Thursday, February 27, 2020

Are You Sure You'd Want to be Famous?

First of all, a person can't be famous, as I argued here.

But if you've read that and still dream of fame - i.e. to hear your name uttered widely, with or without the use of trained parakeets - then consider this.

I'm quietly friends with a major Twitter celebrity. You've likely heard of him. He's really, really, no, really busy and overextended, and I understand what that's like, so I pretty much leave him alone. I know he won't come to me much; I go to him, and only infrequently. If I delight him, he’ll return the best he can offer: a nano second of attention in the form of some ragged snatch of communication that sounds like it was composed in a war zone but contains a faint but detectable degree of Personal Touch that, from him, required herculean effort. It's the equivalent of a normal person cooking an ambitious banquet for your entire family, or shoveling your driveway after a blizzard. Everything's relative.

We're friends because we're both no-bullshit and we both Know Stuff. We'd never insult each other by expressing the obvious. I send him chancy stuff that would infuriate most people. Candid advice, feeder ideas, and criticism when he screws up, e.g. needs to work his stuff more diligently because frantic pace skewed his judgement.

I'm the only one who does this for him, and he appreciates it especially because of (not despite) the fact that I do so extraordinarily tersely and bluntly, respecting his time. His vast ocean of peeps indiscriminately adore everything he says or does, and he's smart enough to see the danger. I get it, and he gets that I get it. We have an understanding.

Some time ago, I sent a missive, and he didn't reply. He never doesn't reply. Like most super-saturated people, he usually gets back in milliseconds. It's the only way to stay ahead of the tidal wave. But this time...nada. I figured my message got past him. There's a point where even friends get filtered. I get it. But a few weeks later, I sent another and heard nothing. And I concluded that our friendship was over.

Perhaps I'd been overly blunt. Or he'd grown tired of the straight talk. Or I simply stopped being a person who passed his ever-tightening process of human triage. No problem. But I certainly wasn't going to try a third time. I'm not the most prideful person, but I am way too cool to join the mob of fans frantically vying for attention.

I was wrong, it turned out, though I only found out accidentally (again, he's not someone who's, like, checking in much). From his perspective, he just missed a couple emails. C'mon, man, I'm overwhelmed. You know this. Don't be so quick to give up! I thought we were friends!

He's right. But so was I. From my perspective, our friendship was already squishy. A real friend is someone you can send random goofy crap to and they'll put up with it, not someone keeping you (intentionally or not) on tenterhooks re: justifying precious access via judiciously infrequent extra-succulent offerings. Such a friendship seems tenuous to begin with, so if you throw in a couple non-replies, geez, what's left, really?

When Chowhound hit big, and I got mega-slammed, I stopped engaging in much goofy stuff. I grew terser, and became spottily incommunicado with friends, who were hair-trigged to assume I'd evolved into some unfathomable higher-level thing, ala Gary Lockwood in Star Trek. 

Depending on their own insecurity levels, I was somewhere between "Busy doing his thing and no longer accessible; oh well, g'bye!", or "The jackass who thinks he's too good for the likes of me." Few emailed a second time after non-reply, and none a third. They felt, understandably, too cool to join the mob of fans vying for my attention, so they "took the cue" and walked away. All are long gone. Some might be prodded to uneasily come out for a beer or a bite, exactly once, from sheer lookie-loo curiosity (maybe I'd show up in a Bentley with a uniformed driver or whatever; handing out shiny nickels to adoring children and evading paparazzi). But they've all moved on. It was a shock to discover this upon finally leaving CNET, with, at long last, some free time. Ready to hang out. Hey, where is everybody?

How'd you like everyone you know, and nice people you'd want to know, to be hair-triggered to walk away forever if you ever missed a text or two? Everyone else gets away with it. But if you're the least bit well-known, every move seems significant. You appear to send messages via your actions and inactions. One communications slip-up and folks feel dismissed and cross you off their list. And, of course, the tumult of fame (even the Z-list minor-league celebrity I once experienced), plus whatever blood-sucking monster generates your notoriety, ensures plenty of slips. Way more slips than most people. So many slips.

So are you sure you'd want to be famous?

By the same token, if you're famous and are the least bit not-totally-friendly-and-engaging to anyone anywhere ever, you'll forever be stamped as That Asshole. Other people can have bad days, but when eyes are tightly upon you, it's like NASCAR. They're watching and waiting for a bloody crash. They're thirsty for it. This is why big time celebs do that cheery hand wave and jump in the limo. Fans give them the willies.

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