Some weeks ago, I went to a couple of events at the Great Southern Writers’ Festival, where I listened to various authors talk about their craft, their stories and their experiences. It was a real insight into the different ways in which writers work, and with which aspects they struggle, and which they enjoy. It was also quite inspiring, being in such close proximity to Real Life Published Authors, but at one point, when listening to the panel discuss their books, I had an epiphany.

Well, it wasn’t really an epiphany. More of a thought, really:

These people are just people. They’re people just like me.

This seems blatantly obvious to others, I’m sure, but this thought was a really new one, because I am very good at putting people on pedestals. Of course, that’s a bad idea, because more often than not, they fall off. And it’s almost contradictory to what I believe: that we should respect each other based on how we perform as humans, not our positions in society. But sometimes it’s hard to look at those you admire, who have done well in something you are trying to do yourself, or would like to do, and not put them on a pedestal. Especially when they’ve been involved for a long time in an industry in which you’d like to work, and thus have experience to share, and advice to offer. What I realised when sitting in the audience, listening to these writers, is that their experiences might not marry well with my own. They had advice to offer and it wasn’t always going to work because our situations are different.

This is also obvious, of course, but it’s taken this long to dawn on me. And I wonder about how we tend to have such an attitude nowadays, in particular, with celebrities, who sometimes are not even famous for anything in particular, other than their wealth or their social status. They’ve not worked up through an industry to gain respect and notoriety; they’ve not written amazing songs or books; they’ve not trained for months and years to win a sporting event. They’re even more ‘just like us’ than others who are famous for achievements.

The internet’s made it possible for ordinary people to get famous for very ordinary things, and once they’re in the public eye, we want to hear their advice. We want to know what they eat, where they shop, their political beliefs, their views on the world. But really, why should it matter?

I was reading this post about the ways in which we almost expect to be offended, and how many on the internet are looking for a reason to be upset about what others are saying or doing. It’s along the same lines as this interview with Jon Ronson about his book, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed. (Some of you might remember I mentioned this book in the weekly links post a few weeks back). We want to admire people, to elevate them above all others as shining examples of what is good or funny or heroic, and when they don’t meet every single (unrealistic) criteria, it’s not so much that they tumble from that pedestal – it’s that we claw and push and rock at it until we knock them off.

Why do we even need to admire people in this way, I wonder? Surely it is much more interesting and fascinating that actors or politicians or artists or sportspeople are doing extraordinary things, but are really, in fact, just like us. Surely that is even more inspiring than imagining that they are infinitely more talented or clever? When I realised that the writers I’d spoken and listened to struggled with the same kinds of problems as I do, it was heartening, and it made sense that sometimes what worked for them wouldn’t work for me. They weren’t some kind of demigods, and that made them all the more appealing.

I suppose it might be easier, at times, to think of famous or successful individuals as having some quality or opportunity that the rest of us lack, which gives them the edge. It’s easier because that way, we don’t have to imagine that we could be them, if only we had the drive. I’m not arguing that anyone can do anything — of course we need to play to our strengths. And I think that luck often has an enormous part to play in success, as does knowing the right people and having the right connections. But even allowing for all that, royalty and world leaders and multimillionaires are still just people. They’re like me.

Far from feeling overwhelmed with the idea of not being able to live up to the success of others, I relish the idea that I, too, could be successful. Not necessarily in the same ways that others are, perhaps not with the same level of fame (and quite happily so), but still good at what I do, and content with what I can achieve. It’s not some weird alternative world in which celebrities live. It’s ours, and they’re just like us — whether or not they want you to think that!


2 thoughts on “Starstruck.

  1. Funny, I’ve been thinking about this a bit too recently, though perhaps from a slightly different angle. I read a few weeks ago that the Canadian children’s author, Robert Munsch, battles depression and alcoholism. It made me wonder how someone who writes with such joy and wit could, at the same time, face such dark demons. Robin Williams comes to mind too. And it’s got me thinking about the different personas that we all have, whether we’re famous or not. You may be a successful author or actor or musician, but you still have to go home at the end of the day and deal with a dying parent, kids school grades, relationship problems, the demons of self doubt, fear, not to mention the pressure of continuing to live up to your previous successes. Sure, you might have staff to help with the day-to-day stuff, but you still have a life to live that isn’t in the spotlight. Famous and successful people are just people too and shining a light in their eyeballs 24 hours every day and putting them on a pedestal doesn’t do them any favours.
    Happy Easter!

    • Yes, in particular what you say about the different personas we all have. It’s as if when someone is famous, we assume that the public ‘them’ is all these is, but of course none of us are like that! We all have the different masks we wear for different occasions, and rightly so — certain behaviour is appropriate in different spaces.

      Happy Easter to you too! I didn’t think it was going to be as exciting as Christmas, but apparently it causes just as much sleeplessness in young children the night before :/

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