Jewish World Review August 7, 2003 / 9 Menachem-Av, 5763

Burt Prelutsky

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Consumer Reports

A few words about fame | Years ago, a friend and I had a running debate over the merits of fame vs. money. He, having money, naturally argued in favor of fame. All he wanted out of life was to have strangers recognize him in the street. My rebuttal was that if you had money, you could easily acquire fame. I still stand by that. Look at Steven Forbes. Look at Donald Trump. Look, for heaven's sake, at Martha Stewart.

In our society, money spent on behalf of self-promotion will always pay o ff. For the first time in history, huge numbers of people have become famous for no other reason than that they want to be. There are publicists in every major American city who earn a decent living simply by getting their otherwise anonymous clients invited to social gatherings, and then getting the guest lists published in the papers. It has always mystified me why people would pay to see their names in print in such a context. I mean, what's going on in their heads? Do they imagine their friends will read the list and then gnash their teeth, while muttering, "I'm green with envy! How is it that those damned Kluttermans get invited to all these chi-chi events when old Charley can't even tell the difference between rumaki and pigs in a blanket?!"

There are large numbers of people who obviously subscribe to the nutty notion that it doesn't matter what is said about you, so long as your name is spelled right. But, if you don't happen to be one of those people, they can seem as alien as Martian fruitcakes.

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The whole concept of fame, of celebrity-hood separate from accomplishment, is a unique modern invention. It wasn't that long ago, though, that you had to be a Chaplin, a Garbo, a Lindbergh, an Einstein, a Ruth, to be notable. Now, thanks to the mass media's gigantic maw, it's no trick at all. Be a victim, be a hostage, be a sex toy, be a model, be a freak, and, overnight, Barbara Walters and Larry King will turn you into a household name.

One odd side effect of fame is that, in spite of its often highly publ icized pitfalls — drug addiction, poverty, loneliness, suicide — millions of youngsters are lined up, anxious to emulate their icons; confident that they will somehow manage to avoid the excesses that doomed the likes of Elvis, Marilyn, and James Dean.

Fame, as a bought-and-paid-for commodity, strikes me as most peculiar. In its basic form, it means you are known to countless numbers of anonymous people, most of whom you would despise if you knew them as individuals.

Finally, I would say that there is nothing wrong with fame, in and of itself. Cure polio, you deserve to be famous. But, go to a party, you only deserve to be fed.

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JWR contributor Burt Prelutsky is a veteran TV writer whose credits include, among others, M*A*S*H, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Rhoda, The Bob Newhart Show and Diagnosis Murder. Comment by clicking here. Visit his website by clicking here.

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© 2003, Burt Prelutsky