The first autograph I ever got was when I was nine year old. It was from Fess Parker, who, at the time, was playing Daniel Boone on TV. He was in town for a telethon and I got the autograph by hanging around the TV station looking lonely and forlorn. Later that same year, I pushed my luck by trying to sneak into a concert by the Electric Prunes, only to be caught and kicked out. I took a lot of risks to be near “the famous” and bring back some kind of evidence of the adventure, because, back then, asking a celebrity for an autograph was like going to the oracle at Mount Olympus. Famous People represented a species of human being that had evolved to a level on a spectrum that I could only DREAM about.
Fast forward to my adulthood, and I’m watching a little boy lose his breakfast on the Today Show because he can’t stand lying for his parents who were so addicted to fame that they convinced him to stay in an attic for five hours while they convinced CNN that he was trapped in a homemade weather balloon. It was a sad thing to watch, but this is what fame has become: a huge – and often tragic – joke.
It used to be that, in order to become famous, you had to do something important. You had to be a great leader, writer or philosopher, or have unquestionable talent. In other words, you had to earn it. Now, all you have to do is post some kind of semi-weird video on YouTube and pray it goes viral.
Talk show host Jerry Springer says he doesn’t have to work to book guests on his show. It seems there is no shortage of people clamoring for the spotlight so their idea of existence can be justified. I wonder if he’s booked the couple that crashed the White House dinner several months ago. If he does, it should come as no surprise, considering the lengths some people go to (like the number of hot dogs you could eat in ten minutes) to get their fix of the fame drug.
The song “Mr. Jones” by the Counting Crows has a couple of lyrics that sum up this pathology very poetically: “When I look at the television / I want to see me / staring right back at me ... When everybody loves me / I will never be lonely / I will never be lonely ... ”
I admit the fame drug first caught hold of me when I was 7 years old and watching a popular kid’s show called “Romper Room.” The hostess, Miss Wendy, saw me in the Magic Mirror and said, “I see Paul! Hi, Paul!” I was in heaven and, for years afterward, struggled to recapture that feeling of bliss. Nowadays, I’m simply happy if I can do something creative that I can honestly say came from inspiration and hard work. That, in itself, is enough. And if I’m lucky, I get to share it with someone else.