There was a time, and it really wasn’t that long ago, that in order to be famous you had to accomplish something. Prior to the red carpet being rolled out for you and the nuisance of restaurant reservations being waived, it was necessary for you to write a book, appear in a blockbuster, sing a hit song, get elected, do something, something, that entitled you to the trappings of celebrity.
Blood, sweat, tear and toil were involved. People drove broken down station wagons to Hollywood and slept in them for years while they lost audition after audition. Bands toured the country 350 days a year, lugged their own equipment on stage and slept 10 to a motel room. People climbed mountains or flew the Atlantic. To achieve their fame they out-acted or out-funnied or out-played. They were the prettiest of, the best of, the smartest at, the first. And by being such they earned their place.
Even becoming infamous required a remarkable achievement. You needed to inspire your country to genocide, poison your followers with Kool-Aid, lead a group of murderous hippies or shoot a president. Certainly all terrible things to do, but at least there was effort involved, as evil as it may have been. Now all you have to do is blow a president and you get a line of handbags and a shitty TV show along with your infamy.
Celebrity of late has been handed out en masse, like driver’s licenses. Seemingly no one is denied their 15 minutes or longer, achievements or no. Usually the only effort required is wanting it. Somewhere there’s a camera crew ready to indulge you, film you eating a sandwich, and make you a star.
Currently, the most nauseating case in point has to be Paris Hilton. Her crowning accomplishment was being born into extreme wealth. That’s it. She has enjoyed a life of luxury beyond comprehension for most millionaires, never mind the thousandaires and hundredaires who populate the country. Void of responsibility, beholden to none. There has not been a moment in the girl’s life where her intellect or talent has been challenged or needed. And she has publicists to promote her underachievement. She’s Marie Antoinette 2003. Fortunately for her, they’re not beheading the rich who say dumb things anymore, they’re giving them TV shows. Between Fox’s Simple Life, HBO’s Born Rich and M-TV’s Rich Girls, it’s all the rage to make the rich famous. Because they’re rich, I guess.
What is particularly offensive with Hilton is that with all the resources afforded her, with all the opportunities at her disposal, she’s chosen the path of a trailer whore who’s won the lottery. An extra eighty pounds and she’d be Anna Nicole Smith.
Other women of significant wealth take noble causes under their wing, hold lavish fundraisers for the arts or social causes. At the very least, like Stella McCartney, they take advantage of their position and wealth to do something constructive. Lady Diana was pretty well off, but she didn’t pass the time videotaping sex romps, or posing outside Spago. She toured orphanages and hospitals. She played the part of the rich lady who didn’t have to do much of anything but did because it was the right thing to do. Not to mention good politics.
But Paris? Her aspirations have been limited to getting past the doormen at Bungalow 8 with minimal hassle and making uninspired porno with a sleazy ne’er-do-well. Most disturbing, after climbing those peaks of success she has not only acquired fame, but had a television show handed to her. Insult to injury, this week’s New York magazine goes so far as to include her among a collage on the cover of ‘stars’ gone wild. First she came, now she’s arrived.
With standards that low, there’s no reason you shouldn’t become a ‘star’ merely for buying a bagel and swearing at a homeless guy.
Us Magazine, which my wife continues to read despite my desperate plea, is constantly throwing new celebrities at me. I never saw ‘The Bachelor’ but apparently they’re eager for everyone to know how Bachelor Bob is doing, who Bachelor Bob loves, and what Bachelor Bob’s hopes and dreams are. As far as I can discern, Bachelor Bob is in the pages of Us for the crowning achievement of at one point not having a girlfriend, then looking for one. Hey, I didn’t have a girlfriend once. I didn’t get a show out of it.
My friend has become a popular musician as of late. He got there the old fashioned way. He’d go home and practice while the rest of us stayed out. He knew what he wanted and what it was going to take to get it. And, just as importantly, he had the talent you need to back it up. And the brains to make good decisions. He did it properly, and employed what it takes, or used to take, to be successful and famous. That’s admirable. But it’s also rare these days, where you can seemingly demand celebrity for the achievement of being Ozzy Osbourne’s daughter.
There’s been a lowering of the threshold here. I want celebrity to be earned again. If I’m going to be forced to deal with Us Magazine in my house, I want the celebrities to have earned their status. I want their glossy, cheap paper pages to bring me people who had fire in the belly, passion, focus. People who had some kind of talent. Like Madonna. I don’t particularly like her music. I think she puts on a lousy fake English accent like a RenFest reject. And she’s probably going to die lonely and sad after her star fades. But she’s a star. She earned it the hard way, clawing upward. She should be the role model for stardom. Not some girl who slobbered on Clinton’s shaft. Not some slutty socialite. Not a guy who filled out an application to be on Joe Millionaire for God’s sake. I want real stars again. People we can look up to. People we’ll miss when they die.
I want Pecks and Gables and Monroes. I don’t want to be told Shoshanna Lonstein is famous because she dated Jerry Seinfeld. I want the standards back. Otherwise, I’m liable to set the offices of Us ablaze. And then I’ll be a somebody.