Fame Junkies (homepage)
Buzz about the book
An overview of the book
Why I wrote this book
A survey on fame among teenagers
An excerpt from the book
A story that didn't make the book
WHY I WROTE THIS BOOK…
As a writer, I have always been drawn to people with a tendency towards obsession. For a long time, I was interested in people’s attachments to their homes, and eventually this interest led me to quit my job as a reporter and set out to write a book on the subject matter (BRAVING HOME, Houghton Mifflin, 2003). In the course of doing this, I spent months living in some of the most dangerous homes in America– rickety houses, precariously situated on erupting volcanoes and on storm-battered islands – in the hopes of learning why these die hard residents refused to give up their homes.
My interest in my new book (FAME JUNKIES, Houghton Mifflin, Jan 2007) grew from this same vein of curiosity. The big difference was: The niche that I now intended to explore was governed, not by our devotion to home, but by our devotion to celebrity. I wanted to delve into a world where celebrity was not just a persistent distraction – but a full-blown, all-encompassing obsession. I had my eyes on the vortex. This, of course, meant that I had to set out for
It is commonly said that Americans are obsessed with celebrities, but this observation begs the question: What exactly makes someone a celebrity? Indeed, the word “celebrity" seems to encompass everyone from high-profile sushi chefs to Olympic shot-putters to Supreme Court Justices. I was most interested in the quintessential entertainment celebrities – like 50 Cent, Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, and even Paris Hilton – whom we often see parading down the red carpet. I wanted to know: Why do countless Americans yearn so desperately to have this sort of fame? Why do others, like celebrity personal assistants, devote their entire lives to servicing these people? And why do millions of others fall into the mindless habit of watching them from afar?
I will be the first to admit that writing about fame is a stretch for me. I grew up far from the glitz of Hollywood in the rust belt of Buffalo, New York, with a leftist father who for years wore a massive Castro beard and a mother who accumulated advanced degrees but who, despite my best efforts to teach her otherwise, constantly confused Bob Marley with Barry Manilow. The closest I got to “glamour” was donning my moon boots and polar parka to trudge through the snow and visit my neighbor’s house for a screening of Wrestlemania. Even years later, during my first encounter with a real Hollywood agent, I asked so many broad and apparently obvious questions that he finally snapped, “Kid, where the hell are you from,
Looking back, it seems odd to me that Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous was as popular as it was. In other times and places, the flaunting of such discrepancies in wealth has incited revolution, but for some reason this show did precisely the opposite: It enthralled millions of middle-class viewers like me. I was a ridiculously skinny, uncoordinated kid and so I avoided sports, read way too many books, and talked pretty much continuously. I must have set off an almost Pavlovian response in the schoolyard bullies. Robin Leach seemed to provide a reprieve from all of this. For thirty minutes, his show allowed me to escape from the cramped confines of our family room – with its watermarked ceiling and buzzing radiators – and enjoy an intoxicating dose of glamour.
One of the many things that still fascinates me about Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous is that there were no actual rich or famous people on the show. The only thing that we, the viewers, saw were these people’s possessions. In a way, the whole show functioned as one continuous “point of view shot,” which is what facilitated the voyeurism of it all. And I’m pretty sure this is why I liked the show so much. Once a week it allowed me to imagine that I was there, in
Eventually, my parents became so annoyed with my nightly devotion to Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous that they actually gave away our television set, thus ending my obsession with Robin Leach and the world from which he came. To fill the void they bought me a bicycle and, when the weather permitted, I channeled my time and energy into cycling. Still, there were momentary relapses. I’d sleep over at a friend’s house and before I knew it I was glancing at the television and pining for the sound of Robin Leach’s English accent.
Even today, a similar celebrity-watching urge lingers. The big difference now is the number of" celebrity news” outlets. All you have to do is flick on E!, the 24-hour celebrity news network, or buy a copy of US Weekly and turn to the “Stars– They’re Just Like Us!” section in order to learn about Brad and Angelina’s latest tropical vacation. And I still get sucked in. I’ll be walking through the airport, hustling toward my gate, and the next thing I know I’m standing beneath a television set, watching a segment on Julia Roberts’ adorable children. And as I’m absorbing every last word of this pap, somewhere in the back of my head, the faintest of voices is asking: Why on earth do you care?