You know that famous cliche, “Be careful what you wish for”? While iterated, it’s seldom heeded. So many of us think we want fame and mass recognition, or affection, yet can’t fully describe the life of a celebrity. In our conceptions, their lives are akin to fairly tales, without significant struggles and full of countless blessings, but that isn’t the image painted by those in the throes of stardom, at least not when it’s authentic. Michael Jordon once remarked that most people had no clue how difficult it was to be him; and, to some extent, that’s true.
I can really only speak on the subject as an outsider; I’ve obviously never been famous. And, I can also speak on it because I once desperately wanted to enter the terrestrial, pearly gates. In my mind, mass appeal guaranteed love and made it worth having; it was the pinnacle of existence, which, in some delusional way, helped one achieve immortality. Fame means so much to so many that I thought it would be helpful to articulate its implications and examine their merit.
To some, fame is just a means to wealth, which is the real, underlying goal. The wealth, as opposed to status, defines them. And it gives them a reason for being. They believe that once they hit some arbitrary number, self-esteem will finally envelop them. To another, fame might equate with the love they never had, representing an even better form of it than the one they missed out on. For a kid like me who was bullied, it was the “I’ll show them” type, the form of love that’s a means in itself, used for retaliation. But fame can also be an end in itself, providing its owner with a sense of certainty as it indicates imperishable and undeniable love. Lastly, if you were to ask Sheldon Solomon (the co-developer of Terror Management Theory), fame implies symbolic immortality, a way to conquer death without achieving an eternal life; the ancient Egyptians taught that one doesn’t die as long as others are speaking of her.
Fundamentally, fame likely means all of these things to each person who yearns for it. Like most of us, the obsessed can easily perceive all of the benefits without any of the sacrifices. Additionally, he or she fails to ask if the benefits are worth making them. What does it mean to sacrifice your life in the present to be known by and spoken about by future strangers? What sort of sacrifices does one have to make to become a millionaire or billionaire? Will the bullies, who are miserable themselves, be significantly affected by your success? And does fame truly present a level of certainty from which one can’t regress?
Whether or not we achieve symbolic immortality, each of us will inevitably die two distinct deaths: the physical and the interpersonal. Eventually, even if you’re Alexander or Achilles, no one will know that you existed and, someday, there will be no one to know that anyone existed; Alexander’s name will perish as that of any one of his now unknown servants. So, is symbolic immortality significant if it propels you into the future without actually defeating the reaper of eternity?
And what does it mean to be loved for your looks, your wealth, your status, and/or your talent? Fame began to lose its luster for me when I considered whether I wanted to be admired for only those things. How good and significant can I feel if the person I love only loves me on account of my social standing? How good and significant can I feel if she didn’t care about my passions, my sorrows, my wishes, and struggles? The downside of success is being loved solely for it. Imagine the internal contention between the aspect of you that tells you she loves you and the part that replies, “Her love stems from your wealth.” Most, if not all, rich and famous types spend their lives wondering why others love them, and what life would be like if all were lost.
Whether you’re better off having and losing or never having at all, I don’t know. I suppose, like so many other aspects of life, fame is a tool and the answer depends on its use. If you don’t obsess over having and keeping it, you can focus on building a life that’s in line with your values. Maybe you won’t choose to date the ultra-attractive super model or continue to please and entertain a mass audience. Maybe you’ll decide to perform your craft in the way you envision it, accepting that most people will eventually get bored with your style as they do with each celerity they fall for and follow. And maybe you’ll realize that you were loved all along and didn’t desperately need to improve.
Most of the people who discount the importance of success will tell you that it can’t make you happy because it’s based on a projection. If you were to ask the rapper and poet Napoleon, he’d tell you that he was someone else during the height of his fame. And Andrew Moffatt would tell you that, despite all of the acclaim bodybuilding affords, it isn’t worth the time lost on a ritualistic endeavor.
When we think of the rich and famous, we think they’re incredibly happy; yet, so many are vicious and miserable. Maybe, like the rest of us, they longed for a happy ending; but, unlike us, eventually became aware of its somber reality.