The Chinese children were a stark contrast to American children. Every time I pointed a camera at them, they scattered. No one mugged for the lens or flashed a precocious smile or did a silly dance. These children were not oriented toward performance. And as an American, steeped in the notion that being famous is all that matters, I found that odd.
But the last government official we had to see to officially adopt our daughter, couldn’t stop staring at her. Finally, she asked (through the translator) what plans we had for our daughter’s education and future profession. We assured her our daughter would be allowed to soar as high as her wings would carry her. But that’s not what the lady was driving at. She went on to explain that given my profession and my daughter’s uncommon beauty (which is a real thing to this day), maybe I could help her become someone like Brittany Spears.
I stared back coldly. I directed a question toward the translator: “Is the Chinese government really asking me to turn my daughter into Brittany Spears?”
The young translator conversed in Mandarin with the official lady. Then, they both said (in unison) with huge smiles, “YES!”
Even on the other side of the world, the most crass parts of western culture had taken root. I felt a little sorry for the future of those children who would eventually come to know the unspoken pressures of performance. And for the first time in my life, I felt a little sick about what I did for a living.
Now, almost fifteen years later, fame and notoriety has become its own industry. I had a meeting recently with a pod cast producer. A lot of people have asked me to start one. So, I listened to the details of all the things I need to do to “push my brand.” And I suppose I do need to do all those things. Selling myself has always been my weak suit. But in today’s culture the selling is becoming more important than the product. As long as I get your eye balls or ear drums it almost doesn’t matter what I put in them.
And it doesn’t matter if you love me or hate me …as long as you’re thinking about me. THAT is the nature of fame art. And it rules the day.
We elected a president who understands fame art like no one else. His outlandish statements and brash claims kept him in the news cycle when everyone else was spending millions of dollars to get a sliver of attention. And although I don’t believe that alone is why he was elected, I DO believe his ability to “stay on your mind” – for better or worse – probably captured voters no one else could’ve captured.
Enter Kathy Griffin …
Her internet-crashing picture was so disturbing I made my son turn his head away when it came on the news. And then as I watched the “outrage” begin, I shook my head and thought to myself, “why hasn’t someone thought of this before now?” Because the content ITSELF isn’t what is going to be remembered here. Kathy Griffin is going to be remembered.
Sure, she lost a gig at CNN and a lot of people are denouncing her. But just watch and wait. See how this plays out.
I don’t know if what she did was calculated or misguided. I don’t know if she fully comprehended what the reaction would be or if she knew EXACTLY what she was doing. But what I DO know is there are people who know her name now, who would’ve lived their entire lives and died without EVER having a clue Kathy Griffin ever existed. And that may be the point.
I’ve always felt a little sorry for Kathy. She is actually a very funny person who has some severe self-image issues. And that translates into a deep need to be seen and heard. The entertainment world is overflowing with people like that. I’ve whispered prayers for her in the past. I do still. And in a strange way, I don’t even completely blame her for this. I kinda blame US. And even as I blame “US” …I’M WRITING ABOUT IT! UGH!
Because now, as she files a lawsuit against a sitting president, she is guaranteed more of the attention she so desperately craves. And make no mistake, there will be experts brought to bear who might make a pretty cogent argument on her behalf. PTSD and variations thereof will no doubt be called into the equation. And it will lead the evening news. And even as people line up to virtually spit on her in cyberspace, her twitter footprint will grow. And her social media shares will grow. And her presence in the world will expand. And her first ability – that wonderful gift of being able to make people laugh – will no longer matter all that much. It will be secondary and inconsequential. And THAT part is what makes me the saddest these days.
We’ve finally gotten to the place where what you do isn’t as important as how many people watch you do it.