Why We Need Celebrities
During his first visit to Hollywood, a friend of ours wanted more than anything else to see celebrities. He wasn’t interested in any particular person, such as the star of his favorite crime drama or the pinup girl action movie heroine whose poster he has hanging in his garage. Any star would do. “I just want to go home [to Oregon] and say I saw somebody,” he explained.
The dozens of non-famous people he would meet during his long-weekend stay apparently didn’t qualify as anyone, so our friend spent much of his visit at Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, in hip Venice neighborhood coffee houses, and at trendy nightclubs along Sunset Boulevard, all places, he reckoned, where his elusive quarry might be spotted.
Indeed. Being a celebrity, more than anything in our rapidly disintegrating culture, is the highest rank one can achieve, an even loftier station than being rich. (Happily, being rich is usually a subset of being a celebrity, so by achieving the zenith you also enjoy the one-step-below status.) Distinguishing oneself from the billions of indistinguishable human beings who haven’t managed to become famous for looks, talent, or an ability to garner media attention, isn’t easy; the ones who have managed the feat have beaten long odds.
Take Paris Hilton, for example. Her claim to fame is making a videotape of herself fellating a not-very-well-hung boyfriend. This is something many people do. But Ms. Hilton’s tape was special because she’s an heiress and somewhat more attractive than most people who make home porno. Now she has an unwatchable television show, a line of perfume, and the requisite pack of photographers trailing her perambulations from nightclub to restaurant to fabulous party. Which, of course, certifies her as someone of considerable interest, since most blowjob artists don’t attract paparazzi everywhere they go. Ergo, she’s a celebrity, someone to be celebrated — someone who’s realized the American dream of being noticed.
Our friend is a man of above average intelligence, someone who has “made it” in many senses. He has money and property and children, and wants for very little. But his life garners no attention. No one claps for him. Sexy young women don’t throw themselves at him — not unless he’s tipping them in a strip club. There’s nothing glamorous about his life. The people he admirers — the famous — have everything he doesn’t, which, he imagines, must be wonderful.
Maybe he’s right. Maybe the fairy tale world of prettiness and intrigue that we’re made to believe our stars inhabit is demonstrably better and more fulfilling than the banal universe of responsibility, integrity, and sacrifice in which so many “normal” people live. If that’s so, however, all the lessons that school and church and family teach us — you know, the ones about leading an honorable and generous life — are as empty of meaning as the pages of People magazine. If all that really matters at the end of the day is your Q rating, then all but a few anointed souls are living right.
We need our celebrities, it seems, because they personify the hope that not everyone leads a life of quiet desperation — and therefore there’s a chance, however dim, that one day our personal star will shine, too. If it doesn’t, that’s OK. Because someone out there, at least, is a somebody.
And he’s probably nice to look at.