Monday, September 17, 2012

Obama's Way (and the Dissociation of Fame)

Regardless of your politics, Michael Lewis' sprawling, fascinating feature in the new Vanity Fare, "Obama's Way" is unmissable. It's a historic first-hand look at the presidency by a journalist who was embedded by his side off and on for six months. As you might expect, Lewis' backstory of how the project went down is interesting in and of itself. He tells it on Fresh Air and on The Leonard Lopate Show.

The article's quite insightful, but Lewis misses one important point; many of Obama's observations about the position apply equally well to celebrity, generally. For example, the president is quoted as saying:
"One of the things you realize fairly quickly in this job is that there is a character people see out there called Barack Obama. That’s not you. Whether it is good or bad, it is not you. "
In my essay on JD Salinger, I wrote:
"...mass attention actually feels quite disturbing and artificial. For one thing, it's never truly directed at you; it focuses on a facet of a layer of a static image which happens to have your name affixed to it. And you play little part in choosing which facet of which layer of which image is focused upon. The assignment process is remarkably similar to the way children get dubbed with nicknames."

Two thoughts:

1. You cannot be famous. Only an image of you can be famous. (That said, even the non-famous are known to those around them only in terms of images and approximations, but at least they're more faithful images and approximations.)

2. I once read an interview with Bill Murray where he said he can't understand why anyone would want to be rich and famous. Rich, ok; maybe. But...famous?

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