(This is the result of some things I’ve been pondering over the course of the school year as a result of conversations that I’ve had with my students.)
I was talking to a group of third graders about what they want out of life recently. One of them told me that they wanted to be rich and famous. We talked about what they wanted, and I had to make a confession.
I don’t want to be rich. I don’t want to be famous.
We talked a bit about how I don’t want some of the burdens (mental, practical, or otherwise) that come with wealth. I didn’t get super in depth about it because, well, they’re nine. We don’t need to have an in-depth conversation of wealth or taxes or investment portfolios.
But I decided to elaborate about the fame thing. We live in a fame-obsessed culture, and many of my students talk about wanting to be famous. I wanted to have a brief conversation about why I DON’T want to be famous.
I pulled up this picture on my phone.
As I understand it, this picture was taken when Chris Pine had gotten off a transatlantic flight. Now, Chris Pine is a naturally above average person. However, in my experience, no one looks fabulous when they’ve just gotten off a twelve-hour (or however long) flight. Heck, I can think of two very specific instances in which I probably looked like sheer hell after getting off of a two or three hour flight. (Thanks, motion sickness and rocky landings!)
One thing that I genuinely enjoy about the pleasant anonymity of my life is the fact that when I get off of an airplane (having perhaps just thrown up) no one is trying to take my picture. I can get myself back together and collect my luggage without strangers trying to take my photo and then post said photo all over the internet. It might be nice to jump lines or be first anywhere I go. But to have that sort of attention focused on me all the time? Oh hell no. Being photographed when I go to get coffee or arrive at an airport? No. Thank. You. Every Chipotle burrito I eat becomes a pregnancy rumor? Uh, let’s skip that.
I don’t want to be famous. As I told my third graders, I don’t want to have people obsessing over every aspect of my life. I told them the story of the married writer who interviewed Tom Hiddleston…and then found photos of herself with Tom online in which she was described (with clearly romantic connotations) as a mystery brunette. I don’t want rumors whirling around me. I don’t want my life to be analyzed by random strangers all over the internet.
I find our fame-fixated culture to be a little disturbing. I work with kids who want to be famous. They talk about becoming YouTubers for profit or becoming an online “influencer.” Being an actor or pop star is seen as even more attractive. They see fame as cool, but is that really the kind of life that anyone wants? Do you really want people analyzing every area of your life?
As I’ve been saying, I don’t. I don’t need paparazzi following my family or my relationships around. I don’t want fans writing tumblr posts about why I seemed sad during a press tour or wondering who I was going to date next. I don’t want to google myself and find out that people are writing fan fiction about my life. I don’t know what the answer to this sort of behavior is. I don’t know how we stop treating celebrities like they’re our best friends and we have a right to their lives. I know that we ought to let them just be people, but I don’t know how we make that happen. I also know that some celebrities encourage this sort of behavior. They allow fans to have this limitless access to their lives.
The other day, my friend and I were discussing why our culture embraces “holidays” like “It’s gonna be May” and celebrating Cinco de Mayo when one has no Mexican heritage…or any concept of what the Battle of Puebla actually was. (May I bring some crepes to your Cinco celebration to remind you who won that war?) Her theory, which makes sense to me, is that as we’ve stopped celebrating religious feasts, we’ve “had” to create secular feasts to replace them. If you’re not going to have a big celebration/festival for Pentecost or Easter or any other feast, then you have to find another reason to have a celebration.
I think that our celebrity fascination stems from a similar place. We don’t celebrate Saints anymore. Similarly, there isn’t much attention paid to secular “greats.” But we have celebrities. And with our modern technology, we have all kinds of access to them. That’s made them into our heroes and idols. Now, there’s nothing wrong with having heroes; I think that everyone needs at least one hero. But I think that it’s important to consider why we choose our heroes.
I also think that our current technology allows us to have seemingly unlimited access to our heroes, which can be dangerous. (After all, who was it who said that we should never meet our heroes?) We can learn too much. We can see flaws and judge the things that we don’t like. But it can also be hard on the heroes. Having unlimited access to a person can wear on that person. Imagine being Chris Pine having someone take pictures of you when you’ve just gotten off an international flight. As I said above, you couldn’t pay me to deal with that. Imagine being almost any famous person and having your personal life dissected by complete strangers.
I think this is all unfair to famous people, and it’s not a life I’d want. I don’t think that I’ll manage to change my students’ minds, but I can still try to present what I believe to be my rational point of view. Reason doesn’t cost anything. I may never change the world, but maybe I’ll get a few people to at least think about my opinion.