An Explanation for the Price of Fame

This topic’s a bit of a stretch from my usual. It’s a question of human nature and society, more than anything else—but what else is a writer, if not one who looks at human nature or society? And I’m never one to skip a chance to look at something that could provide interesting characterization on several fronts.

This article is in response to “Why Is It the Price of Fame?” on Rocket Scientist. She asks why we hold celebrities to such high standards, and act as if betrayed when they don’t meet them, points out that celebrities and admired figures should not “owe” the public anything. I’m not sure celebrities was the term she wanted, given that there’s an entire industry devoted to the dirty laundry of the rich and famous, but I found the question interesting, and possibly applicable to my own narratives (but then again, what isn’t?).

This got me thinking about why it is that people hold celebrities to such a high standard, and I found a possible answer. I’m not going to make any judgment on whether it’s right or not, just explain the possibility.

In my opinion, the reason why celebrities are held to such a high standard is the younger generation. We’ve all seen children take on role models and try to emulate them, right? Such is the case here.

But why, one might ask, is it the children and not everyone else? Role models aren’t a child’s providence alone. This is true; even adults will admire people. But when a child tries to emulate a person, as often as not the emulation is total, every aspect that will hold still long enough. Needless to say, the parents want to avoid their children learning the wrong lessons, so they either try to push the child towards role models they do not find objectionable, or whitewash away the flaws that the ones the child has latched onto have. It is, after all, the easy way. And needless to say, this means the parents are going to want anyone whom the child might consider worthy of emulation to have as few negative qualities as possible, so as to make keeping them from getting the wrong ideas easier. I’m not surprised by their need to; after all, if you disapprove of drug use, how do you explain something like Nobel prize winner Kary Mullis maintaining that his LSD use “was more important than any courses [he] took” to your children?

And the children grow up, and that’s when the sense of betrayal that Steph mentions in her article comes in. People as a class tend to react badly when something important to their worldview is contradicted; the more it does to the worldview, the more badly they react. So when they discover their role models are human, the reaction is quite strong.

As for the rest of the population, I would expect that they get the attitude from the people around them who fall into the above groups.

The overall idea of big names’ reputation needing to be spotless is one that I find to be rather interesting from both a writing and gaming standpoint. I’ve toyed with it a bit with one of my own characters, a rather image-conscious young woman in a position of high responsibility.

What do you think? Does this fit with your take on the celebrity reputation issue? Do you think it could make an interesting plot or characterization element?

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