Could obscure be the new famous?

When my son, Nate, was still in preschool Angelyne was at the peak of her fame.  If you’re not an Angeleno, you might not know Angelyne.  She was plastered on huge billboards all around town, Warhol-worthy sunglasses and Grand Canyon cleavage, paid for by mysterious “investors” the way Citizen Kane tries to launch his girlfriend’s opera career.

One day Nate, not long-weaned, found himself staring up at Angelyne as Andy drove him home from his day in the sandbox.  She asked him, “What do you think about her?”  Nate thought about it for a moment and, with some solemnity, pronounced, “She’s fancy.”

As an emblem of fame, Angelyne’s billboards managed to be more famous that she ever was—a brand eclipsing the “product.” Actors literally play a role in society (and many great ones are personally rather shy and not particularly interested in fame for their private selves), but famous people who are famous for being famous… this is a symptom of our narcissistic culture.

Having kicked around Hollywood for a couple of decades, and having worked for a wide range of telephone screamers and out-of-control folks, and then having worked in the role of shrink to many of Hollywood’s movers and shakers, I have concluded that Hollywood is a magnate for pathological narcissism—a strong attractor to people who don’t really know who they themselves are.  Myself included.

It’s as if I came to Hollywood thinking I would like to be a filmmaker, but it was my own lack of a true self that drew me into the vortex, and it was in the crucible of craziness that I found a thread and followed it to achieve the grand goal of becoming… a regular person.

Having gotten enough up close and personal views of the rich, the famous and the fancy I have been thinking that fame itself is a bigger problem than most of us might think—something often profoundly uncool and toxic, even to those who achieve it, and something subtly negating to the rest of us.

Before the world of hyper-hype, people would generally be famous for something (i.e. as an athlete or a movie star, or maybe an astronaut).  If the essence of leadership is actually service, then our culture heroes used to carry our bravery, or our physical grace or our glamour and fantasy lives for us—we had a sort of relationship with our famous citizens who served us by being larger than life.  Now many of our culture icons “serve” us by going to rehab for us, or by cheating and getting caught and carrying the burden of mass shame for us, or by losing their looks and representing being a mess for us—serving our need for schadenfreude perhaps.

Slowly, I realized (or remembered) that most normal people do not want to be famous.  I do not want to be famous, but I’ve been swimming in strange waters for too long and thus I have to actually assert to myself that it’s okay to not want to be famous—that I’m not just compensating for a broken dream.

I have literally had people call me and suggest that they want to make me into the next Dr. Phil—wanting me to do a radio show, and another producer wanted me to be the shrink in a reality show.  They seemed to have some trouble believing me when I explained that I had truly no interest in something like that (not that I believe that I could decide that I want fame and could just get it, I think fame’s a very elusive thing that many people chase with heart and soul and cannot capture).  Yet it’s a culture that would seem to hold being famous as an unquestionably desirable thing that makes me think…

It makes me think that it might be a good thing if being utterly obscure became the new cool way to be.  One good thing about this would be that it is inclusive, with only the already famous being a little left out, but they too could always decide to stop working it and join the cool kids in the shadows of obscurity.

And as for “working it,” that’s another thing I’ve learned in Hollywood:  no one is famous by accident.  A lot of famous people are skilled at acting as if the whole thing just sort of happened and they hadn’t either been pushed hard or pushed themselves hard into the spotlight where they somehow often manage to act accidental about it all.

Now I’m not bashing on famous people, some of my very best friends are famous for different things—I’m just advocating for the nonfamous—equal rights for the obscure.  That would mean that the movie stars I’ve seen throw fits on airplanes would have to throw them as regular people with anger management issues, and not as entitled people.

Humans, as lead most authentically by children, are very, very, extremely big on fairness.  Fame is the epitome of unfair and so we tend not to like it (even as we gawk at it).  As a psychologist I think that micro “fame” relates to kids who are favored in a classroom, perhaps because of their looks or smarts—it relates to the “popular” kids who, research suggests, may be the best known kids but they are far and away not the best liked.

A culture of fame only exacerbates things like bullying and cruelty; it exacerbates insecurity and the need to make others feel inferior to bolster our own feelings of adequacy.  I often read in other parenting blogs about the heartache of bullies; guilt about who we watched get punked and did nothing to protect when we were kids, and about the pain of being excluded, picked on or mocked.

I’m for a kinder and more accepting society, and in the service of this, fame needs a big re-think.  It trickles down to all manner of metrics (such as, if you’re a lawyer, do you work at the star firm?  Or if you’re a doctor, are you a heart or brain surgeon… or just a lesser-level doctor?  And where does that leave carpenters and cooks… especially if they’re not on the Food Channel?).  Yes, society has always been this way to some degree, but could we dare ask the question:  does it have to be this way?

Although I do not yearn to be famous—I do yearn to contribute, to learn and grow, and to express myself but also to connect… with my kids, my wife, my friends, my clients, my colleagues and my readers.  When I sign off “Namaste,” it means, “The light in me recognizes the light in you.”  That light which I recognize in you, across the transom of our mingled energies, our visiting each other’s blogs or chatting in an email or at a cafe, is the life spirit, the sincere and authentic beauty that pulses in you as it does in me, and in all our collective children.  The relationship between us all is the real hero, the essence of what needs to be “famously” seen and treasured by all of us, as this might be a way to bring relationship, rather than individuality, into the spotlight.

My fantasy is that this epoch could be one that transcends the deleterious age of narcissism, allowing our egos to take a seat in the shadows and freeing our hard-made souls to enjoy the great drama that endlessly laughs and cries like the River of Life, glinting in the sunlight and dappled shade of our vast love for our world, each other and our kids.

Since the “cool kids,” by nature, just want to do whatever’s cool, why not subversively make not being in the spotlight, not being extra-special and not being fancy the new cool?

So, feel free to join me in lauding obscure-but-engaged as the new “famous” and kind as the new cool—in the service of all our collective children.

Namaste, Bruce

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2 Responses to “Could obscure be the new famous?”

  1. Lindsey M Nelson Says:

    I used to work at a Whole Foods Market in the San Fernando Valley that regularly attracted famous folk. Angelyne was one of our regular customers, and I could feel nothing but pity for her and her desperate attempts to become a life-size Barbie (down to driving a pink Corvette and wearing maribou trimmed heels to the market). I also felt a responsibility to treat the celebs the same way I treated all the other customers and had a deep sense of how they were trapped by their own desires to become famous… they couldn’t even go to the grocery store without being approached, can you imagine? I even asked one celeb for their drivers license when he wrote a check. Even though I knew who he was and he knew I knew who he was, I wasn’t about to treat him differently. I try to make it a point not to click on internet stories about celebrities because I know that advertisers watch the page hits and then that just perpetuates the whole sick cycle of celebrity gossip taking center stage while important issues go ignored in the media. We all have the choice to opt out of the celebrity “thing”. We can still go to movies, enjoy sporting events, etc. but appreciate them for what they are and for the talent showcased there and not expect our celebrities to fulfill any other role in our lives (I especially think about elevating sports stars to hero status when they are just humans like us who make mistakes and do stupid things).

  2. Alana Says:

    I chased the dream of being a “famous actress” for years. Then one day I woke up , realized how truly miserable I was and that the biggest reason I wanted fame was to make a positive impact on the world. Light bulb moment! I am grateful I did not receive that particular wish (the Universe was looking out for me). Now I can focus on truly being of service and finding my joy.
    I was meditating on the meanings of Namaste and Ubuntu the other day. They’ve become so commonplace in our society (especially Namaste) that I think many forget their depth. The light in me very much recognizes the light in you Bruce. Thank you for bringing it to this blog every day.

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