Thursday, November 6, 2014
Go-To-Gay: Star Power
The first time I ever saw someone famous was during spring break 1997. I was in London at Piccadilly Circus. As we made our way to the tube we came upon large crowds gathering what we would learn was a premier of the remastered Star Wars films. That night I saw one of the guitarist from ZZ Top (a popular band from the 80s).
During the Jewish High Holidays, I realized that some high-profile individuals attend the same congregation as I do. When I was discussing this with some friends later on, one of them said, "Do you think when they are in services they think 'Gee, I'm so glad I don't have to be a well-known person right now?'"
Well, today our Go-To-Gay (and pop culture king), Wade Rouse, ponders this concept as well, as Chick Lit Central focuses on celebrities this month.
I have long been obsessed with celebrity culture.
Enter me in nearly any trivia contest, and I will either stun or horrify you with my celebrity knowledge (sports, too, but not geography … never geography).
This is partly due, I believe, to the time in which I grew up. My mother adored Elizabeth Taylor, my grandfather revered John Wayne, my aunt loved Elvis. But celebrities – in life and in our reverential tones toward them – seemed untouchable, like my great-grandmother's china my mom kept out of reach on the top shelf in our dining room cabinet.
But things changed, quickly. Celebrity life morphed, seemingly overnight, from "American Bandstand" to MTV, from "Battle of the Network Stars" to "Entertainment Tonight."
Suddenly, stars became a human, daily visitor into our homes.
In college, when sports was not blaring from one of the many TVs in our fraternity house, MTV ruled.
I watched Wham! and danced to David Bowie. I felt as if I single-handedly helped propel Madonna to stardom.
Most of us woke in the middle of the night to watch Princess Diana marry.
We swooned over Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, and then wanted her to be truly happy in real life, too.
The power of new media and technology made us feel like friends. It was a brilliant (and lucrative) delusion.
It is just that, I believe, which is the enduring power of my and our nation's celebrity obsession: We have felt like we know them, and, thus, desperately want stars' dreams to come true, because – in a way – ours do, too.
Much of my writing is filled with pop cultural and celebrity references. My former longtime Random House editor once joked that a single one of my humorous memoirs had more celebrity references than all of the books she edited combined (although, it must be stated, Deepak Chopra didn't use a lot of them). Indeed, when I would receive copy-edited pages, the list could easily exceed three single-spaced pages of names and products, from Jack Palance, Pop-Tarts and Pitt to Mindy Cohn and Suzanne Somers.
In addition to writing books, I now write for PEOPLE.com, where I cover celebrities every week.
The position has been a fascinating, revealing insider peek into the celebrity world. "Celebrity" is big business today. Celebrity is daily life today.
Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. An intimate (yet highly tweaked and Photoshopped) peek into our favorite stars is now only a click away.
While there is little doubt that the definition of "celebrity" has changed over the past few years – whereas I once believed uncommon or unique talent (even beauty) largely defined "celebrity," I now believe that access and aspiration equally defines it.
Are certain reality "stars" gifted actors, singers, writers or inspirations? No, of course not. But they are culturally aspirational to many. And if you can make money for a network or draw readers to a magazine, if you can sell a scent or scarf, you are golden.
And yet what I have learned most about being both celebrity follower and celebrity writer is that they are – to steal from the magazine and web site for which I write – people.
Some are incredibly nice. Others not so. Most just want to fall in love, have a home, raise a family and be happy. Simple stuff.
But the majority, I realized, want desperately not only to succeed but also create. Most took a major gamble in their lives. Just like me. They followed their dreams, turned their backs on stability and ease, and leapt off a cliff.
What we don't see when we talk about celebrity are the countless number who struggled for years, who toiled at night as waiters and waitresses, and then got up at dawn to make the rounds. We don't see the writers who spent years on that novel, memoir or screenplay, not knowing if it would ever get published. We don't think of the bands and singers who play seedy bars for little money just because they must. Artists – celebrity aside – pursue their passion, even when it makes little sense.
I did. I am no celebrity, but what I've learned in writing about them is not to lament celebrities for their status, their money, their lives. Applaud them.
Because most took a risk, and for a tiny few, it paid off.
It's the same advice I give every aspiring writer: Don't write to become famous. Write because it calls to you, because you don't have a choice to do anything else in life. And don't ever, ever give up if you believe in your talent and dream.
I believe if you do just that, then great things can happen.
You may never appear on the cover of PEOPLE, or walk a red carpet in Cannes, but I guarantee you will be a star.
The writings of bestselling humorist Wade Rouse – called “wise, witty and wicked” by USA Today and the lovechild of Erma Bombeck and David Sedaris – have been featured multiple times on NBC’s Today Show as well as on Chelsea Lately on E! and People.com. His latest memoir, It’s All Relative: Two Families, Three Dogs, 34 Holidays and 50 Boxes of Wine (reviewed here) launched in paperback February 1st from Broadway, and he is creator and editor of the humorous dog anthology, I’m Not the Biggest Bitch in This Relationship: Hilarious, Heartwarming Tales about Man’s Best from America’s Favorite Humorists (NAL). The book features a Foreword by Chelsea Handler’s dog, Chunk, essays by such beloved chick lit authors as Jane Green, and 50 percent of the book’s net royalties go to the Humane Society of the United States. His first memoir, America's Boy, has been re-published by Magnus Books for paperback and Kindle. For more, visit his website, or friend him on Facebook or Twitter.