A widely known person
The state or quality of being widely honoured and acclaimed
Celebrities are everywhere. You can’t get away from their bleached smiles and suntans, can you? They roam the globe, appearing on everything from gossip magazines to chat shows. Standing up for women’s rights, being patrons of cat charities, aids charities, victims of crime charities. Everywhere you look they are there – smiling out at you. Sometimes they are photographed drunk, or maybe you might see a police mugshot of them, where they have been arrested for lewd behaviour, fighting, or up on some drugs charge. Poor things. They have a terrible life. All that money and fame, and still they are unhappy. They complain that the press are invading their privacy, but that’s how they got famous in the first place, by smiling for the tv cameras, magazines etc. They are usually attractive, dress in expensive clothes, eat at fancy restaurants; and if they have earned enough, usually buy some sprawling property to affirm their A-list status. They smile and they smile, but how did they get to be so famous? Some are actors and actresses, others are singers, the rest are models, reality tv stars, tv soap opera stars, or sportsman. Teenagers pin up posters of them all over their walls; they get the stars to sign autographs (err their names), and young boys and girls alike drool over the latest celebrity to hit our screens, and gossip about them at school. “Oh, she’s so sexy…” “No she isn’t. She’s ugly.” “What? What do you know?” “Hey, but I’ll tell you who is gorgeous though…” It goes on and on. The celebrities get richer, the fans grow more adoring, and the smile just keeps getting whiter and whiter!
Dad, meet my new role model, he’s a gangsta rapper!
Parents are always thought of as role models for children, well, that’s how it used to be before the advent of the movie screen, the record, and the tv. Before this, it used to be a closed house. Mum and dad made the rules, and brought up their children to behave like them. One day it all changed; the beautiful movie star appeared on screen. Suddenly mum wasn’t someone to look up to any more, she was boring and strict, this star was beautiful, got all the men, and she smoked! Mum definitely wouldn’t approve! “Good,” thought the teenagers, “these are the people I want to look up to. They are glamorous, rich, and exciting, not like boring mum or dad.” Boys later saw “rebellious” rock stars playing their raunchy guitars, surrounded by beautiful women, and they wanted to be like them. Dad worked in an office, came home at five, had his dinner, and went to bed. “Great! I don’t want a dad like that,” they thought. “I don’t want to be like him when I grow up; I want to be a gangster, or a rocker, or an actor! I want to have an exciting life. If they can do it so will I.”
Today, celebrity role models go from strength to strength; and from all accounts, the badder they are, the better! Parents are horrified that their children idolise people like african-american rappers who have been, or still are, affiliated with dangerous drug gangs, up on drugs or gun charges, and call their women derogatory names like “bitch” and “ho” (whore), but the fans just lap it up. They love to buy into this magical world; that they can, for a small fee (cd, or movie ticket), be a part of, if only for a short time. They dress like them, start to use street slang in everyday life, and are genuinely surprised when they find out that mum and dad don’t like it! Actually they aren’t surprised, because they want mum and dad to be shocked. They want them to say “turn off that music,” “you’re not going out dressed like that,” “I forbid you to watch that movie.”
To the teenagers, it’s all a great game, isn’t it? And for the celebrity, however minor, it’s like all their ships came in at once: Payday. So the celebrities go out and spend their money; that’s what the people want after all.
Teenagers don’t want to be idolising some rocker who doesn’t swear, doesn’t drink much, doesn’t do drugs, and doesn’t have sex with “bitches.”
They would be horrified to find him in a modest home, taking public transport to work, caring about his wife and four beautiful children, and going out for walks with his poodle dog called “fluffy.” They can get all that at home.
Idolising a celebrity, is about them doing all the things you (a) wish you had the money to do, and (b) had the balls to do. So when we see a tv star on the front cover of the national tabloid magazine snorting coke, what do we do?
The older generation say “isn’t that appalling?” And the younger generation say “Yeah! way to go!” and then discuss how cool it was that so and so was caught on camera with a spoon up his nose, and two hookers in his bed.
Celebrities get to do the things we want to do, but (a) we can’t afford any coke, and (b) we don’t know any hookers, and (c) it’s not so interesting if you’re not a celebrity.
And that’s the difference between us and celebrities. If we were to go to nightclubs every night, do a gram of coke every day, and have three in a bed romps with hookers, people would be trying to get us psychiatric help, or they would pour scorn on us and say “look at the mess he’s made of his life, after all his opportunities…” Oh, and we would probably get fired from our job, and then we may end up in court! But for a celebrity these acts are, if not applauded by the general public, tolerated as being part of a celebrity lifestyle.
When the flame goes out
The problem is, celebrities are, funnily enough, just regular people like you and me. They have the same fears, the same personal troubles, except they are thrown into the limelight. At first it’s great. Imagine a hundred cameras taking a picture of your smiling face! Imagine being on stage in front of sixty thousand people, or having millions of people watch you at the cinema twenty foot tall, the feelings it must stir would be incredible! “All this attention for me?” Your brain would say. “Wow! This is fantastic.” And I’m sure it is.
A few years ago I would have loved to have been a celebrity. In fact I always wanted to be an actor or a star of some kind. Maybe I was lacking something as a child, but when I failed to live up to myself (never went to stage school, was very average at music), I gave up.
I am sure this is a similar story for many people, and judging by how many people turn up for the auditions to be on reality search for a star programmes on tv, there is no shortage of wannabes!
Whilst some musicians or actors may take offence to being described as drug taking lunatics having sex with “ho’s” every night, I may add that this is not an essay about the film or music industry, but an investigation of what it means to be a celebrity; and if you don’t do coke every night and “bang bitches,” then good for you!
So you are now a celebrity (unlike me) and you have all the attention. People “love you” (the image you portray) and they buy your records, or watch you on tv, or see you at the movies. You have been paid a lot of money and you’ve bought a lot of stuff. You have celebrity friends, you go to celebrity parties, everything is about you. You are the star. People are nice to you in the street. You get the best table in the restaurant. You holiday in the most expensive resorts in the caribbean. Your picture is everywhere. Then one day…
The last film or record you did was a flop; there’s someone new on the block, someone with an even whiter smile than you; your agent stops calling you, no one is interested in you any more, you were yesterday’s idol, and they are tired of looking at the same face and body. They want a new pin-up, someone more exciting, someone who can give them more of what they want. They want raunchier, dirtier, sexier, cleaner – someone who knows what they want. All you know is they don’t want you any more. How do you feel? How does it make you feel that nobody invites you to parties any more, that no one wants your autograph in the street, that no one cares anything about you, apart from maybe to say “Oh, isn’t that so and so? She used to be someone famous, but she’s all washed up now. Look at the way she dresses, and her make-up is terrible. I can’t believe I used to have a poster of her on my wall.”
So what thoughts go through your head when this happens to you, which it will, because celebrity doesn’t last for ever, unless you are one of ten old wrinkled stars the public has taken to. But for the rest of you, it’s the celebrity scrapheap.
If you’re a football star, tv soap star, or reality tv star I have the unfortunate task of being the bearer of bad news. Your star is about to go out even quicker than movie stars or rock stars.
I am not to blame! They made me get up in front of the camera
Some ex-stars inevitably feel bitter about the whole process of being summarily dumped first by their record label, or movie studio, and then next, the general public. They may blame everyone for having taken advantage of them when they were vulnerable, that in fact they hated standing up in front of all the press cameras all the time and signing autograph after autograph.
But if there is blame to be apportioned then it would have to be with their brain, which, after all, sought the fame in the first place, and then subsequently couldn’t deal with rejection. Adulation then rejection.
It must be a very hard fall, but for the people in charge of the media, it’s just business. They are happy to make you a celebrity, and keeping pandering to your ego, as long as you keep bringing in the money for them.
Some celebrities (rightly) cannot believe they have been treated like a piece of meat, but that’s all you are as a celebrity; a piece of meat to be tossed around with for profit – albeit a human piece of meat.
So why do it in the first place? Lack of love as a child? Low self-esteem? Perhaps. But the mind is tricky, and we have to watch it closely. You see, being a star of any kind means putting on a mask. The mask of deception. You are pretending to be someone in order to get the audience to believe you, and if you are good, you deceive them thoroughly (whether as an actor or rock star), but it isn’t the real you. The public love the character, but would they love you without the mask? The media companies cannot afford to take that chance, and you are forced out in character whenever you are in public.
Pretty soon, the mind, being easily fooled, starts to believe that you really are that character, and plays along nicely. It is only when someone tells you no one is interested in seeing your character any more, that things turn nasty. The mind rightly questions why it is not allowed to play the character any more, that it, in fact liked the character, and liked being applauded, and cheered, and photographed, and actually liked going to celebrity parties, and actually, whilst you weren’t looking, quietly disposed of the authentic you, in the mind garbage bin.
So you see, it couldn’t possibly go back to just being ordinary any more; it was great; people loved it, people loved the part it was playing. But as the realisation sinks in that you are no longer the character, so does the realisation that you don’t know who you are any more. You have been so used to playing a part that you forget how do be you without the pretence.
Unmasking the actor
So how does someone who has kept up a pretence find the real person again? Is it difficult or impossible to find this person? Do they exist any more? That’s what we shall find out.
Acting a part in life is something we all do to some extent. We pretend we are someone we wish we were. We pretend we are more confident than we really are, or more intelligent because we really don’t want people to see who we are. Our minds, being the protective guardians of our self-esteem, don’t want to let people see that we are not intelligent or confident. We want to project an image for others to see, of somebody they will like. Do you understand?
It is a brave person who faces the world without his mask on. We are all actors; some people just get paid for it! We can keep up an act for years, sometimes for our whole life, but what happens when we are unmasked, when no one wants to see our act any more? What happens then? Well, I’ll tell you; a great deal of mental anguish!
I kept up the pretence of a cool, funny, confident, successful professional for years, but none of it was true; and when the mask did come off it was a scary experience. I found myself empty, alone, and anxious. I was a stranger in my own body. Who was I? How could I find out?
I sat in pain for several years, unable to live with myself without projecting a confident exterior.
One day, I spoke to an old friend, and they asked how I was, probably expecting a resounding “great, fantastic, never better,” but I replied, “very unhappy,” which threw him a bit. “Ahh, you’ll get over it al,” they said, “you are really confident funny guy.” “That’s the thing,” I said, “actually, I’m not. I’ve been suffering from anxiety and panic attacks for the last…” “Is that so…?” they added uncomfortably, “well, al, it’s been nice seeing you again, take care, ok?” And with that, they disappeared, and I haven’t seen or heard from them since.
You see, the person they liked was the image they had of me. They believed I was confident and successful, so I must be. When I revealed that it was all an act (albeit a mildly subconscious act) they felt let down, as if I’d cheated them somehow. That I had not been honest with them, and maybe they then questioned if I had managed to fool him, how many others were doing the same. And what if he was just wearing a mask? Who knows the answers to these questions; all I know is that it is better to live an authentic life without the mask, that is, not pretending to be someone just so others will like you. But it is an easy trap to fall into.
That is the trap of celebrity, which is just a bigger brighter, more expensive, ultra white toothed mask than you and I wear.
We must learn to be authentic. From authenticity there is nowhere to fall psychologically.
Do you understand?
When we live authentically in complete awareness of ourselves in relationship with others we have no need to pretend. If people do not like us for who we are, so be it.
No pretending. No mask.
You are open to the universe. What a scary, and at the same time wonderful feeling to have.