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Trappings of celebrity are curious

Don Rogers

Many celebs appear to both crave and cringe at all the attention on them, a strange dichotomy that can warp stronger souls than Michael Jackson. The fortunate ones wear it well enough to lead relatively normal lives away from the limelight and suffer the cameras in good humor when it’s time to be seen.

Our new homegrown celebrity, the Vail firefighter who prevailed in “The Bachelorette,” has impressed me with his ease in front of the cameras and patience with fans, radio show hosts and newspaper reporters. The kid has poise, I’ll grant him that, and his proverbial 15 minutes do not seem from afar to have gone to his head.

The spate of reality shows – an oxymoron, by the way – opens a gate to a new set of celebrities. “Ordinary” people can elbow their way into television viewers’ hearts by winning a spot on productions such as “Survivor,” “Joe Millionaire,” “The Bachelor,” “The Bachelorette,” and a bunch more I’ve missed. They become the recurring characters we get to know and identify with, just as in sitcoms and dramas with, um, real actors and scripts. Our excitement builds with the notion that it’s true. That really could be you or me. Right?

Some people have to become presidents to reach the circle celebrity, or at least run credibly for high office. For others it might be an apt name, say Bobbit, and a wife angry enough to do the unthinkable. The usual path involves entertainment of some sort – movies, sitcoms, stage, music, sports, politics, broadcast journalism.

At the heart lies TV. That’s the celebrity maker. If you are not on television, you can’t be any more than known in your field or community, no matter your gifts. If you appear on television, it doesn’t matter how you got there. You are somebody. Can I have your autograph?

Even print journalists occasionally find themselves famous. I’m not talking here about historically famous, like H.L. Mencken or “Red” Smith, of course, but cotton candy famous – celebrity. Many of the finest journalists in the land go pretty much ignored, which they’ll tell you is just fine, while some real morons as well as greats shine as stars in their own right. All thanks to TV.

With a face fit for radio and voice for print, I’m tucked securely in my print roost, no temptation to answer such siren calls. Fame doesn’t much touch me, whether as observer or observed. I mean, a few more people know my name than I know theirs, but that might well just be the Alzheimer’s.

The funniest encounter was being told once that I looked a lot like Don Rogers. I’m afraid I was neither quick enough nor polite enough to admit the fact I looked like him because I was him. In any case, I’m in no danger of anyone seeking my autograph or asking to have their picture taken with me.

And, oddly I guess, I’ve never felt particularly gaga about meeting celebrities. I respect their talents and generally like them, but I haven’t yet felt much sense of awe or anything like that. Maybe it’s just that I haven’t met anyone that cool, like Magic Johnson, Dave Matthews or Mini Me. I suspect, though, I’m just lacking in my capacity to fawn. Like I’m missing an essential gene or something.

I can see the players using their fame to an end, generally financial. And I’ve met enough performers who strike me as too obvious in their need for adulation from strangers. I can understand where it all might wear thin, and how it might be so, so satisfying to be able to complain about the burdens of stardom.

What I don’t understand, and what I do find curious, is why the phenomenon exists at all. Seems easy enough to clap for a performance, nod in approval for an achievement without the gawking, hero worship or other nutty extremes of fandom.

I can tell what the star gets from the attention. But what do the all too adoring fans get? I can see what they need to get. That would be a life.

Managing Editor Don Rogers can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 600, or at editor@vaily.com


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