If you don't know me by now,
You will never ever really know me.
-- Kenny Gamble & Leon Huff
I can't decide whether or not it is good for me to be famous. But my preliminary conclusion is that it is bad, primarily because fame is something you cannot manage. That is, fame for the average person is bad because the average person cannot manage it. But for the celebrity, fame is good.
Sunday, I took Boy up to Six Flags Magic Mountain. The best ride there is called Tatsu. We waited in line for 2 hours before we got our thrill on. During that time, we were chatted up by Michael and Suzanne. Michael is in Hollywood, he's an actor and producer and it wasn't 10 minutes before he handed me his card. Suzanne is a train the trainer at JPL, I got hers too. It was a cool and wide ranging conversation about everything from 50 meter objects hitting Mars, rodeo poker, pilots in North Carolina to NASCAR family dynasties to the movie Four Brothers to hoodies with eye-holes. We also talked a lot about the software and film industries. What I love and hate about Hollywood folks is that they are dysfunctionally over-sociable. Every conversation comes back around to The Business, and that's how people in entertainment get work. Parties are marketing opportunities. It permeates your life. And so I get their business cards and websites and IMDB listing quickly, as opposed to conversations with normal people In which I never get such information.
Hollywood folks are prepared for stardom and fame. They have a way of living on the very edge of it, of being teased by it, of nursing it. They see it in a different way, I think, than the rest of it. And the ones who survive have to manage it well. Similarly, I have had to manage fame in being a notable blogger and on-air personality. I pay very close attention to how I'm known, why I'm known and most importantly, how I would deal with the possibility that I could become very well known. So when I talk about identity, I pay close attention to how I have changed mine as an online persona over the years, and how actors and celebrities have a close or far distance from the way they are known.
An actor has become a different thing, I think in our society. The discipline has been transformed over the 20thC, as has the nature of celebrity and fame. It has to do with the pervasiveness of media and the extent to which an actor is perceived as being authentic. I'd like to use the term 'actor' almost interchangeably with 'agent'. Not agent as in talent agent, but more like secret agent. An actor is a person but an actor has a role. An actor's credibility, his fame comes from the success of portaying that role. The success accrues to the root person for something that may or may not have anything to do with who the person actually is. The actor, unlike an agent, does not set out to deceive his audience against their interests, but the efforts are similar. It is a confidence game.
Nulan has an interesting take on being in the world but not of the world, and I immediately think of subversion of hegemony. Subversion is not implicit in living off the grid, but the matter of the social contract is deep within the presumptions of dropping out or participating in some subculture or alternative lifestyle. There are inevitable political costs to social independence.
This brings me back to fame and identity, belonging and the social contract. How much does fame help or hinder? People want to claim R Kelly. People want to claim Benazir Bhutto. Name recognition and the familiarity with an accepted credible act is the currency. Both Kelly and Bhutto know how to parlay and manage that fame regardless of the acts of the person. They are big enough to compartmentalize and they manage that well. They get the benefit of a doubt. They are influential enough to merit a double standard, which they have earned in the eyes of millions.
I think this is a unique skill that is being brought forth in contemporary times - to have legends and multiple titles and mythologies associated with one's persona. I always look towards myth and the history of kings and rulers in anticipating the things that wealthy and powerful people in America will expect for themselves, some portion of which will trickle down. We didn't always, in the broad middle class, have credit but the expansion of the American economy meant that would come. So manipulations of identity are coming down the pike to American whales, and then to the upper-middle class.
My association with Hollywood folks will help me understand the vicissitudes of fame management and my tech background will help me understand what's up with managing virtual selves. It should be an interesting combination. I'll be blogging on it this year.