Fame

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(Fame) I’m gonna live forever

I’m gonna learn how to fly (High!!!)

I feel it coming together People will see me and cry (Fame)

I’m gonna make it to heaven

Light up the sky like a flame (Fame!)

I’m gonna live forever

Baby remember my name (Remember, remember!!! x 10,000,000)

Do you remember that show from the 80’s? I believe they made a remake of it a few years ago. It’s not nearly as popular as the original, of course. It was folly to remake Fame, just as it was foolish to remake the Karate Kid. Why ruin perfection?

Anyhow, I have been giving quite a bit of thought to the concept of fame – or rather how much importance society has put on it – for the last few weeks. It’s as if there is a gnawing, growing hunger and thirst that cannot be satiated with each passing generation. It’s like a virus or a famine, devouring everything in its. We haven’t escaped it our house, what with my oldest daughter stating repeatedly that her only quest in life is to be “famous”.

Like thousands of other children across America with the same goal, the girl has some talent, but not enough to compete with the likes of Quvenzhane Wallis or one of the Smith babies. We just can’t afford to divert the resources to get her to that level just yet…and that is what has me concerned about this Plague of Fame sweeping the country.

I visited with my sister-in-law a few days ago. She asked me how things were going with my book. I told her sales were slow, but that was because I hadn’t devoted a lot of time to marketing. Marketing, speaking, and all the accoutrements that go hand-in-glove with becoming a “famous author” are the things that many writers hate doing. I don’t want to market my books: I just want to write something people will enjoy and repeat that process 35 or more times over. This is why I will probably not become a “famous author”, at least in my lifetime. There is a possibility for fame after death, but we’ll come back to that.

As I was saying, I was chatting with my sister, and I asked her what was going on in her life in turn. She told me about a kid in her neighborhood who had done the unthinkable.

“He was a really sweet kid,” she said half way through our conversation. “He was a straight A student, had a ton of friends in his high school, and was well-liked in our neighborhood. He never did anything, except study, go to his after school clubs, and came home.”

“What do you think drove him to it?” I asked. My mouth was dry and my heart was heavy with sadness.

“Well,” she said slowly, “I think it was because when he went off to college, he wasn’t the biggest fish in the pond anymore. He was just another guppy in a huge lake.”

“He became a number…”I murmured.

“Exactly. And because everything had come so easy to him at home for so long, in his classwork…he had a set method of success that wasn’t working in this new environment…he couldn’t handle it. He wasn’t doing well in his studies. No one knew him. So he came home during Spring Break…”

And shot himself in his bedroom with a rifle, from lungs to neck. He didn’t survive. His life was cut short so soon, mostly because he didn’t have faith in the person he might have become.

This is one of the more extreme examples of the lengths young people will go to in order to reconcile the sense of failure they feel with “fame” or “renown” eludes them. I imagine there is no small amount of depression that precedes or accompanies these feeling as well. I distinctly recall scoffing when I read the story about Danny Bowman, a young teen in England who became suicidal after repeatedly failing to take the perfect selfie. It seemed silly – asinine, really – at first, but then you realize that this need to capture the perfect image of one’s self has less to do with self-obsession and more to do with how you think the world views you. (Please feel free to disagree with me on this point in the comments section.)

I think many of us Generation Xers who suffer from our own brand of Peter Pan Syndrome have done a piss poor job of preparing our kids for disappointment. In a way, I understand why. We still think we’re invincible: we rode bikes without helmets, lived in homes swathed in asbestos and lived to tell the tale, so why shouldn’t our children be just as unbreakable? Because our kids don’t/will never have the benefit of having the strength and intelligence of our Baby Boomer parents. We have cushioned our kids from any semblance of dissatisfaction, minimized almost every opportunity for them to experience delayed gratification, and set them up expect success with minimal effort on their part. One has only to go to Chuck E Cheese and watch an eight year old fall to pieces because he can’t get his balls in the skee-ball hole and retrieve his tickets!

There is nothing wrong with wanting to be famous or to be exceptional and what you do. I wish more people would pursue exceptionalism, rather than mediocrity. (Maybe we would have evolved to grow wings by now, who knows.) My concern is how we have been conditioned to experience fame; i.e. when it supposed to be valuable to us.

zora-neale-hurston_sSome of the most famous people in popular culture today only became so because they died. John Keats died a penniless, depressed dope head and gave us some of the most amazing poetry in English lit today. Johann Sebastian Bach might have fallen into antiquity and forgotten memory if not for Amadeus Mozart, who was an ardent follower and admirer of Bach and popularized him as a composer. Similarly, Alice Walker revived the work of Zora Neal Hurston when Walker reintroduced the 1937 novel Their Eyes Were Watching God to a new generation who had no idea about of Ms. Hurston. The examples are endless. Could any of these people have imagined in the depths of their drudgery, when all their work seemed as though it were in vain, when they received little or no recognition for their brilliance that 200, 100, 15 years thence they would be celebrated for their work?

In months when I haven’t sold a single unit of my book, it’s hard to imagine. For the kid who can’t figure out how to make his app work or get that technical dance move just right, it might feel the same way. This is when it becomes oh-so important that you – as an individual – recognize your worth and your brilliance and your beauty first. Don’t wait for the world to validate you. The world is fickle: they will sing your praises one day and call for your head the next.

Just ask President Obama.

What do you think, Reader? Do you think the timing of fame is more important than its achievement? Would you rather be a celebrity in your lifetime or have a legacy that outlived you? Do the spoils of your toil matter if you are not there to witness or enjoy them? Discuss! ↓