Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Preposterousness of Celebrity

Okay, this post got a little out of hand...grab your coffee....

Is there a tipping point when fame becomes a hindrance to happiness?

At the TONY Awards after party I think I hindered the personal happiness of Cynthia Nixon, who played Miranda Hobbs on Sex and the City. I don't watch much TV, and never read celebrity magazines. Which is bad luck for those involved in shows I DO watch, because they become a focus of intense adoration. If I ever meet the creators of South Park...my mind becomes confused at the number of ways I could embarrass myself....

Miranda I loved especially- her dry wit, loyalty to her friends, her vulnerability and her courage. Me and Miranda had been through a lot. Seeing her sitting at a nearby table (and having finished wolfing down my assortment of food from the buffet) I dithered, enquired to Danny as to the least offensive way to approach her then launched over to her table. Of course I knew it wasn't 'Miranda' but some part of me wanted to connect to the person I already felt so connected to.

Above is a pic of Danny (the friend who got us into the Tonys) and I. Okay you can't tell we're at the Tony's but we are. We were z-list so went in the back door.

Ms. Nixon kindly set done her cutlery and waited for the diatribe, which I, crouching beside her chair, promptly provided: "I know it was a long time ago but I loved the show, Miranda was my favorite character, wanted to thank you blah de blah de blah.."

She crinkled her eyes at me and thanked me. I added a little blather. She picked up her fork. I duly got up from my crouching position, and as her friends at the table sighed....I suddenly realized I had NO IDEA who it was that I had just spoken to. As a reasonable judge of people's underlying feelings and thoughts, I would also say fairly accurately that while my approach was not hostile or aggressive, it was trying for her. SHE KNEW that I had no idea who she was. There was disappointment and disillusionment on one side, and a kind of gentle, tired resignation on the other.

If I'd have approached this with more wisdom, I'd have thought about what it was in her rendition of the character of Miranda that touched me so much. What aspect of the thought and effort Cynthia put into her work that carried over into the heart of one person watching. Really, it was irrelevant that Miranda was MY favorite character. From her perspective, if indeed I was thankful, I was thankful for her creating a character that helped me (and my friends) through some tough times, made us laugh and entertained us. It was her skill in her craft that allowed that to happen.

The point is, my immediate reaction was obviously a common one. How many fans really think about an actor's motivation or skill behind the weaving of character? The very nature of celebrity ignores these aspects, instead focusing on the person as worthy of attention purely because a lot of people recognize their face.

Fame in most senses is a one-sided relationship - where the fan has a relationship with a celebrity, based on his or her perception of how that person relates to his or her life. They have a history, but it is all one-sided.

Sure, the more savvy fans would restrict their emotional ties to the character, yet so much in our society promotes adoration of the protagonist. To whose benefit?

Walking away from the table, not only did I feel a trifle silly, I also felt a twang of empathy. Remembering the times I'd been approached by overly-friendly people who had no idea who I was. Usually in such cases I jump to the immediate conclusion that they are going to invite me to their church, or to join a pyramid shopping scheme. Now imagine being approached by 10, or even 50 of those people per day!

The next night, I was at another event where I happened upon a man who was a big part of my favorite film of this year, the documentary Air Guitar Nation. Bjorn Turoque (not his real name...duh) has made the art of air guitar his life's focus.

Air Guitar Nation chronicles the American regional try-outs for the world Air Guitar Championships, and the finals in Finland themselves. Without ruining the film for you, lets just say Bjorn puts in extraordinary effort - an almost maniacal focus and belief in himself as the best, despite what the judges may think. The below pic is of Bjorn Turoqe (right) with arch nemisis C-Diddy.

When I mentioned that I'd seen the film and it was my favorite of the year, he said, with some disappointment - "Yes, you were only one of the two people who saw it." (Incidentally, probably because of how he was portrayed in the film, I didn't have any overwhelming desire to make a complete gushing idiot of myself this time. It was, I think, a fairly normal conversation.)

It's unlikely you've seen the film; it had only limited release. So you'll have to trust me when I say that Bjorn desires fame. It is apparent in his words, and more so in his actions. There is a desperateness portrayed in the film - he seems to be seeking not only acceptance, but adoration. Which is not unusual. After all, isn't that what we're led to believe celebrity generates?

If Bjorn really had fame, would he really want it still? Would the outpouring of goodwill and curiosity increase his level of happiness? Almost definitely it would leave him wanting more, as the adoration would be hollow. That is, his fans would adore him, but not know him as - and this is my assumption - he wants them to. This is DESPITE him being in a documentary; the portrayal is still just that, a cut and pasted character that propels the storyline.

And if it is art we're adoring, really, would his fans appreciate the intricacies of the air guitar moves he pulls out? Is that a really silly question? Or am I giving higher credence to Cynthia Nixon's almost 30 year career purely based on my own paradigms?

Does the desire for external approval correspond directly with the amount of art and skill required to perform the role? In other words, if you're really passionate about something for reasons other than gaining fame, does external approval matter? If the skill requires concentration and sweat, passion and internal rewards, what affect does it have when other people compliment your work? And, if the practice, whatever it is, is fairly easy, requires little thought or effort or talent...do we then need more or less approval in order to feel happy in ourselves?

Could Flow be a critical factor in the personal well-being of celebrities?

Did Tolstoy crave fame? Michaelangelo? Do U2 or...Bic Runga or the Killers or (insert great living jazz legend) create music so that people will know who they are?

What about Britney and those like her whose songs are not their own, who mould their careers around what will bring in the most public attention... Was the catalyst for her 'fall' the realization that the adoration she craved was empty? Was it because her 'art' couldn't hold her up on its own? Then again, plenty of talented actors/musicians etc fall into drugs and alcohol and depression. Perhaps the aggressiveness of fame, the momentary elation that always needs to be surpassed next time to gain a greater high, overwhelms the internal processes and parameters.

Celebrity is pleasure versus gratification at its most grand and terrific. And in this case, the pull of pleasure is so intense and so powerful...even many thoughtful, talented and committed people fall to its endless cycle of distorted emotion.

Given all of this, in my opinion (which may change!) the best sort of fame must be that which is devoid of personality, yet still recognizes the efforts that go into the art. It must be based on a sense of flow, the intense effort and concentration tied directly to personal, internal rewards. Recognition is not in itself a bad thing, I think. Nor are compliments where given truly.

And for fans, it is best to do no more than appreciate what is on offer, and not to try and work out the person beneath. That person is none of our business - it is their art which they have shared freely, nothing else. And the art should be enough.


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