Fame is a peculiar thing. I wouldn’t want it, have never wanted it. The money that can go with it, and what that money means to me: freedom… yes I would take that. But if it meant I had to be famous to get it – then: no thanks. Fame is a smiling villain. A pit boss; with a slick patter of wealth, possibility and endless love. I’ve worked with people who were/are very famous, and I’ve met people were even more famous than them. And it was fascinating.
But, there’s something to be said for sitting at a dinner table and being the only face a passerby would not recognize. You have a voyeuristic anonymity – no-one will remember you were there, but you get to watch it all. And that watching gives you a good understanding of what fame really is, what it can do, how it breaks and tortures. And how it relies on the endless consumption of a life to keep going.
Just ask Jennifer Anniston: who trustingly sent her husband off to do a movie with ‘the most beautiful woman in the world’. She not only lost her marriage, but we all got to hear about it – in excruciating detail. And her career died a sad, curled-up little death. Because, let’s face it folks – there’s nothing funny or sexy about pity.
Last week I got an email from Goop – Gwyneth Paltrow’s website – telling me that she and Chris Martin have decided to “consciously uncouple”. It fascinated me that they chose her blog to announce this most personal decision. But I wasn’t surprised: they are both products of fame. How else would they have done it? They know there is no elegant way of handling a ‘failure’ when you are famous. You’re always a day late: despite not being a dollar short. So you might as well use a medium you are familiar with. What I did like – there were no details. And I hope that the fact that Chris is English and they live in London – will give them a fighting chance of keeping their divorce relatively private. (And, yes, I am aware of the irony of that sentence as I type this one.)
Over in the US, Kanye West and Kim Kardashian, two entrepreneurs par excellence (yes, I do think so) are having their 15-minutes on the cover of American Vogue. Cue spite and more un-coupling, as angry longtime readers of America’s most august fashion magazine burn their subscription cards in fury. Why? Because Kim is a reality star and no one worth anything (especially not a Vogue reader) would want to know anything about her life. (Which puts me in an awkward position – fervent Vogue reader and KUWTK fan, that I am).
I wonder if any of these furious fannies have stopped to look at what this girl and her mother have achieved? Have noticed how they turned a 5-minute, private, sex tape into a multi-million dollar industry? Kim’s net worth alone is estimated to be $40 million. And then there’s the rest – the spin off shows, merchandise, clothes and beauty lines and their shop Dash. All of this supports a family of 10 plus and a legion of employees. I wonder how many Fortune 500 companies went from bare brass farthing to $100 million nett in seven years?
As for Kanye, “Isn’t he that crazy rapper that grabbed Taylor Swift’s Oscar at the Grammies?” (sic). Well, yes and no. He is a musician (brilliant/meh/etc depending on your taste). And he has his mad moments – no doubt about it: but he is so much more than just a crazy rapper. In addition to an incredible music career – West has wide-ranging business interests. And it has taken him just a decade to amass a personal fortune of $80 million. I know money isn’t everything – but earning that kind of folding requires talent and grind and nerves of steel and an intuitive seizing of the moment (sometimes wrongly, as it turned out at the VMAs.)
For me, the Vogue April cover is a celebration of their achievements. And – shallow as hell or not – the cover is evidence that the American dream is alive and well. Long as you have marketing savvy and talent or a bum that has inspired a new body norm in women all over the world.
Julia Roberts once said: “I don’t think I realized that the cost of fame is that it’s open season on every moment of your life.” I sincerely doubt that the people I mention above really understood what they were in for. That they would be responsible for feeding this beast lest it devour them. I wonder – if they had known the cost, would they have stepped up?
Julia’s thought poses a question for us – the viewer, the watcher, the unknown diner at the table. Do we have a responsibility to turn away, to switch off, to let be? Should we be curbing our appetites? Looking elsewhere for our entertainment?
Surely we are just as much in fame’s thrall, if we don’t?
(Image of April issue copyright Vogue/photograph by Annie Liebovitz. Ian Stevenson poster copyright the artist, available here. Image of Lion found in the public domain. Apologies to David Bowie for stealing his lyric. KUWTK = Keeping Up with the Kardashians)