The Dark Side of Fame

Many creative people actively pursue fame, or at least endure it, as a way to advance their careers. But fame may also be driven by hidden emotional needs, and can lead to harmful expectations and distorted thinking on both sides.Author J.K. Rowling in the aftermath of her success with "Harry Potter" commented that people wanted her emotions "to be very simple.

They wanted me to say, 'I was poor and I was unhappy, and now I've got money and I'm really happy.' And it's what we all want to see when the quiz winner wins the big prize, you know. You want to see some jumping up and down, for everything to be very uncomplicated.".

But that is not her reality, she said: "The fact is, I was living a very pure life. There was no press involvement, there was no pressure. Life was very pure and it became more complicated.".Paparazzi shout insults at prominent actors to get a reaction, and some go further.

Arnold Schwarzenegger and his family were once run off the road during a chase by paparazzi. Now the Governor, he recently passed a bill making anyone who commits assault in an attempt to get a photograph or video liable to triple damages and loss of profits.The recent Golden Globe Awards (January 2006) provided another kind of example. Actress Scarlett Johansson was interviewed by designer Isaac Mizrahi, who actually groped her, claiming he wanted to see how her dress was made.

She graciously said later, "Someone I have never met before fondles me for his own satisfaction. Like he doesn't know how a dress works. He's a guy that's starting his TV career and he's making a bit of an exciting moment for himself.

I can't be angry at him.".But his outrageous behavior is indicative of how celebrities are often treated. If this had happened on a city street instead of a red carpet, couldn't he be charged with sexual assault?.

When you are famous enough, it seems, you are no longer simply a human being to some journalists, who seem to use fame as an excuse to set aside ordinary considerations of respect and propriety. People who "need" fame may tolerate a lot of disrespect to get more attention.Actor Virginia Madsen ("Sideways") noted that Lindsay Lohan has been asked questions the media would never ask of boys: "In every interview I read, somebody was asking her about her weight and, 'Do you throw up in the bathroom?' I mean, no one asks teenage boys, 'Do you have pubic hair yet?' Whereas they'll ask a teenage girl, 'Are you still a virgin?'".Many talented actors have an ambivalent attitude about gaining or pursuing celebrity status, or just high visibility with the public and the decision makers such as film studios, record companies, book publishers, and art galleries which can help their careers grow.Winona Ryder commented about being relatively out of the spotlight the past couple of years, "Hollywood people associate movies solely with fame and I didn't enjoy working in that way anymore. I am so much happier now.

".The prmotional build up by movie studios and publicists can warp reality for both the public and the celebrity.Lynda Carter was once voted "The Most Beautiful Woman In The World" and admits "there was a short time where I believed the hype.

Not the "beautiful" things but that I believed I was really important, and that didn't last very long because it didn't feel good.".Natalie Portman cautions, "The moment you buy into the idea you're above anyone else is the moment you need to be slapped in the face.

".Robert B. Millman, professor of psychiatry at Cornell Medical School, developed the concept of acquired situational narcissism to explain some of the grandiose fantasies and other distortions people can be prey to after gaining high levels of fame.

One of the problems is being surrounded by people assuring the famed one that they are worthy of it. But as Millman noted in a NY Times article, the famous really are different: ''They're not normal. And why would they feel normal when every person in the world who deals with them treats them as if they're not?'' ["Acquired Situational Narcissism" by Stephen Sherrill, Dec. 9, 2001.

].Someone with a true disorder of narcissism may have a grandiose sense of self-importance, exaggerated view of their talents, with fantasies about power, love and success. But they also may suffer from unstable relationships, substance abuse and erratic behaviour.Fame can also assault sensitive people. Johnny Depp said he felt so intimidated by his celebrity status during his early career that he "had to be drunk to be able to speak and get through it. I guess I was trying not to feel anything.

".But it can also be strengthening, as Kim Basinger noted: "Because I'm such a shy person, having to live it out loud in front of everyone has made me a stronger woman, so much stronger, that it's been a gift to me in a way.".Some actors acknowledge that being seen as "larger than life" and as characters they are only pretending to be can lead to unwelcome reactions from other people.Natalie Portman, for example, admits she had "a bad early experience" when "The Professional" came out: "I'm really proud of the film," she said, "but it was strange for me to be looked at as a sexual object when I was 12.".

Some people pursue fame to gain a sense of self and validation, and it can assume a bloated importance. "I remember asking my therapist whether it was time to die, because, I thought, no photos equals death," Alanis Morissette once admitted.Brooke Shields once said about being a public person her whole life that she "assumed it wasn't taking a toll on me because in return I got positive things, validation or affection or compliments or whatever. Little by little I gave away a lot. And at my age now, I'm done giving it all away.

Because it isn't directly proportionate to anything, except sometimes a sense of emptiness.".A number of talented actors say they actively avoid too much attention.

Sarah Polley has purposely stayed in Canada, not moving to Hollywood, even though it could help her career. She noted that an event like the Cannes Film Festival can be "an incredibly easy place to lose yourself. when you have three days of nothing but people asking you questions and being interested in you.".

With all the attention about "Brokeback Mountain," costar Michelle Williams recently said she and her fiance Heath Ledger may move to Amsterdam or Greece or somewhere "with no paparazzi or gossip magazines, where we don't have to feel so self-conscious, because that is the death of a spontaneous, creative, real life. I can't live my life that way and pretend I'm not bothered by it and that everything's fine. It deeply disturbs me." [Interview mag.

, March 2006].Psychotherapist Sue Erikson Bloland finds there can be false expectations of high visibility and acclaim.In her article Fame: The Power and Cost of a Fantasy (Atlantic Monthly, November, 1999), she noted that fame "is not a successful defense against feelings of inadequacy. We imagine that our heroes have transcended the adversities of the human condition and have healed their childhood traumas by achievement of the extraordinary. We want to believe that they have arrived at a secure place of self-approval; that achieving recognition - success - can set us all free from gnawing feelings of self-doubt.".

Suzanne Somers commented in her book "After the Fall" on one of the most potentially destructive aspects: "Once you are famous, you don't have to evolve as a person. It's not necessary or important that you read or think or make corrections in your personality. Nobody cares! Just keep the profits rolling in. There's no need to move yourself forward spiritually and emotionally.".

But growth, she adds, "is the greatest gift we can give ourselves as human beings, to constantly evolve, to be the best people we can be, to tune into our feelings and face ourselves in all our nakedness and truly look at who we are.".


Douglas Eby writes about psychological and social aspects of creative expression and achievement. His site has a wide range of articles, interviews, quotes and other material to inform and inspire: Talent Development Resources

By: Douglas Eby

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