Recently, I had a very interesting conversation with a colleague of mine about his long-term partner of 10 years. Said partner’s niece happens to be Jonah Hill’s current girlfriend. Yes, THE Jonah Hill. The ever-funny, prolific, talented Hollywood personality Jonah Hill.
While I was having this discussion with my colleague around 8:30am that day (Sydney, Australia time), his partner rang him up from New York, elated at the fact that she was on her way to the premiere of Jonah Hill’s new movie. She also mentioned that she was in a limousine and had very much been spoilt and looked after by Hill’s retinue. Sounds like the life, doesn’t it?
Upon hanging up, my colleague looked truly happy for his partner and very excited to tell me about their chat. However, his very first statement after their phone call betrayed what his facial expression told me. He said, “now I wonder if I can live up to what she has just encountered…” He must have caught himself instantly afterward, reined himself back in and continued on about the wonderful experience his partner was currently having. He also kept reiterating that they have been strong for 10 years… Not that I needed convincing. But repeating and reinforcing an idea in itself, to me, is a sign of shaky foundations. Some sort of insecurity (for a want of a better word).
Soon after that conversation, my colleague had to get back to work. And I haven’t seen him since. I would like to emphasise that our line of work is not intellectual, professional nor glamorous by society’s standards. We wear uniforms to work, we arduously work ungodly hours and employees look perpetually stoned but are expected to, at all times, perform at a high level of accuracy. It is not uncommon to sight colleagues sprawled unconscious over the meal room benches. So I can somewhat understand where my colleague’s insecurity comes from…
Fame. The highly glorified status of publicity for reasons of legitimate contribution to society, for infamy or for absolutely nothing in particular. Men live for it and men will die for it. What ever for? Immortality? As far as I know, only names become immortal. Depending on the quality of your work and ideas, then those may live on for generations, too. Unfortunately, most people, via social media these days, fruitlessly aim to be famous as well. It is imperative in fame that you be exceptional, a good role model, have a productive life and be a grateful citizen of the world. I’m not sure if people realise that in fame, you also leave your true self behind. Fame and social media provokes in us, especially the hoi polloi, a fear of being mediocre, a fear of failing, and a fear of missing out. Ironically, this phenomenon now renders fame common as anyone and everyone can these days be famous. But through this behaviour, and I hope we all wake up to this before we drown in despair and in a sea of one-upping the other, we leave our true selves behind. We forget to be human. We only show the good parts of us, even if we have to feign it so we can win followers. We pretend that fortune has provided for us favourably and spend money we don’t have, do things we cannot really do, and talk about transient things that have no relevance to our being humans and living well. Don’t we realise that with responsible fame comes obligations? Perhaps most of us inherently do, but incorrectly portray it as merely “looking good.”
Our flaws and shortcomings are what make us beautifully human. It’s what makes us connect and empathise with people. It is what is real. And keeping it real is so much easier than pretentiousness and outright pomp.
I think, fame envies humans. Because humans have the capacity to embrace the complexities of life: we live, fall, self-destruct, are reborn, and are able to rise from the ashes. We can attain redemption just by being true to our nature. We can grasp the ideas of right and wrong, too little and too much, ignorance and rationality. We can choose privacy over publicity. And we have the free will to opt for virtue and live an honourable life. Or be victims and be dragged around by misfortunes.
Fame is not as flexible. For in fame, you must always be perfect as a role model to society, especially to the youth, albeit only in appearance. In fame you are constantly surrounded by people who know nothing about the real you and there is no hiding place; paradoxically though, however crowded it is, it is the most isolating experience. The masses can and will slither themselves into the darkest corners of your soul. In fame you can be defamed, slandered, defiled and destroyed without impunity. In fame you are superfluous and can be discarded at any time as nothing more than commodity that brings in the big bucks, big ratings, the most followers, and the biggest potential for people to waste their supposedly precious time on. Fame is relentless and even your family and friends get dragged around with you.
So why, oh why, people would dream of being famous is very much beyond me. The price to pay is way too high. I think the biggest price to pay in fame is the fact that there’s no authenticity anymore and consequently, as in keeping it real we make mistakes and meet mishaps that teach us our life lessons, then our capacity for growth, trust, vulnerability and empathy wanes with it. We are walking masks instead of humans walking AS humans should: pilgrims of life and love, as true to our nature as possible.
So to my colleague and everyone else like you, you have way so much more to offer to your lover and to the world than what fame can. You can offer her love, kindness, security and most importantly, your truest and most vulnerable self.