I once had a friend who was a famous child star. I will protect her identity out of respect and call her Amy. We both worked at a restaurant, and every now and then, super fans would appear to gush and beg her to sign an old lunch box or record.
Amy had retained the cheeriness of a child star though she was now in her mid-thirties. She had a haircut that was more fit for a ten year old in the 1980’s. I kept trying to help her brush up her image, and wanted her physical looks to match her dynamic personality.
Being Catholic she wanted to save herself for marriage, but it stunted her sexual maturity to a great extent. She avoided it by only being physical with her gay costars from Broadway shows, and had a hopeless crush on a married actor.
I realized to a great extent, Amy retained age ten because she peaked at age ten. She could never let go of the hope that she would eventually find success as an adult, but the problem was, she just wasn’t believable as an adult.
Sometimes she’d score a part in a show and be out of town for a month or two. But more often than not, there were endless auditions, and the self-sabotage of drinking too much the night before and losing her voice. She had a condo she could barely afford because she’d purchased it in a more successful moment. The life of a creative person is extremely difficult with constant ups and downs, drama and rejections.
For a long time Amy was my closest friend. We had all sorts of adventures and got into plenty of mischief. But then I introduced her to straight men - a bunch of raucous musicians to be exact. Amy wanted to make a husband out of the first one that slept with her. I tried to protect her from the obsession, and warned her that he was seeing other people and wouldn’t change. But Amy told me I was a horrible friend for saying so, and that she picked the wrong guy (as in, she should have picked the guy I hooked up with every now and then).
I was hanging out with her love obsession one day at the bar, waiting for her to show up from another dive with my every now and then guy. Love obsession turned to me and said, “I have this feeling that right now the two of them are stabbing us both in the back.”
He was right. I couldn’t believe it. Amy and I never talked again. Well, except for one night when I was too drunk and left her a nasty message at 3am. For months I felt an immense pain in my gut. I’d expected that sort of thing from the guy, but not from her. I still regret that we never got over it. Who doesn’t go crazy for a minute when they lose their virginity at 34? But if we really want to dig into what was going on – I think she couldn’t handle that she wasn’t the star of the show.
When we first met I couldn’t get a word in edgewise. And then somehow I passed her up along the way. She was so charismatic, and chipper and extremely social. But in certain circles, I took the lead and she accepted the supporting role. Competition destroyed our friendship. And on an astrological side-note, being an Aries, I have noticed my friendships with Cancers always follow the same pattern – intense and combustible.
This week I read Fame Junkies – The Hidden Truths Behind America’s Favorite Addiction by Jake Halpern. In three sections he covers aspiring child celebrities, celebrity entourage, and celebrity worship.
Increasingly, children want to become famous for fame itself. They don’t see the importance of having a talent or something to give through fame. They feel that fame will fix everything that is wrong in their lives.
“In fact, one could argue that the desire to be famous is simply the desire to alleviate pain – the pain of being bullied, the pain of feeling like a nobody, the pain of not getting the dates you want, and the misery of being below the people who inflicted the pain on you (Halpern, 34).”
Who isn’t more driven towards fame than the lonely child who wants to prove to everyone that they are worthy of the love they never received. This child is more apt to watch five hours of TV a day and become absorbed in the celebrities that appear to be receiving the adoration they so long for. Here Halpern sums up the research of psychologist, David Elkind:
“… teenagers are prone to believe they are destined to live exceptional, celebrity-like lives… by their very nature, adolescents are unable to grasp what other people are thinking or feeling, so they exist in a sort of egocentric daze, assuming that everyone else is as obsessed with their lives as they are (Halpern, 16).”
If this is true, then celebritydom is the ultimate extension of the adolescent mind. Promising an entourage and fans that buzz around you like peons, non-entities that meet your every whim and serve up admiration on a platter. Halpern reflects on Dennis Hoppers Personal Assistant at the time:
“And yet even when she emulated a friend or a family member, it wasn’t exactly a realistic scenario because on principle, she was refusing to talk about herself or even to recognize her own emotions. The result was a pseudo-friendship, in which one person did all the talking and feeling, while the other deftly maneuvered to stay out of the way (Halpern, 95).”
As taxing as the job is, and though she and other personal assistants are unable to have personal lives due to the constant beck and call of the job, she loved being within the inner reaches of the famous. If she could be a part of their lives, she didn’t need to have her own. But many assistants eventually wake up to the fact that their lives have passed them by with nothing to show for it.
“Some research psychologists have come to believe that the need to belong is every bit as urgent as the need for food and shelter (Halpern, 112).”
It’s an ancient survival tactic to emulate the alpha to gain success in the group. In return the alpha can teach skills to the protégé and gain power through numbers. But what are the returns for celebrity worship, especially when people become famous for nothing. It’s a large-scale machine, completely distant and remote from real life.
“Celebrities are probably of less interest to people who live exciting, fulfilling lives – people who are involved with their family and community. But how many people do you know who live exciting, fulfilling lives (Halpern, 144)?”
Every year, thousands of children join scam agencies, where parents fork out thousands of dollars for the miniscule chance that their kid will be discovered. They often put more stock in a chance at fame than in a college education.
Before my prefrontal cortex had fully developed logic, I myself was gullible enough to go into credit card debt for classes and a modeling portfolio at a fake agency. I thought I could make some extra fast cash. But the owner and her assistant took all the real jobs and tried to get us to work for free.
Amy said that she wasn’t sure she would have been an actor if her strong willed mother hadn’t pushed her into it. It struck me as insane. Most people don’t come to conclusions about what they will do for a living until they are in college, or even sometime after. But here she had been told that she was an actress before she had even fully become a self.