I have been thinking about fame a lot. You know, the state of being known or talked about by many people, sometimes results in a more than healthy bank account.
When I was a little girl, I wanted to be famous. My favourite child star was Tosin Jegede; She was my age and she looked like me and she was on TV. I wanted to be her.
Perhaps on a subconscious level, that is informed by love for the arts. I loved performing. I could sing, so I sang. I could speak quite articulate and was never intimidated by a crowd, so I joined the drama team and the debate team and any other available team that would put me in front of people.
The older I became, however, the idea of being famous gradually lost its appeal. As I got to know myself, it became clearer that my personality wasn’t suited for the life I thought I wanted.
While my job sometimes requires me to be in people’s faces, my reclusive nature helps me keep things balanced and in check; and at this point in my career, I think it’s safe to say I’ve found a sweet spot where I’m able to do what I love, the way that works for me.
I work at the intersection of the creative and media industries and my job constantly puts me in and around the company of famous, has been famous and want to be famous people.
Imagine if you create a product and the success of that product in the market is not determined by whether or not it’s a good product, but if the consumers like you, what they think about you or whether they see you or hear about you enough to decide if they like you before even considering your product.
It’s a weird world to live in. The struggle for likeability, the struggle to be seen, to constantly be in the news and talked about has led (and is leading) many creatives in the entertainment space into a dark hole they cannot crawl out of.
There was a time artists were allowed to just create. They could be a hermit if they liked. All they needed was to create and a bevvy of hands was available to handle promotions, marketing, media relations, fan relations etcetera.
Social media changed the game for everyone.
Now, instead of waiting for press releases crafted by a professional; a tweet, Instagram/ Snapchat photo, video or Facebook post is all that is needed to send the press running to click publish.
Fan mail? What is that? The audience has a direct line of communication open via comments and sometimes private messaging and Live video sessions on social apps replaced press conferences.
Why wait for reviews by publications when they can literally see the audience’s reaction to a new release on their Twitter feed?
It started out as a good thing; a way to connect with the fans, be more relatable, increase the likeability factor. You know…behind the scenes video here, a make-up free photo there, an impromptu QnA with the fans and so on.. and it worked. Until it became toxic.
I suppose it’s inevitable. Opening up a window for the world to look into your life, have opinions and share those opinions is an invitation to experience humanity at its messiest.
It’s a difficult path to tread. Especially in a world where most people believe a public career means a forfeit to the right to dignity, empathy and basic decency. A world where living vicariously through a celebrity is the only form of escapism a lot of people can afford.
It’s tough if you are that celebrity.
Your humanity is constantly judged, your vulnerability becomes a weapon that can be used against you; your mistakes are no longer private, every step, look, action and inaction is analysed, questioned, dissected and becomes fodder for hot takes and public opinion.
Friendships and relationships are no longer simple or easy. Everyone is working at an angle. You’re no longer just a person who happens to be talented; you’re a ladder for social mobility, an ATM for the constantly needy, a product to be marketed and sold to brands and corporations, an idea for the public to gaze up to.
You’re not human anymore. You’re an object; to be adored or kicked at the whim of the general public.
Yet more and more people like moths to a flame, are attracted to this life. They want fame. The public gaze, attention, exposure, everything. That’s why if they’re not auditioning for reality TV or whatever else is out there, they’re making sure to document every little aspect of their lives on social media and call attention to it.
It is what drives their need to be involved in every social media debate, have a very loud opinion on just about everything, “call out” people they could have chosen to have a private conversation with (if there’s any conversation to be had).
Is fame itself a bad thing? I believe it isn’t. The wealth, access, proximity to power, preferential treatment, privilege and public adoration, are all wonderful and alluring perks to being famous. Fame can and has been used for good in the world.
The question that gnaws at me, however, is ‘how can a celebrity survive fame’?
Even if they use their celebrity status to make the world slightly better, how can they survive the inevitable onslaught of human expectations, projections, biases, criticisms and judgment?
A former reality TV Star, Anto Lecky, once opened up about the pressures to keep up as a celebrity.
She wrote on Instagram:
View this post on Instagram
It’s easy to say ‘ignore’. ‘Don’t pay attention to the negatives’ ‘Stay away from social media’s etc… but that brings us right back to the same place we started from; the place where their very livelihood is tied to public acceptance, opinion and sentiment.
It’s a vicious circle.
I don’t have the answers. I only wish we, the members of the general public and support structure whose work and lives sometimes intersect, can be better and do better as human beings, to see not an object, but a person with fears, feelings, pains, joy and all range of human emotions, same as us.
To acknowledge our shared human experiences and stop placing fellow humans on impossible pedestals.
To give others grace, as much as we give ourselves and as much as we would love to be given.