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Red Carpet Massacres

By Chris Colcord

Fort Wayne Reader

2009-06-04


I attended an awards ceremony for a local theatre a few years back, and during the proceedings I saw something that I've never been able to shake. An actor who was nominated was seated to my left, say twenty feet away, and just before his category was announced, I found myself staring directly into his face. There was nobody sitting between us, so I had a clear, unobstructed view of his reactions to the opening of the envelope. Normally, I wouldn't ever do anything as reprehensible as staring at someone in public, but remember, this was an actor, an obnoxious, self-absorbed actor, and the laws of polite society simply don't apply to him as they do for normal people.

Anyway. The presenter announced the winner of the acting award, and indeed, the object of my attention was the recipient. And this is how he responded, and these are the images I can't forget: as the applause began, his hand fluttered to his chest. He smiled and looked directly in front of himself, holding his head still for a couple of seconds. He then turned to the person next to him and very theatrically, threw his arms in a circle around the person in a grandma hug. Slowly, very slowly, he got to his feet, brushed past his friend, and with a shy smile on his face he began sauntering down the aisle towards the stage.

It was then that it hit me, like a thunderbolt: He thinks he's on television. He thinks there are cameras in the auditorium. He thinks the band is playing the theme song to the movie he starred in and that Brad and Angelina and Nicole and Jack are applauding as he passes them by. He thinks there is an overhead camera that captured his reaction, a side camera that watched him squeeze past his friend, a stage camera that is documenting his triumphant walk to the stage. He thinks there is a harried director in the booth, screaming to capture the most indelible moments.

In real life, of course, there is no band playing. In real life there is only half-hearted applause, some of it bitter-loser applause from the other nominees, and it dies out long before the winner gets to the stage. When he finally mans the steps toward the podium, the audience, embarrassed by the stone silence, re-ignites for a few seconds of pitiable applause. The actor reaches the award stand, hugs the presenter, and then begins speaking. First he thanks God.

Okay, look: I've got nothing against self-deception. It's one of my favorite past times. But at some point you've got to realize that your life is your life and that no matter how dramatic and heartbreaking it can be you're probably not going to get that twelve-page profile in Vanity Fair. Something very subtle has been going on here, as more people start to believe that their ordinary and predictable existence is somehow worthy of turning them famous. When I was growing up my generation was tagged the "TV generation," i.e., a generation that only wants to watch television, but it seems to me that the new generation could be called the "wants to be on TV generation." Every year there is a poll of elementary school students that asks them what they want to be when they grow up. The most popular response this year? It's not doctor. It's not lawyer. It's not president. No, the most popular response to the question was "famous." Kids want to be famous. Note that the students didn't say "movie star" or "rock star" or "basketball player." Just "famous," like Heidi Montag or Paris Hilton.

Of course, you can't blame the kids for responding like this. Insane celebrity-worship is one of the most identifiably American characteristics we possess. I do think, though, that my generation, the baby-boomer generation, deserves to shoulder much of the responsibility for this current national delusion. A friend of mine got a paying "acting" job in Fort Wayne a few years ago, and the gig was to pretend to be a member of the paparazzi sent out to cover a Sweet Sixteen party. A father had actually hired actors to act like celebrity-stalkers at his daughter's party. The actors were instructed to wait for the daughter's limousine to approach and then snap pictures and scream the girl's name when she stepped out. The girl, already well-accustomed to how celebrities behave, emerged from the limousine unsmiling, wearing over-sized sunglasses, cell phone affixed to her ear. She frowned at the "paparazzi" and hustled to the party, too busy and important to be bothered with those leeches of the press.

My friend told me it was the worst job he'd ever had. In commiseration, I told him about a mortifying moment from my own work history--on a job site for a swimming pool company, I had to dispose of a dead rat that was decomposing in four inches of stagnant water at the bottom of a freshly-dug pool. My friend smiled and shook his head sadly. In comparison, he said, you got off easy. At least you were able to get the smell off your hands.

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