Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Price of Fame

Fame always brings loneliness. Success is as ice cold and lonely as the North Pole.
~Vicki Baum, Grand Hotel

I'm sure this blog will be one of thousands written today citing the death of singer, Whitney Houston yesterday. While it is not my intention to make this entry about Ms. Houston or to speculate on the cause of her death,  it does serve as a jumping off point to ask the question, "What is the price of fame?"

This week in a writing class I'm taking, the question was raised, "Why do we write?"  Are we looking to get rich? Famous? Or is it something we feel compelled to do?  For me, I began writing as a way to entertain myself. Some kids told stories; I told mine on paper. Now I write because something is missing in me when I don't.  I know I've read or seen interviews with famous actors and actresses who say they act because they don't know how to do anything else.  That's probably true as they see it, but I'm willing to bet there's another talent lying in there somewhere.  They just haven't shared that with the world.  It's their own, and it's not part of their "brand."

Today, when we treat everything and everyone as a commodity, people feel the pressure to "brand" themselves. This brand is the image they present to the world.  Every choice they make has to support that brand.  This is why you'll never see a photo of Meryl Streep cleaning a toilet.  Great actresses don't clean toilets, or so we're told.  If a photo leaked out of Ms. Streep cleaning the commode, you can bet a publicist would quickly put out a press release stating that she was researching a role.

The main problem with branding is when the celebrities start believing in their own brands or allowing themselves to be trapped by it.  Was Whitney Houston just a singer?  No, she was also a woman, a mother, a daughter.   When the voice starts to fade as some do with age, does she become irrelevant?  The press, and the recording industry will tell you yes.   I hate that word, relevant or irrelevant.  Who are any of us to say whether someone is relevant, but I digress.

As a celebrity who has enjoyed all the advantages of fame, like Ms. Houston, hears these things, the pressure builds to stay on top in an industry where no one can stay on top forever. You're living under a microscope and there is always someone younger or more talented ready to take your place.  She becomes a victim of her own brand, "superstar" when maybe all she ever wanted was to sing.

Many people follow their dreams and it never leads them to fame, but yet their dreams get fulfilled.  There are thousands of character actors out there who are making a living at what they love, yet you can't think of their names when you see them and the paparazzi aren't camped out in front of their house dissecting their every move.  Are they happy? Probably.   There are writers who make a good living writing and you might not know them if you tripped over them on the street.  Are they any less happy because of it?

There are so many ways of becoming famous today.  With the flood of reality shows, ordinary (and sometimes idiotic) people can become famous.  Cameras following you everywhere and publicists deciding if you're still relevant. Does that mean you're living your dream? Only if your dream is just to be famous.

Fame has it's perks, no one will deny that, but in the end, fame is like a drug.  You can never get enough and a little bit can be enough to kill you.

As the world mourns Whitney Houston and the talent she shared with us, I hope she has found peace at last.    I hope she realizes the truth behind the lyrics to one of her songs.

"Learning to love yourself, is the greatest love of all."

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