is why fame is so attractive - if the whole world is thinking about you and looking at you, you have the illusion that you are not alone and that your life is imbued with meaning, even if you do not actually take any action. Like winning a lottery rather than earning your keep, sort of. Sorry for the ramble, this captured my not very structured thoughts (it's been a long, sugary Easter!)

  9. Motherhood - excellent rant. Can only add one of my favourite John Updike quotes: 'fame is a mask that eats away the face'.


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