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Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Fame and Infamy

My favorite sociologist, Erving Goffman, noted that fame and infamy were opposite sides of the same social equation. Both fame and infamy carry heavy burdens. This is a lesson I hope to never learn as part of me fears I will suddenly became well-known. Luckily very few anthropologist ever become famous and even fewer disabled people ever hit the spot light. I delight in being anonymous yet I am aware one can become an overnight media sensation. If you doubt me, think about Susan Boyle and what she has been through in recent weeks. She became famous in an instant and 200 million people watched her performance on Britain's Got Talent. Camera crews camped outside her home, Larry King and Oprah Winfrey invited her on their shows. She could not leave her home without being trailed by reports. The only thing the mass media likes more than a sudden star is a sudden and dramatic downfall. Susan Boyle has become the latest human bit of cannon fodder. What did Boyle do wrong? She was the runner up--that is she placed second in Britain's Got Talent.

I feel bad for Boyle. Second place is not too shabby. This accomplishment is nothing in the eyes of the media. Worse yet, Boyle struggled with her sudden fame. Depending upon the periodical she was "nasty and mean spirited", "out of control", had an "anxiety attack" or "emotional breakdown". Some media experts have noted the judges on shows like Britain's Got Talent are cruel and that they failed to protect Boyle. In a word, bull. The job of the judges is to be mean and as cutting as humanly possible. In the end what I learned is nothing new: the media can both build and destroy. Susan Boyle is just the latest figure to be ripped to pieces. This is not such a bad thing in my estimation--when you think about it Susan Boyle has proven she is a mere mortal. And is not a large part of disability rights about establishing our humanity?

8 comments:

Becs said...

I've had very minor, very local fame for a total of about five minutes. That was enough.

I would guess that by now Susan Boyle has a manager, who was likely urging her to strike while the iron was hot.

As it turns out, I believe a number of runner-ups from the "Idol" shows have met with greater success than the winners. I'm sure Susan Boyle's mgr is negotiating recording contracts right now.

FridaWrites said...

I find the idea of fame kind of nightmarish. The public loves nothing better than to judge--as my husband says, it makes people feel better about themselves, to get self esteem through shredding others. And it takes a lot of small-mindedness to relish tearing others down.

FridaWrites said...

I think this is maybe why the public is often so mean to people with disabilities.

Claire said...

What an unusual post, Dr. Peace! A bit of advice for you, should fame ever cross your threshold...the key to managing the scrutiny is to remain so profoundly human as to have nothing for anyone to uncover by "surprise". I, for one, have all my vices neatly organized in categories and in alphabetical order, as are all the skeletons in my closet (plus they come with a full set of dress clothes for black tie affairs). There might be some disappointment, however, in that I have never inhaled any illegal substances...except maybe some Comet once...but that was due to some overzealous bathtub cleaning on my part, rather than any dark desire to have my nasal cavities scorched....

william Peace said...

We are in universal agreement that fame is to be avoided. Claire, I will openly acknowledge I am an inherently flawed human being. I have done many things I deeply regret. I am far from alone in acknowledging this but I want to keep my skeletons buried in a closet. I am not ashamed of what I have done but would hate to see those that respect me and my son know I was once very stupid and lacked judgement.

william Peace said...

Claire, I inhaled deeply and with great joy when a college student.

FridaWrites said...

I'm with Claire on this and openly confess my actions to the people who are important to me. Not all are appropriate to tell every person and it would seem a bit nuts to go around telling everyone my mistakes but I can say if something were ever revealed that I've never hidden it and here's all the people who know.

We're all human. Though living with our own actions is just horrible, horrible sometimes. Equally, it's awful to have pseudoskeletons--to be misunderstood as having and have others act against you on it--the skeletons people think you have or have been told you have that you don't.

Seriously, William?--you are so serious that surprises me. I am laughing, not at you, but amused because I at first thought you meant spring air or something. A lot of my friends experimented with drugs or alcohol--I didn't but have been riveted by their exciting lives. My favorite story was from a friend who was/is a hippie (he's much older, and a veteran as well as a hippie) who had a very strict stepdad. My friend put LSD in his stepdad's sandwich and the guy was never so laid back as he was that day.

I think many people have done foolish things themselves and would not necessarily judge. The problem with judging someone and holding oneself up as an example is that a self-righteous person can mess up worse the next day. Have done it myself.

Fame is a phobia. But anything can be lived through and dealt with. I wrote a note of support to someone recently who I know who's been in the midst of a public controvery. I've found that my friends have stuck by me through everything. I am surprised they did not judge me or think badly of me--I don't see how they don't.

I didn't know other people also had this phobia.

william Peace said...

Frida, I am being flippant and serious at the same time. I have absolutely no respect for the main stream media, that includes TV and print. I do not rust much of what I read and see and am weary of sound bites or superficial stories designed to prompt a knee jerk reaction.

I have made many mistakes, big and small, in life. This is a good way to learn as the educational curve is sharp. I also think our mistakes are inevitable and help form our character. As one gets older as the trite old saying goes our mistakes get bigger. Thankfully as I age I seem to make fewer mistakes.