Friday, May 15, 2009

On Fame and Dying


We were going around the dinner table a while back with the question: "Who among the living would you most like to meet and spend time with?" The boys were forthcoming with baseball heroes and famous authors. I can't honestly recall who Todd mentioned, but it seems he had someone in mind. But I remember struggling to identify anyone apart from people I already admire and know. Chalk it up to cancer, I guess. Something happens with respect to the way you look at people and time. You get focused with bull's eye precision on what and who matters most. For me it's family and friends.

This week, though, I realize there's one celebrity I wish I could meet: Farrah. Her fight for life and her unmasked journey toward death has me gripped. It's the lack of vanity now over her appearance, I guess, that makes her story so different on the surface, anyway. I caught the last 45 minutes of her documentary last night and also watched a bit of a talk show afterwards that featured some "experts" questioning her motives. She and her friends stated her motive pretty clearly in the documentary, I thought: to help others. Personally, I choose to believe it. Because I know how cancer helps define one's purpose, sometimes in an instant. When you're engulfed in suffering and hope is ebbing, don't you think it's natural to want to glean something, anything good from the journey? Though it was somber and depressing in parts, Farrah's story felt to me, anyway, like a soft blanket of empathy... something I pray that the "experts" will never have to wear.

Beneath the surface of Farrah's story, I wonder if the legacy she will leave goes beyond that of one's fight for life. Is there something for all of us to learn about the roller-coaster trajectory of celebrity and our own role in perpetuating a truly appalling cycle? What they do to themselves. What we do to them. There's a diseased downside to fame. When people rise and then soar and then cling to and cloy at heights before consumers change their appetites and spit them out.

Pop culture gives me the chills this week. The whole supply chain is seriously whacked. Where you have media outlets chasing falling stars like cannibals, just looking for a bit of fat on a thigh or a pedestal-smashing personal weakness. And the consumers who buy the trash at the check-outs who perpetuate this cycle. And the celebrities, themselves. In the end, would they, themselves, call it blessing or curse?

You could argue that a public figure with a hand-held camera has invited such scrutiny. The tabloids will no doubt run with "exclusives" on law suits and restraining orders and underbelly angles of this sad, sad story in days and weeks to come.

So, Farrah has invited us in. And there's something important about her story. Something sad. Something redemptive. Maybe. Something beyond how to die. I really think so.

Photo from Today MSNBC.com entertainment. Article is here.

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