Thursday, April 10, 2008

Fame is Fickle

by Karen D. Swim


They're coming, they're coming! Lady in Orange, Lady in Orange, can I have your autograph? Over here, will you sign my program? You were so good, I loved when you...

It was the back entrance of a small theatre in Hollywood, California, across the street from the famed Pantages. I had just finished my first stage performance as The Lady In Orange one of 5 leads in "For Colored Girls Who Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Wasn't Enuf."

Celebrities had turned out for the performance and snapped my photo in the dressing room. People were clamoring for my autograph and I was heady with the experience.

The reviews were good and a planned two performances extended to a year long gig. Yet here I sit today without an Emmy or autograph seeker in sight.

My brush with small time fame taught me the danger of falling for the hype. How easy it is to believe only the good reviews and to soak up the attention lavished upon you by strangers. Luckily, my faith, friends and family kept me grounded. They reminded me to act because I enjoyed the art form and to ignore the illusions that came with the territory.

Today, our culture seems obsessed with fame. We elevate our public figures to cult status even as we pursue our own 15 minutes in the spotlight.

I have watched with a mixture of amusement and horror as bloggers, authors and business leaders have gained a following that rivals Oprah. I celebrate their success but wonder if "followers" are doing them a disservice. Are we allowing them room to fail, to make a mistake? Have we pressured them to always have the answer? Have we ceded them too much influence over our opinions and choices?

"Well if he said it, it must be true," exclaimed a follower of the current "It Man" in the blogosphere. Have we become so lazy that we no longer critically examine things for ourselves? Do we blindly trust the famous simply because of their high visibility?

Are we capable of forming an opinion contrary to the herd?

The herd mentality scares me. I am all for learning from others and supporting their success. My hope is that we do not yield our own critical reasoning to the herd. In doing so we risk becoming a vanilla blend of sameness. What do you think? Have we gone too far?

Photo credit: Matt Gilluley, Flickr


James Chartrand - Men with Pens said...

I hope the "It" man of the moment wasn't me, and I hope to god that any one who reads my stuff takes it with a grain of salt. Hell, I'm just a guy.

Herd mentality? I hate it. I want people to use their own minds, to think critically. Never follow the crowd unless you know it's right for you because you've looked at all the reasons you should follow and compared them to all the reasons you shouldn't.

As for fame? I love the good reviews and the fandom. Come on, it's fun. But at the end of the day, the computer shuts off and Just James goes to bed. No red cape here.

Words For Hire said...

James, it wasn't you although you have achieved Hero status in my book! I think one of the things I like best about you is your authenticity. I think we all love the good reviews, I mean let's be honest I want to be famous too! LOL! However, I think its safe to say that we both share the philosophy of doing what we love, helping others along the way and challenging people to trust their gut and follow their own path. Are you sure there's no cape, not even a blue one? I always feel the urge to look up when I'm reading your blog. :-)

Jesse Hines said...

"Are we capable of forming an opinion contrary to the herd?"


That's a great question, and you're right, it has real relevance for the people who follow the high-traffic, often referenced big bloggers with their own fan chorus.

There's nothing wrong with bloggers aspiring to and attaining to big-time status, but those of us who are smaller should retain our independent thought--often.

Good post.

Anonymous said...

Herd mentality quite frankly terrifies me. That's why I try and blog in a way that empowers the individual to accept and celebrate their uniqueness and endorses the validity of different perspectives and opinions.
A really great piece of writing, Karen!

Words For Hire said...

Jesse, what a great perspective. I think being small affords us the luxury of independent thought although if I accidentally become an A-list blogger you will hear no complaints! :-)

Amy,you are living up to your mission and continue to inspire me daily. I have embraced my inner schizophrenia and decided I rather like being different.


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Darren Daz Cox said...

we've gone too far when we think everything is just peachy, but I have to take a slightly contrary view on the whole 'obsessed with fame' thing.

It appears, and that appearance is reinforced by the media that we are obsessed with celebrities and personal fame, but when you actually look at the numbers, not that big of a percentage of people watch any one particular 'reality' tv show or buy celebrity magazines.

Heck, they practicly give you the magazines for free these days just to keep the circulation numbers high don't they?

No, fame isn't as important as self expression, often fame is the result of self expression, but not always the goal.

Words For Hire said...

Darren, thanks for the perspective. While I agree the media certainly feeds the frenzy, I firmly believe there is a "fan frenzy." This is of course largely driven by the ease of distributing and accessing information 24/7. Magazine subscriptions may have dropped for some but many have not and don't forget the companion websites.

Ellen Wilson said...

I think too many people take offense to criticism. I don't mind if someone comes on my blog and disagrees with me. It keeps the conversation going. It's healthy, and seems somewhere along the way we have forgotten the fine art of questioning and critical thinking. God knows I tried to get the kids wrestle with it when I was teaching!

As for fame? Well, you know I like Oprah, and I wish she was running for president...but I will settle if she choosed my book in her picks.

Great post, Karen.

Ellen Wilson said...

Chose! I meant chose! Chose my book for her picks. Oh, I hate it when I catch my errors later. Too bad there isn't an editing device to go along with all blogs - 'cause once you push that button...Poof! May your errors live in infamy.