We live in the age of the celebrity, a time when everybody wants to be famous. So powerful is the lust for fame that we're prepared to acquire it through personal humiliation. Every day scores of people go on television talk shows and reveal their most embarrassing secrets--the affairs they're having, the money they've stolen, the aliens that have abducted them--all in an effort to get their 15 minutes.

To be sure, in every generation people have wanted fame. But they weren't prepared to pay any price for it. A man in Wisconsin who killed eight people wrote to the police to say that he continued killing because after the first two murders his name hadn't appeared in the newspapers.

Is it possible that the modern lust for fame actually stems from not feeling loved? Is it possible that we all require public approbation today because few of us receive private adulation?

The essence of a relationship is to be a celebrity--a celebrity only to one person. There's this man to whom you're famous. He puts your picture up on his wall, saves your silly mementos, stares at you when you're both out in public. When you walk into the room he drops everything to notice you. And he's totally absorbed by your presence.

A celebrity to one might have only one fan, but that fan is a real fan--one who's never going to drop you for a younger starlet. If you go bankrupt or develop three chins, your devoted fan will still stick around.

If you suffer public ridicule, she won't abandon you. As you grow older, your picture won't come down from the wall and replaced by a picture of a newer quarterback. Your fame is not ephemeral in your fan's eyes. It's eternal.

I sometimes hang around and offer counsel to some famous people, and I've noticed a curious phenomenon about being a celebrity. They start out wishing they were famous. They work hard at their music or acting careers. Little by little it happens. People start reading about them in the papers, then seeing them on television, then recognizing them on the street. Before they know it, their dream has become a reality. They're famous. All over America, people talk about them at dinner parties.

Suddenly, a curious phenomenon comes to pass. After achieving all the public recognition they'd sought, they become reclusive. They get sick and tired of people bugging them on the streets. They shrug off autograph seekers. They begin wear dark sunglasses and checking into hotels under fictitious names.

Why does this happen? Why do they develop contempt for the public they'd courted? Because they perceive their fans as wanting something from them without ever giving. The celebrities begin to feel used and cheap, like the world's whore.

The contempt is significantly compounded by the fact that for so long they have empowered the public with their sense of self-worth--living their whole lives to impress them and devoting their every waking moment to getting their attention. And who are these people for whom they've worked so hard and sacrificed so much? A bunch of worthless scoundrels. Which makes the celebrities ever more reclusive, not merely out of contempt but out of shame. To think that they've squandered their lives on a group of people who showed little appreciation anyway and left them the moment their star began to fade!

Unhealthy fame leads to reclusiveness. But healthy fame leads to the opposite. When you find that one big fan that you've always been looking for-- when you enter into a relationship in which someone admires and cherishes you-- instead of hiding, you learn to open up. Rather than become cynical, you learn to trust. This intimate and devoted fan that you've been fortunate to acquire doesn't want to take anything from you, only to give. Your happiness becomes that person's happiness.

Being a celebrity to one probably won't get you your own television show. Nor will it get the maitre d' to save you that exclusive table right near the fireplace or make strangers to come up to you on the street asking for your autograph. But no matter what you do and where you go, you'll always have a fan club right there in the privacy and comfort of your own home.

more from beliefnet and our partners
Close Ad