Lust for Fame

Just [me] and those wonderful people out there in the dark.
—Norma Desmond, Sunset Boulevard, film

Fame is generally held as the prime measure of success. The obsession for it, even for a fleeting moment, has never been more intense than it is now that the electronic age is in full bloom.

We are all familiar with the justifiable radiance of a woman on her wedding day; a mother when she sees her newborn for the first time; a man who shares those joys with her. But this radiance pales when compared to that of someone who spots herself on a TV monitor scanning the members of a live audience.

At first sight of herself on the tube something almost mystical happens. Her eyes sparkle like precious gems. They exude a transcendental self-consciousness. She has seen her reflection in mirrors hundreds of times, but what is it that delights her beyond comprehension when she sees her image on the monitor? The answer lies in ancient Greek mythology. Narcissus saw his reflection in a single pool. The studio monitor is just one pool in an ocean of millions of electronic pools reflecting her.

Johnny’s eyes glitter when the camera is turned on him. He can’t resist furtively glancing at the monitor. Although he feigns attention to the subject matter at hand, his inner gaze is on the image of millions watching him. When the show’s host announces that audience members will be questioned for their opinions, his heart beats faster. Who knows? Maybe he will be one of the chosen few to be asked about the Middle East crises. No matter that he doesn’t know where the Middle East is located on the globe. No matter if he stumbles and mumbles through incoherent responses to the host’s questions. All that matters is that millions are seeing him.

On another channel, a political event includes a cheering crowd standing behind a reporter or commentator. On those occasions the glances are not at all furtive. We know where the unseen monitor is located off camera simply by observing the collective target of transfixed eyes gazing at the portal of instant fame.

On a live news broadcast, a reporter is talking about a child who has been killed in a drive-by shooting. The TV images include grieving parents and neighborhood spectators. Even then, we see that gleam, that glow, that radiance – the crowd is being seen by millions. Some of the anonymous spectators wave to anonymous viewers. For a fleeting moment, they know how it feels to be a rock star.

A passerby spots a news crew. Like a deer stunned by a headlight, she stops dead. With the precision of a laser beam and the speed of light, she whips out her cell phone and makes calls to as many people as possible. “Oh, God, please let Larry be home…he’s got to see this!” Not the event – just her.

Graphics TV personnel have had one-way-windows installed between the studio and the outside world as one more way to satisfy those viewers who require constantly moving images to keep them from switching to another channel. On the street there are fame-worshipers that know exactly where those windows are ‘concealed.’ They stop and wave to us while on their cell phones, excitedly talking to friends who see them on a regular basis anyway. They can’t see you, but you can see them unwittingly embarrass themselves wherever the Great Electronic Eye peers into the darkness of anonymity.

Even vicarious fame is welcomed. I was acquainted with a chauffeur who worked for celebrities, including Britney Spears. He had taken her to an event featuring her and was waiting for her in his limousine for the return trip. He noticed a mother and her daughter clinging to a shared umbrella in the torrential rainfall. They too were waiting for the end of Britney’s gig. It occurred to him that they might want something to eat. So, he called them to the car and offered them a box of half-eaten candy left behind by Spears. The women were ecstatic. They squealed with joy and told him, “Oh, no, no, no! We will not eat this candy. We’ll keep it always, as a memento from Britney.”

Waiting in the pouring rain paid off in a big way: they now had a precious artifact that could be kept in perpetuity because it was made of sugar. This precious heirloom to-be was far more than they had expected. Soaked by the rain, they continued to wait for a glimpse of Spears. The rain continued, but no matter. They happily clutched the nuggets of used chocolates that had been touched by their idol’s lips and teeth.

Apparently, there are no limits to the desire for fame. My sister worked from home. On occasion, she hired a neighbor to deliver urgent business packages. One day, Goldy delivered a package to the home of Geraldine Ferraro. When she returned from her mission she was trembling with excitement. She told my sister that she had used Ms. Ferraro’s bathroom. She went from neighbor to neighbor spreading the news.

Unlike the two women who cherished Spears’ chocolate leftovers, Goldy was unable to enshrine an artifact from Ms. Ferraro’s home. Yet, she experienced the aura of fame that resides in everything touched by the famous. In Ferraro’s bathroom Goldy had brushed the hem of fame and felt a vestige of it radiate through her skin as she rubbed against the toilet seat.

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