Fame, Favorites

The Fame Post

Recently I admitted that I want to be a famous writer.

After I wrote about this I got a lot of responses from friends and people I respect warning me that’s a bad goal. They told me it seems shallow. I’m sure many others thought this too, and didn’t say anything.

But fame has a mixed rap, because many people who openly pursue it are admired for their big dreams.

I thought it was interesting that fame can be seen as good or bad depending on the person. I wanted to know, what’s the deciding factor? I started to do some research. Here’s the result.

Photo credit: "Luxor Sphinx Portrait" by cobalt123

1. Where Do You Come From?

In order to see how people react to fame I had to look somewhere that the quest for fame happens a lot: rock music.

In the music industry a lot of artists openly seek fame. They don’t try to hide it. But their fans don’t think they’re jerks—they love them for it.

At the same time there are many stars who deride their own fame, complain about it, or put it down. And their fans love them too.

What’s the difference?

I cracked open Milk It!, a book about 90’s alternative rock. What can I say, I’m a 90’s child. In the book, author Jim DeRogatis talks about how Pearl Jam distanced themselves from their own fame. They refused almost all interviews after their debut and front man Eddie Vedder led the band in keeping to its indie Seattle roots: low ticket prices, a fight against Ticketmaster, and self-effacing lyrics.

Jim contrasts them with Led Zeppelin. Jimmy Page had every intention of creating a chart-storming band. He used his industry experience and on-stage persona to build Led Zeppelin into gods of rock. Showing no humility, they basked in their fans and enjoyed every possible excess. They even released their fourth album without their name on it just to prove it would still explode.

Both bands ruled in their time, and they even shared a similar genre. But one succeeded by relentless fame-raking and the other through almost embarrassed humility.

The difference is the background the bands come from. Led Zeppelin rose to greatness in the 70’s, a time when hard rock was the staple of working class kids. All the great classical rockers were over-the-top superstars. Pearl Jam took the limelight in the 90’s as part of the post-punk tradition, hitting it big with middle class kids. The enduring punk ideal is that the musician is just one of the fans.

Like all awesome ideas, this is a simplification, but there’s something to it. Late 80’s punk and 90’s alt-rock represented a lot of bored middle class teens whereas the 70’s rock scene in Britain came from very poor roots. The same model explains why 2000’s indie rockers are shamed for selling out while 2000’s hip-hop stars are expected to, and rap proudly about their money and success.

In other words, if you have nothing it’s OK to be super ambitious. But if you’re already comfortable, you shouldn’t talk about aiming for the top. Middle class guilt kicks in and you’re supposed to act like your success doesn’t matter to you.

This is even more true for very rich people. Listen to a CEO give a talk sometime and pay attention to the self-deprecating language. If you’re already on top, you try to act humble. In general, people bend toward the middle. Rich and poor people will describe themselves as “middle class.” Liberals and conservatives will say they are “moderate.”

So seeking fame is more acceptable if you have humble roots.

2. Choose a Focus

Another thing I discovered is that people’s reaction to ambitious fame-seekers depends very much on how you phrase your ambitions.

Instead of saying I want to be famous I decided to start saying I want to be a famous writer. This instantly changed people’s perceptions.

Photo credit: "Lady Gaga" by Q. Thomas Bower

When someone actively seeks fame, no one likes them… Oh.

When I talked about how I want to be famous, people seemed confused. I would get skeptical comments like, “That’s quite a goal.”

But if I said I want to be a famous writer, people instantly lit up. They thought that was a great dream and everyone, even total strangers, expressed encouragement. At worst someone would give me pragmatic (but obvious) advice like, “Well, that’s going to be hard to do.” But no one ever seemed put off.

I believe this has to do with focus. If you just say you want to be famous, it implies that you want all of the rewards of fame without doing anything to earn it. It also sounds like you have no plan to get there, so you’re naïve and you’re going to fail.

On the other hand saying I want to be a famous writer expresses some of your passion. It shows that you have a talent and it implies you’re willing to work in your field to achieve fame.

In general, if given a choice between a passionate hard worker and a lazy person with no plan, public opinion goes to the hard worker. Some anime characters may be exceptions.

The Nature of Fame

Fame is desirable, just like money or sex. And like those things, going after it the wrong way looks douchey. But wanting to be well-liked, respected, and remembered is something everyone can understand. In other words there is nothing wrong with fame itself, or pursuing fame. It’s all how you go about it.

Anybody else out there hoping to make it big in this lifetime? How have friends reacted? How do you talk about your ambitions?

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My book Lúnasa Days is available on Kindle and in paperback. Get your copy here.


12 thoughts on “The Fame Post

  1. Matt says:

    I think the choice of focus is important too. Being a writer has a long history of respect. Aiming to be a famous Tweeter might not get that same level of appreciation from your nearest and dearest.

    • That’s true. Good point. I would think about Twitter as a little too vague for a focus – what do you want to do with it? Do you want to be a famous businessperson, a political activist, a blogger (which goes back to writing), or what? Twitter is a tool which can help you get famous, but the unspoken question is still, “Famous for what?”

  2. I found your blog through the Patheon blog on Patheos. I find your message and values inspiring. Thanks for sharing your views on how to live your best life.

    I say being Famous is every bit as admirable a goal as anything.

    • To some degree, I suppose I am. My adventures are an open book. I have two other blogs besides the Persephone one – one about building a 120 square foot cabin in the mountains and one about brewing beer. I have dreams of on day becoming a well known brewer or advocate for the tiny house movement.

  3. I think fame is neither good nor bad. Like everything else- there is nothing good nor bad, only thinking [judgment and labeling] makes it so. The only “problem” with fame is how people get so lost in it. Lost in ego. Fame in and of itself is not glory- service is the glory of god. Fame and recognition just feel nice, I guess.

    But one does not actually need celebrity- it is illusory. Like Achilles, some seek it from fear of death, but since we are immortal beings, there is no need to fear death and so seek fame out of fear. It isn’t good to seek anything out of fear! Besides, everything material, like fame and accomplishments, are ephemeral, though our spirits are eternal. I feel Gaga focuses a little too much on this illusory part of her ego, and I have no interest in anything about her except… looking at her body in her fun costumes.

    With fame, there is a danger of becoming lost in ego, a la Charlie Sheen who thinks he is superior to everyone, or having people think that you are a stepping stone to making THEMSELVES better. That isn’t a valid relationship. People have false senses of self so easily.

    But in and of itself, fame is irrelevant. If you desire it, as I desire caffeine, that is fine. I would just advise that you be careful not to lose yourself. I really only like and respect those in the industry who kind of don’t care that they’re famous.

    • Really interesting reply korakaos. One thing stands out at me: “Like Achilles, some seek [fame] from fear of death…”

      What made you decide that’s his motivation? In the myths, Achilles is given the choice to either become famous and die at Troy, or to live a long and peaceful life. If he had feared death, wouldn’t he have chosen long life?

      I’ve heard many people suggest that fame is a form of immortality, but if I was promised immortality and all I got was fame I’d feel cheated.

      I believe the most important aspect of the Heroic Path is to accept that we will die, and that there may be no afterlife (for all we know). And then to give up doing things for the hope of immortality, instead working to make the most of each day as it comes.

      That’s my view at least. I’d be curious to hear more of yours.

      • I am perhaps oversimplifying, but I don’t think I’m too off the mark. It is because I tend to divide action between “presence/love/consciousness” and “absence/fear/hate/unconsciousness”. They are our most primal states of being. If you can call the latter “being” at all.

        I could instead say that Achilles had been acting “unconsciously” and not “consciously”, for I feel it would be more conscious to choose long-lasting happiness and love. Also, since he knew he was not a god as was his mother, I feel he felt insecure enough to want to make up for that- given only a half-mortal shell, he chose immortality through fame. Although I picked the same thing he did ~_~ Easy mistake. So I don’t really blame him. I am slightly embarrassed when I look back at it, as I think Achilles may have been when he met Odysseus in the underworld (which exists after a fashion, but you don’t have to trust me until you’ve seen it for yourself too, obviously- I hadn’t been sure of it either). But that’s the past! Now, I may act “presently”. You are right there- take each day as it comes.

        Either way, whether one set oneself in motion as a warrior in a far-off land or a benevolent king at home, in the present moment, I agree that one should follow the heroic code, and the hero’s journey, as he did. I think he was the best hero the Greeks had.

        Let me know if your hero’s journey ever does take that common step down into the underworld and back :)

  4. I’m curious to hear your thoughts on fame at a time when the entire Arab world is changing due to the act of one man, Bouazizi, the Tunisian who set himself ablaze.

    • I suppose there isn’t much I can say. According to what facts we have, he did not seek to start a revolution, but he did take his life with resolve to protest mistreatment.

      “Some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them.” I suspect that Mohamed Bouazizi had greatness thrust upon him.

      What he did certainly changed millions of lives. His mother says she is exceedingly proud of him, though I’m sure she misses him horribly.

      I hope that she and their family find peace.

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