Jewish World Review July 30, 2002 / 21 Menachem-Av, 5762

Leonard Pitts, Jr.

Leonard Pitts, Jr.
JWR's Pundits
World Editorial
Cartoon Showcase

Mallard Fillmore

Michael Barone
Mona Charen
Linda Chavez
Ann Coulter
Greg Crosby
Larry Elder
Don Feder
Suzanne Fields
Paul Greenberg
Bob Greene
Betsy Hart
Nat Hentoff
David Horowitz
Marianne Jennings
Michael Kelly
Mort Kondracke
Ch. Krauthammer
Lawrence Kudlow
Dr. Laura
John Leo
David Limbaugh
Michelle Malkin
Chris Matthews
Michael Medved
Kathleen Parker
Wes Pruden
Sam Schulman
Amity Shlaes
Tony Snow
Thomas Sowell
Cal Thomas
Jonathan S. Tobin
Ben Wattenberg
George Will
Bruce Williams
Walter Williams
Mort Zuckerman

Consumer Reports

Oh, to be famous | "Pa, I want to be famous."

Eric announced this out of the clear blue the other night. Not that I was taken totally by surprise. My grandson, who is 6, has long had the habit of saying things that give you whiplash. For instance, he told us recently that he listens to classical music because "wap" has "too many bad words." And he flirts quite openly with his uncle's 17-year-old girlfriend. Last week, his uncle left the room to attend to some errand and Eric sang out, "Don't worry about Stefanie. I'll keep an eye on her."

Mack Daddy in a Power Rangers T-shirt.

So it's no longer a surprise when Eric says the proverbial things that make you go, "Hmmmm." Still, the boy's declaration of his desire for celebrity was a new wrinkle. I replied as I think most of us would have: "HUH?!"

But immediately after saying, "Huh?!" I asked the obvious question.


Eric had a ready answer. "When you're famous," he explained, "you can do anything you want to do."

I believe the word for that is "precocious." I mean, here he is, 6 years old, still playing Pokemon, but already he understands the dearest aspiration of a full-grown man. Namely, to lie around the house all day long, answerable only to nature's call.

Eric, I think, is emblematic of the American Dream. The New American Dream, that is. The old one had to do with home ownership, liberty and justice for all. The new one involves getting famous. Fame, many seem to feel, is its own reward.

Nor are they particularly particular in the way they go about it.

If you doubt me, put on your hip boots, hold your nose and turn on the television. Enter this sewer of talk shows and "reality" games where everyday people put the worst of themselves and their lives on display for our inspection, where they date, cohabit, mate, marry, mourn, weep, cheat, backstab, divorce and claw at one another's eyes, shred privacy and dignity like Enron documents, all for the chance to be on television. As if being on television somehow validates an otherwise mundane existence. As if, having been seen by the unblinking eye, they can now die, fulfilled.

I have nothing against fame. You think I wouldn't like to write a book that makes Oprah fall at my feet and Katie Couric put me on the speed dial? Fame has its appeal. But there are limits to what I'd do to achieve it. America, I love you and all, but I'm not about to marry a stranger or eat fried maggots for your entertainment.

Because life is not a game show stunt. And because fame, as an end unto itself, is dross. It's fool's gold. Heck, Charles Manson is famous.

The point being that notoriety is not a character reference. It's fascinating how frequently we seem to forget that. How often we behave as if being known, as if having the big house, the entourage and the other perks and accouterments that sometimes accompany being known, make a person somehow ... larger.

Or paradoxically, lesser. Because we enjoy seeing the mighty fall as much as, or more than, we do watching them ascend.

Yet even knowing this truth of human nature, people still aspire to be the mighty. We seem to feel that if others know our faces, if we can somehow manage to lift ourselves from our own anonymity, everything else in life will fall into place.

But it ain't necessarily so.

As I told Eric, being famous doesn't always mean you can do anything you want. He gave me a look of pure "Wha'chu talkin' 'bout, Willis?"

"Well," he demanded, "what do you do when you're famous?"

"When you're famous, you have to work," I said. I was fudging a little, yes. I suppose I was thinking of that era when, Zsa Zsa Gabor excepted, most people who became celebrities had actually done something.

Eric made a cough-medicine face. "Work?" he said. "I don't EVER want to have to work."

Like I said, precocious.

Enjoy this writer's work? Why not sign-up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.

Comment on JWR contributor Leonard Pitts, Jr.'s column by clicking here.

07/19/02: In Pop-Music Thriller, Jacko Takes on Sony
07/09/02: The password is 'frustration'
06/25/02: My Head And Heart Are At Odds - I Can't Watch Video Of Pearl's Beheading
06/21/02: Your kid's going to pay for cheating --- eventually
06/18/02: Stuffy 'correctness' robs races of give and take
06/07/02: A gift of the Masai
06/04/02: Now what? Use your 9/11 pain to combat complacency
05/24/02: Has your life changed since 9/11?
05/19/02: New world disorder is nothing to smile about
05/14/02: White men can jump, so why do black kids come up short in the classroom?
05/03/02: Catholic Church should be ashamed for blaming abuse victims
04/19/02: A reminder of how small the world has become
04/16/02: 100 death-penalty mistakes and counting
04/12/02: Until all the bad guys wear black hats
04/10/02: Connecting with history with hope for future
04/08/02: Just me and the boys: A black father's road trip
03/26/02: It's time to give up fighting the good fight and join the masses
03/22/02: It's not the art, it's the artist who's troubling
03/19/02: Don't ask, don't tell when it comes to police work
03/15/02: Do we have an inalienable right to TV?
03/12/02: What will we learn about ourselves as war toll grows?
03/08/02: Marriage madness --- oh, please!
03/05/02: A risk free life
03/01/02: Pentagon's idea of lying to media was breathtaking' in its stupidity
02/16/02: Will the Afghans forgive the U.S. for the beating of innocents?
02/15/02: In search of manhood, some make a fatal decision
02/08/02: Time for blacks to give the same respect they demand
02/05/02: A question of character and "unlawful combatants"
01/31/02: There's only so much a parent can influence a child
01/29/02: Mike Tyson is incapable of embarrassment
01/25/02: Acts of patriotism or acts of desecration?
01/18/02: Waiting for tears in the rain at Ground Zero
01/15/02: A little cultural respect works both ways
01/11/02: Can blacks be racist?
01/07/02: What price for the priceless?
12/21/01: An intriguing study on race
12/18/01: To err is me
12/14/01: Admit it, folks, If you've ever been 16, you can probably relate to Walker
12/11/01: Blacks-on-blacks poll is a healthy project
12/07/01: The best defense against government excesses
12/05/01: Better hoist caution flag
12/03/01: Martin Luther Ka-CHING!
11/27/01: Beauty reflects an ugly truth
11/22/01: Another reason to be thankful
11/19/01: If only they knew our names
11/12/01: Watching a 'dying' man live
08/01/01: Should a man be put in jail for what he's thinking?
07/27/01: It's your responsibility to invade their privacy
07/20/01: Is optimism for fools?
07/17/01: Everybody should have a white man

© 2002, The Miami Herald