We live in the age of celebrity. Where once we aspired to do good things, write great books, make meaningful films, do admirable work, earn a good living to provide for a good family, care for the needy and maybe even create great art, now, instead, we seem to hunger for something much less noble. FAME.
To be a celebrity in our time is a pretty heady thing. An actor acts. A singer sings. Their projects are released and we are able to enjoy their work in a theater, or other venue or sometimes in the comfort of our own living rooms. We are entertained. The lucky ones make lots of money, get lots of press and then, a few months down the line, we get to see them gather together to collectively pat each other on the backs as the ceremonies are televised. They wear beautiful gowns and sparkling jewels. In the past, acceptance speeches were about thanking all those who had a part in their success. Now, they are also prone tell us what we should think and how we should act with regard to the cause du jour.
With Facebook, we all can have our own “15 minutes of fame.” We can post our own photos (always looking our best, filters allowed) the highlights of our lives, those things we feel deeply about and all of our adventures. I admit to being a tad bit guilty myself. It’s a little addictive, isn’t it? We check back to see who commented and how many “likes” our posts receive. And if someone we admire, or even someone famous responds, we are over the moon. Can I get a witness? You don’t even want to know how excited I was when Lyle Lovett “liked” a comment I made on a photo he’d posted on Instagram. Sigh. I do love me some Lyle. But, I digress.
Once upon a time I had a job that required a wardrobe. Retailer Nordstrom was my drug of choice when I ventured out to shop. They had quality clothing, would price match other stores and had the best customer service/return policies known to woman. I never had to hunt down a sales person to assist me. They thanked me by name when I made my purchase. They made me feel special. And, as it turns out, because I carried their store credit card, at year-end, if I’d racked up enough points, (translates to spending enough $) I would be invited to their private, invitation only shopping event.
On the evening of the event, the store would close early. Hours later it would re-open for the gala event, invitation holders lined up outside awaiting the doors to open and allow the throngs of faithful
shoppers spenders to enter in. When that moment arrived, we all got a taste of what the red carpet must feel like. Yes, friends, there actually WAS a red carpet. As we entered, we walked down a field of red wool, flanked on either side from end to end, with Nordstrom “associates” (high-end stores don’t have mere clerks.) Said associates were applauding the incoming attendees as if we’d done something worthy of such adulation, when all we’d really done was come to shop. But, in that moment, we all felt a little more powerful. Yep. It was slightly intoxicating. They offered champagne and appetizers and sweet desserts as we meandered around the store. I called it dinner. Then I went home to my humble abode in my decidedly unpretentious neighborhood.
I had a similar experience a not long ago when my friend, Carlease Burke, who actually IS an actress, had a big celebration for a big birthday. (She embraced it, people!) She rolled out an actual red carpet for her guests to walk, proclaiming us the real stars of her life. She’s awesome like that. As we strolled the red carpet, a cadre of paid paparazzi pursued us, snapping photos as if we actually were the stars Carlease said we were. So we stood a little taller, we sang and danced and ate great food and enjoyed the company of lots of lovely people. Alas, when we went home that night, we were still just us. We’d had our moment.
My beautiful friend Carlease, her sweet Mom, aka “California Flo,” and I.
Imagine if you had a daily diet of that? It makes you realize why so many celeb’s believe their own press. Constantly surrounded by people who get paid to make you look and feel your best, feed your ego, affirm your every proclamation and make sure you want for nothing, it’s no wonder fame produces such a sense of entitlement.
It’s easy to see why our culture is so enamored of fame and all it’s trappings. It’s more than a little intoxicating. It’s not a bad thing to be famous, but, I’m thinking, for folks like me, it may take a lifetime to learn how to be both famous and good. As one clearly in the winter of my life, I am possessed by an earnest desire to be good, to do good. I’m leaning into contentment, a life that may be devoid of fame but hopefully overflowing with the riches of relationships, community and service. I yearn for a life that has less need of self promotion and more focus on lifting others up. A life that sparkles in the absence of the spotlight.
What kind of life are you living? It’s the fourth quarter. Famous or not, it’s time to double down.