While researching my post on Music and Sex, I noticed a consistent pattern: fame is terrible for people.
Too many musicians to list have died from drug overdoses or suicide. Elvis died of a drug overdose. John Lennon attracted the attention of a crazy fan who assassinated him. Curt Cobain killed himself (or, yes, conspiracy theorists note, might have been murdered.) Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington committed suicide. Alice in Chains’s Layne Staley died of heroin. The list continues.
Far more have seen their personal relationships fail, time after time. The lives of stars are filled with breakups and drama, not just because tabloids care to report on them, but also because of the drugs, wealth, and easy availability of other partners.
At least musicians get something (money, sex,) out of their fame, and most went willingly into it (child stars, not so much). But many people today are thrust completely unwillingly into the spotlight and get nothing from it–people caught on camera in awkward incidents, or whose absurd video suddenly went viral for all the wrong reasons, or who caught the notice of an internet mob.
Here we have people like the students from Covington Catholic, or the coffee shop employee who lost her job after not serving a black woman who arrived after the shop had closed, or, for that matter, almost all of the survivors of mass shootings, especially the ones that attract conspiracy theorists.
It seems that fame, like many other goods, is a matter of decreasing returns. Going from zero fame to a little fame is nearly always good. Companies have to advertise products so customers know they exist. Being known as an expert in your field will net you lots of business, recommendations, or just social capital. Being popular in your school or community is generally pleasant.
At this level, increasing fame means increasing numbers of people who know and appreciate your work, while still remaining obscure enough that people who don’t like or care for your creations will simply ignore you.
Beyond a certain level of fame, though, you’ve already gotten the attention of most people who like you, and are now primarily reaching people who aren’t interested or don’t like you. If you become sufficiently famous, your fame alone will drive people who dislike your work to start complaining about how stupid it is that someone who makes such terrible work can be so famous. No one feels compelled to talk about how much they hate a local indie band enjoyed by a few hundred teens, but millions of people vocally hate Marilyn Manson.
Sufficient fame, therefore, attracts more haters than lovers.
This isn’t too big a deal if you’re a rock star, because you at least still have millions of dollars and adoring fans. This is a big deal if you’re just an ordinary person who accidentally became famous and wasn’t prepared in any way to make money or deal with the effects of a sudden onslaught of hate.
Fame wasn’t always like this, because media wasn’t always like this. There were no million-album recording artists in the 1800s. There were no viral internet videos in the 1950s. Just like in Texas, in our winner-take-all economy, fame is bigger–and thus so are its effects.
I think we need to tread this fame-ground very carefully. Recognize when we (or others) are thrusting unprepared people into the spotlight and withdraw from mobbing tactics. Teenagers, clearly, should not be famous. But more mundane people, like writers who have to post under their real (or well-known pseudonyms), probably also need to take steps to insulate themselves from the spasms of random mobs of haters. The current trend of writers taking mobs–at least SJW mobs–seriously and trying to appease them is another effect of people having fame thrust upon them that they don’t know how to deal with.
5 thoughts on “Fame is Terrible for People”
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What even is the point of fame? Why is it so important to be loved by millions instead of one? My guess that with an evolutionary perspective is that the more people liked you, the more resources you receive and that is still true today. I also think the media is to blame because they glamorize fame so much, and people fear living an ordinary life.
Different strokes for different folks I guess. Many people (especially narcissist, attention-whores and many others high in Dark-Triad traits) revel in the attention, admiration and envy they get from others, so the fame doesn’t really “break” them like it would to a more naturally humble & reserved person I guess.
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I think it largely depends on the predisposition of the Star in question. Most of the suicide cases came from folks who were already highly depressed before becoming famous (Kurt Cobain, Chester Bennington, etc). Same with the drug overdose cases.
Also, it seems to vary based on the type of famous person, as well as their ethnicity. Big Star Athlete suicides aren’t very common regardless of the sport. And speaking of ethnicity, while there are plenty of White (and Asian) music and movie stars who’ve committed suicide (especially from certain genres like Alt-Rock and many forms of Metal), it seems to be rare for Black celebrities. Seriously, after reading this page I’ve looked through the profiles of many famous Black entertainers in either music or acting since the 60’s and I couldn’t find a single prominent suicide. Even death-by-drug overdose is scarce for Black Celebs, the only major example I found was Whitney Houston.
LGBT famous people have a much greater risk of depression & suicide than the straight ones, but then again LGBT people in general are more at risk for those things.
What do you make of all this?
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