The price of fame

August 23rd, 2006 by kathy

Face it. Most of us, no, probably all of us, have contemplated fame — or, at the very least, having someone acknowledge and praise our work, whatever it may be.

Oh come on, admit it. We’re all guilty of it. Even yours truly, has had a few Brushes with Fame and I gotta tell you, it was thrill — from the lips to the fat man in the tracksuit.

So where am I going with this — other than trying to get you to read my work and hopefully offer me some praise in the comment box — well this very issue is exactly what writer Benedict Carey addressed in his piece, “The Fame Motive,” in yesterday’s New York Times.

Carey says that it isn’t merely the gobs and gobs of cash that inspires a person’s desire for fame, it’s all about acceptance (think high school on a much grander scale) — and what’s even more fascinating, is that this need to be “special” is pretty universal, even in the some of the most remote parts of the planet.

(Frankly, if I had to choose, I’d take the buckets of cash and run.)

The urge to achieve social distinction is evident worldwide, even among people for whom prominence is neither accessible nor desirable. In rural Hindu villages in India, for instance, widows are expected to be perpetual mourners, austere in their habits, appetites and dress; even so, they often jockey for position, said Richard A. Shweder, an anthropologist in the department of comparative human development at the University of Chicago.

“Many compete for who is most pure,” Dr. Shweder said. “They say, ‘I don’t eat fish, I don’t eat eggs, I don’t even walk into someone’s house who has eaten meat.’ It’s a natural kind of social comparison.”

In media-rich urban centers, the drive to stand out tends to be more oriented toward celebrity, and its hold on people appears similar across diverse cultures.

Surveys in Chinese and German cities have found that about 30 percent of adults report regularly daydreaming about being famous, and more than 40 percent expect to enjoy some passing dose of fame — their “15 minutes,” in Andy Warhol’s famous phrase — at some point in life, according to data analyzed by Dr. Brim. The rates are roughly equivalent to those found in American adults. For teenagers, the rates are higher.

And what if fame and fortune isn’t in the cards? Well, according to the author of the soon-to-be-completed book, “The Fame Motive,” Dr. Orville Gilbert Brim, those folks will simply move on and find another source of approval like God or true love.

Pretty ambitious if you ask me.

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