Somehow, Frank Rich's column in today's New York Times and Heather Havrilesky's column today's Salon resonated with me in weird harmony. Rich's column was about Richard Heene, to be known henceforth and forevermore as "the Balloon Boy's terrible dad," and the gullible, culpable news media--and politics, of course. Havrilesky's piece marveled at the arrogance of the characters who make for compelling television in both reality and fictional TV. Ask Richard Hatch: nice guys finish last.
Today, there's only a hairsbreadth of difference separating news, entertainment, and politics. (I include sports as entertainment.) Governors, movie stars, presidents, football players, talk show hosts, reality show contestants, reporters, comedians--who can tell who's who anymore? Yesterday's side-of-beef action hero is today's powerful Governor of California. Yesterday's powersucking United States Senator is tomorrow's prime-time samba dancer. What does it matter? Fame gets you money and power. It doesn't matter what you do to get famous. Hell, Michael Vick is far more famous today than he was before we all found out he was a dogkiller. He went to prison and took a major pay cut, but he's still doing okay financially. It seems as if the only thing you can do to be banned permanently from the ranks of the wealthy and influential is cross Oprah--and even James Frey has a book deal.
So no wonder Richard Heene was so desperate to turn his whole family into liars and frauds. He'd had a little taste of fame. He wanted more; in fact, in these troubled times, it seemed like his best option. So he executed a hoax that had the whole world watching.
And even with the hoax revealed, Heene gets his wish. He's on TV constantly. He may have to go to jail, pay huge fines, and lose his family. But do you think he doesn't get a book deal? At least? And wasn't the fame more important than his family, anyway? Isn't that the point?
I have a tiny bit of local fame; years ago, I started an annual charitable event that's become a pretty big deal to a certain crowd in my hometown. Let's put it this way: there are lots of people I don't know in Indianapolis who know who I am. I guess that's sort of the definition of fame.
And the event's coming up, so I'm even more famous at this time of year. I get requests to be a friend on Facebook from people I don't know. I am informed that people are following me on Twitter. I've seen people talking about me at the next table in a local Italian joint. "His hair is shorter," I heard the women whisper. It's kind of creepy: people you don't know who know when you get a haircut.
My little bit of local fame can be fun and exhilarating, too. It can be confusing, on Facebook in particular; you wrack your brain trying to figure out how you know so-and-so.
And it's very like what happens here at OS. OS is a sort of performance art. Writers are trying to attract eyeballs. If you're a great writer, people will probably find you. If you promote yourself, more people will find you. If enough people find you, who know what can happen?
The difference, I think, is that OS is also about community. The "look at me, I'm ever so clever" vibe is always tempered by the genuine feeling of caring and camaraderie you get when you read the posts and the comments. The support here is superb. The chance to be admired by a handful of insomniacs like yourself is not the only reason to be here.
It's a wild time to be alive, isn't it? So many of us have given up our roots and replaced them with antennae. We're broadcasting with one and receiving with the other. Our sense of place has changed; suddenly, this "place" on my desktop is as real and important--in some cases, more important--than the place I'm sitting.
And the fame is all so fleeting and relative. Who was Franklin Pierce's vice president? Surely, he was one of the most famous men in America in mid-1800s. My 26-year-old son has a vague sense of who Johnny Carson was. He's probably seen pictures of Milton Berle. Do you think he could pick Arthur Godfrey out of a lineup? A hundred and fifty years from now, who will have heard of Oprah?
In the meantime, if you want to be my friend on Facebook, I'm easy to find. I may not have anything interesting to say. But I know a pretty good community when I'm in one.