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WHEN WILL I BE FAMOUS....?

20-10-2006

Sometime never if you've got your head screwed on reckons Laurence Inman.

My daughter left secondary school this summer. On her last day she came home clutching her Year Book. Of all the distasteful nuggets of American ‘culture' we've been forced to swallow over the last couple of decades (Hallowe'en, the school prom, four-pound-cheesefurterburgers, Tony Blair's disastrous foreign policy) this is surely one of the most annoying.

It was a photocopied-and-stapled lash-up, clearly thrown together in the last week of term by some put-upon probationer, in which each leaver had answered the same set of questions. What has school given you ? What are your ambitions ? What was your most embarrassing moment ? Who was your favourite teacher ? And so on.

It made dire reading. A good 90% of the entries were ‘written' in a kind of mongrel of slang and text-speak (Im gonna b a TV presenter cuz u get loadz) making my daughter's modest contribution look like Jane Austen in comparison.

What really got me fuming though (apart from the cost of the thing: £10!!) was the importance everyone attached to the question: Who do you think will be most famous ?

How has it happened that people's idea of the most attractive, fulfilling way of using their precious, one-and-only life is to be famous ? Don't they realise how tenuous and empty ‘fame' must be ? Does no one read Marcus Aurelius any more?

Short then is the time which every man lives, and small the nook of the earth where he lives; and short too the longest posthumous fame, and even this only continued by a succession of poor human beings, who will very soon die, and who know not even themselves, much less him who died long ago.

I mean, what could be more obvious ? And yet still, year after year, people with no discernible talent queue up to be humiliated on The X-Factor, leaving the studio in tears and shrieking to anyone who'll listen: ‘It means everything to me! It's all I've ever wanted!' Sometimes, before the ritual destruction of their measly emotions, one of them will say ‘Everyone's entitled to fifteen minutes of fame, and this is mine.'

Now, as any fool knows, this is a reference to Andy Warhol's throwaway line ‘In the future everybody will be world famous for fifteen minutes.' He said this in 1968. I would say we're half way to realising his prophecy. Martin Amis, in his 2003 novel Yellow Dog has hinted that we're already there:

Fame had so democratised itself that obscurity was felt as a deprivation or even a punishment.

But none of the wailing contestants on X Factor wants fame on those terms. Fame, realfame, only works when one person in 20 million is the chosen one. And a quarter of an hour is no good. We want it for decades, even after we're dead. We'd give up the whole of the puny lives we endure now if we could be Judy Garland or George Best or Elvis Presley or Marilyn Monroe….

But they're all stone dead, you schmucks! And you are brimful of life!

The most maddening thing about all this is that if you apply ten seconds' serious thought to what being famous actually means you'll see that it isn't worth a fig.

Take Elton John. What do you think he's doing right now ? I'll tell you. He's breathing in and out. He's probably sitting, but he could be standing up. Or walking about. He might have a bite to eat later. Or a nice cup of tea. Some time today he'll take a crap. It's good to be regular. He's no longer excited about having squillions of pounds and mansions in every country in the world. Any excitement faded away as soon as he realised that he could only live in one mansion at a time, which was about an hour after he acquired his last one.

What does he think about, when he's not writing songs and having to go up to London yet again to talk about them on a TV chat show ?

The same as the rest of us - growing older, the steady general decline of everything, ‘the cold friction of expiring sense.'

For pity's sake, teachers should be telling kids to avoid the craven worship of celebrity, not encouraging them! All they're doing is help produce another generation of irritated malcontents who continually think they're missing out on something.

But of course, they've been conned themselves. They too are scrabbling for every tiny crumb of approval. Who are your favourite teachers indeed! Can they seriously not see that the one teacher who never appears as favourite, the one who knows that his or her job has nothing to do with a silly popularity contest, is likely to be the best teacher in the school ?

One more thing; I'm trying to get as many people as possible to e-mail all the TV new channels and tell them that the real celebrity in the Richard Hammond story is the surgeon who's trying to put his head together.

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