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Feb 7, 2011

I Know Someone Famous!!! So Obviously, I'm Cool Too

No, the person I know is not Lady Gaga, sorry.

I know someone who's about to become famous.

She's going to be a famous author, in my field (fantasy). She's also already pretty famous in another field that's important to me, but I already knew that before I met her, so it's not as thrillingsome.

I've been thinking about fame lately, and how, in some ways, it is more enjoyable to bask in the aquaintance of someone famous than to be famous. But even better is to know someone before they are famous, so that that you can prove to the world that you knew how cool that person was long before everyone else.

I know her now before she's famous, and I can see fame gathering like rainclouds on the horizon. I mean, she's going to become famous, literally, tomorrow.  And it's pretty awesome. It's great for her and all that, but it's even better for me. Because, well, I KNOW her. Or, more to the point, she knows me. She's not my bff or anything, but we've had lunch together.

I read an article, which, sadly, I'm too lazy to cite, that said the internet had given rise to an unprecendented number of unilateral friendships. Ordinarily, when you become friends with someone, you both share more and more about yourselves until you both know each other pretty well. But with the rise of mass media came the possibility of unilateral intimate sharing. We peons can see famous people on our tv, read their personal blogs and their tweets about what they had for breakfast, and feel like we know them better than we know our spouses. But they know (or care) squat all about us. That's a unilateral friendship.

Ask yourself a question. If you saw a famous person and a stranger of the same age, gender etc. drowning, and you could only save one, who would you save?

Chances are you would instinctively try to save the one you "knew," the famous person. Because your monkey brain would be screaming at you, "This is an important ally! This person is part of your kin, one of the tribe!"

Sadly, however, if you were drowning and a famous person had to choose between you and a stranger... well, you *would* be the stranger. Your monkey brain has mislead you into imagining a reciprocal relationship where there is none. Hope you brought a life jacket.

Have you ever noticed one of those awkward exchanges on Facebook or some other public social media forum, where an Ordinary Bloke makes a rather personal request of Famous Person? And then Famous Person demurs and says, "I'm sorry, I can't do that for everyone who asks, too many people ask." Sometimes it ends there, but sometimes Ordinary Bloke turns nasty... as if he has just been betrayed by a good friend. Of course, Famous Person is NOT his good friend, but Ordinary Bloke feels hurt because that's not what Monkey Brain says. Monkey Brain says he and Famous Person are BFFs, because after all Ordinary Bloke knows EVERY DETAIL of Famous Person's life, just as if they were BFFs.

Here's another thought. No one likes a loser. But everyone likes a winner who was once a loser. There are plenty of people who go from Ordinary Bloke to Famous Person, practically overnight. (Did I mention I know one?)

In fact, I might know more than one of them, because, as it happens, I know a lot of very good writers who are on their way to becoming famous.

You, reading this blog, might well be one of them.

So just keep in mind that once you become a Famous Person, people are going to make more demands of your time and attention than you can give. And at first you'll remember what it felt like to be an Ordinary Bloke, and you'll try to help all of them. Gradually, you'll get tired of that and just blow them off. As long as you are polite, that's just what you have to do, because you are only one person and you can't be BFFs with everyone who reads your book or your blog or your brainwaves. (Who knows what media they will have in the future, right?)

Just also keep in mind--whether your are famous yet or not--that an Ordinanry Bloke, even some out-and-out loser, won't necessarily always be a loser. Remember the fairytale where the ugly beggar woman knocks on the door and asks for a crumb? Don't slam the door in her face. Because she's a fairy in disguise. And when she's a Famous Person, she will remember if you treated her like trash.

The safest policy? Treat yourself as if you were already Famous. Your time is valuable; don't squander it. But also treat everyone you meet as if they were Famous too. Seriously, ask yourself, "If this were Famous Person X saying this to me, would I respond differently? Would I let this person drown?"

9 comments:

C. N. Nevets said...

This is making me want to revisit the snow monkey studies on group size and group dynamics, because I think the sort of unilateral relationships you talk about are partly a result of that.

I'm kicking myself for not remembering the exact numbers, but whatever. It's something along the lines of most individuals can have about 50 fairly intimate, reciprocal relationships. Up to about 200, you can have fairly friendly relations of varying reciprocity. Once it exceeds five hundred you can barely remember names and faces.

It's one thing for me to sit here and have Clive Cussler as one of my 500. Mr. Cussler has 5 million. It's not even possible for him to contemplate reciprocity. The sheer numbers alone defy the wiring of the primate brain.

Tara Maya said...

Nevets, I've heard of that too, I think it's called the Dunbar number.

Maria Zannini said...

I don’t know. I prefer to just treat people as plain folks. I wouldn’t give two figs if they were famous or the kid who bags my groceries. In the end, I’m judging by how they treat me (and others) rather than where their stars have landed. And I would no more intrude on the bagger’s time than I would ‘famous person’s’ time.

Besides, what is fame anyway other than fleeting?

I’m old. :grin: I can afford to be philosophical.

PS Lady Gaga and I share the same birthday. Sadly, not the same decade.

C. N. Nevets said...

@Maria - I think many of us feel the same way. When it gets sneaky is when it's someone famous and someone you've never seen before in your life. Nothing's universal, but for most people there's this inescapable imprint on the brain that registers, "This person is familiar in a positive," and directs your energy that way.

It's pernicious.

And the annoying thing about ethics is -- what's your alternative? To say, "Well, that person's famous, so I will save the one I don't know." Which almost becomes punishing the famous way.

The brain is a vile, vile thing.

Maria Zannini said...

@CN: Well, I wasn’t really addressing on who I would save. But I’m probably psychologically fixed on that too.

My usual order is to save the most vulnerable. A child first, a pet, the infirmed, then the traumatized. If they’re adults, I expect them to save themselves. —or me, since I can’t swim. LOL.

But we’ll assume for the sake of argument that I am a world class Olympic swimmer.

In the end, for me at least, fame/recognition doesn't enter into the equation.

Tara Maya said...

Of course, intellectually, I place no more value on the life of a famous person than on a non-famous person.

But suppose it were something more mundane than drowning. Suppose someone who would have no chance to pay it back asked you to spot them twenty dollars. If I gave the money to the stranger it would not be because of any feelings I had for the stranger, but because of my ethical philosophy, a purely intellectual decision. (Probably.) But if it were the author of my favorite childhood books, books that gave hundreds of hours of re-reading enjoyment, I would do so with a warm feeling, not as though as I were extending a favor, but as if I were paying a debt. In a sense, by writing that book, even if it wasn't for me, that writer already did me a favor.

So it's not completely unreasonable of me to feel closer to someone like that; and at the same time, I cannot expect it to be reciprocal.

Tara Maya said...

Maria, like you, I would try to save the most vulnerable first, which is why I was careful to say (in the thought experiment) that such things weren't an issue.

To be honest, I don't know if anyone's ever tried the experiement. OR something similar.

Ted Cross said...

Yep, I am going to very very famous one day. Sadly for me, it will probably be two or three hundred years from now!

Michelle Davidson Argyle said...

Nevets, if you're like me you start to forget names and faces after 25 people. I have a goldfish brain. It pretty much sucks.

This is such an interesting post, Tara! I think it's important to treat everyone with respect. Once we stop doing that we've lost something that will probably come back to bite us in the butt later down the road.