The Stars in Our Eyes

Why we care about fame and infamy.

Posted Jul 21, 2017

I've been doing a lot of research on fame addiction for a novel I'm writing. When I heard Julie Klam had a new nonfiction book on celebrity coming out this month, I had to get my hands on it. The Stars in Our Eyes: The Famous, the Infamous, and Why We Care Way Too Much About Them is a lively and engaging exploration of celebrity and I had such fun reading it. Many of Julie's references resonated with me and I'm delighted she agreed to join me for a conversation.

Lynne: Back when I was a teenager and had a crush on Rob Lowe, all I had were a few pictures of him in magazines and his movies to sate my attraction. You say that nothing today is the same as it was pre-Internet, pre-social media. With everyone having equal access to self-promotion, and the trend toward pushing the envelope for attention, has celebrity been ruined for those who look to the stars for a little dose of glamour and wish fulfillment?

Julie: I don't think it's been ruined. I think for the younger generation, they don't know any different, and plenty of people still read US and People and In Style to look at the glam stars. It's definitely different; we are not getting a curated look at celebrities the way we used to, because they can drunk-tweet or post selfies on Instagram, and sometimes we see things we'd rather not. But I think that's the case with everything post-internet.

Lynne: You quote a terrific piece Jennifer Aniston wrote about the darker side of fame particularly for women: "We use celebrity news to perpetuate this dehumanizing view of females, focused solely on one's appearance." How do you talk to your daughter about celebrity and fame, letting her enjoy the fun of idolizing her favorite stars without taking it so seriously? Do you ever use tabloid celebrity stories as cautionary tales?

Julie: My kid idolizes David Byrne, David Bowie, and Louie Prima. She's very different than I was as a kid. As far as body image, she and her friends are so acutely aware of the terribly unfair way women are seen. They encounter cat-callers in the streets of Manhattan and know that it is wrong and it's not their fault. She teaches me! (She actually screams at me for body-shaming our fat dog).

Lynne: Lots of people today are famous for being famous, but they really have no claim to fame. Again, does that ruin the fun of looking up to stars not just because they're rich and famous but because they are talented actors, musicians, dancers, and writers?

Julie: People forget when people are famous for nothing, and the thing that it's ruined is the presidency. Now I feel like I don't want to give attention to anyone who might think they want to rule the world.

Lynne: You bring up the issues of pay inequity between men and women and the double standards about aging in Hollywood. How do these obvious disparities in the way men and women are treated help us have conversations within families about what effects us all in every day life?

Julie: Hollywood reflects much of what's happening around us, but the great thing is that these rich and powerful people can actually speak up about it and give it a voice and a platform. It is so brave of Patricia Arquette and others to talk about it publicly, and it makes it much easier for someone who works in a regular job and maybe can't deal with it so easily. I so admire and appreciate their spotlighting of these inequities Some people say, "Boo hoo, she's making $5 million instead of $8 million," but that isn't the point: There should not be any difference in pay for two people doing the same job.

Lynne: Can you talk about the phenomenon in which we build people up and then mercilessly tear them down? Why is celebrity so fleeting? What have you learned about the way people shame others and/or rally around famous people online?

Julie: Oooh, this is so horrible. I always think about Jon Ronson's great book, So You've Been Publicly Shamed. The internet is like a pit of vipers waiting to pounce on everyone and celebrities have it a milllion (followers) times worse than everyone else. But as much as people love to tear them down, they also love to see a comeback. I think they want celebrities to be dramatic in their real lives.

Lynne: As a counselor I'm particularly interested in your discussion of the connections between mental health, mental illness, and creativity. Psychology and social science researchers have looked into the connections between creativity and mental illness for years. What did you learn? What surprised you most about the intersection between mental health and celebrity?

Julie: I had no idea about any of it. I had read Carrie Fisher's books and knew that there was a connection for her between creativity and her manic times, and of course substance abuse which goes with it all as well. I spoke to a fantastic psychiatrist who explained about how certain mild mental issues are actually useful to some people creatively, but unfortunately there isn't anyone watching to make sure that they don't abuse drugs or stop taking their prescribed medicine, so you get these big public breakdowns that are heart wrenching, and people watch like it's the Movie of the Week. I would love people to be more empathic with that, but they're not there yet.

Source: Penguin/Random Housse

Lynne: Rob Lowe is still adorable, and as a friend of mine says, "I wouldn't kick George Clooney out of bed for eating crackers," but if I could meet anyone, I'd love to have drinks and dinner with Meryl Streep. If you could meet any celebrity right now, who would it be?

Julie: You are on the right track. There are celebrities I'd like to see in person, but as far as sitting and talking (and eating and drinking), my dream would be the Obamas. Just the three of us yapping about life. That would be nice.

Lynne Griffin is the author of the family-focused novels, Girl Sent Away, Sea Escape, and Life Without Summer, and the parenting guides, Let's Talk It: Adolescent Mental Health and Negotiation Generation. You can find her online at her website, or follow her on twitter and Facebook.

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