Fame Junkies: The Hidden Truths Behind America's Favorite Addiction

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9780618918713: Fame Junkies: The Hidden Truths Behind America's Favorite Addiction
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Why do more people watch American Idol than the nightly news? What is it about Paris Hiltonâ s dating life that lures us so? Why do teenage girls when given the option of pressing a magic button and becoming either stronger, smarter, famous, or more beautifulâ predominantly opt for fame? In this entertaining and enlightening book, Jake Halpern explores the fascinating and often dark implications of Americaâ s obsession with fame. He travels to a Hollywood home for aspiring child actors and enrolls in a program that trains celebrity assistants. He visits the offices of Us Weekly and a laboratory where monkeys give up food to stare at pictures of dominant members of their group. The book culminates in Halpernâ s encounter with Rod Stewartâ s biggest fan, a woman from Pittsburgh who nominated the singer for Hollywoodâ s Walk of Fame.

Fame Junkies reveals how psychology, technology, and even evolution conspire to make the world of red carpets and velvet ropes so enthralling to all of us on the outside looking in.

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About the Author:

Jake Halpern is the author of Fame Junkies: The Hidden Truths Behind America's Favorite Addiction, and Braving Home: Dispatches from the Underwater Town, the Lava-Side Inn, and Other Extreme Locales, hailed by Bill Bryson as “a splendid and engaging account of stubbornness in Modern America." Halpern has written for the New York Times, The New Yorker, LA Weekly, and many other publications. He is also a commentator and freelance producer for NPR’s All Things Considered. He lives in Connecticut.

From The Washington Post:

Jake Halpern badly wants to believe, and to persuade us to believe, that fame is addictive: for those who seek it, those who serve it, those who worship it. "Anyone who has ever been in the limelight, even for participating in a high school musical or telling a good story at a cocktail party, can attest to the fact that there is a rush that comes with commanding everyone's attention," he writes, and then asks: "Isn't it possible that many behaviors related to fame -- including becoming famous, being near the famous, and even reading about the famous -- trigger a rush that is potentially addictive?"

He poses the question, then mulls it over for 200 pages, but mercifully concludes in the end that there's just not enough proof. Mercifully, that is, because it's become an American habit to explain away any disagreeable behavior as addictive, thus freeing individuals of responsibility for their own actions. Along the way, though, Halpern presents a lot of evidence about America's obsession with fame and celebrity: some of it funny, some of it surprising, much of it disturbing. He tries to find answers to three questions: "Why do countless Americans yearn so desperately for this sort of fame? Why do others, such as celebrity personal assistants, devote their entire lives to serving these people? And why do millions of others fall into the mindless habit of watching them from afar?"

In many ways, the oddest of the three sections of Fame Junkies is the first, in which Halpern takes a look at the International Modeling and Talent Association (IMTA), which has become, in effect, the college-board examination for young people who want to become celebrities or whose parents are pushing them in that direction. The IMTA regularly holds conventions in New York and Los Angeles at which celebrity wannabes strut their stuff and occasionally -- very, very occasionally -- get contracts with modeling firms or Hollywood studios.

"Even by modest estimates," Halpern writes, "a family of four attending an IMTA convention . . . could easily spend $10,000." Yet families not only pony up these substantial sums but often make significant sacrifices in order to do so and, in some cases, return to the IMTA over and over in hope of getting that ever more elusive contract. They also pony up a lot of money -- usually several thousand dollars -- for training at modeling and acting schools, many operated by one of "the oldest and most reputable," John Robert Powers, but some offering little more than the vague promise that "You could be the next big star!"

As Halpern describes it -- and his description seems fair -- the IMTA convention is a glorified meat market or cattle call. The explanation for its great success -- its former owner estimates that the New York and Los Angeles conventions gross "more than $5 million annually" -- is difficult to pin down. But there is a good deal of evidence that young people have been lured by "celebrity-focused TV shows," celebrity magazines and especially "American Idol" into the belief, which in some cases hardens into what they perceive as an entitlement, "that they themselves will be famous someday." A disproportionately large number of them have had unhappy childhoods and seem "to fervently hope that becoming a celebrity would right these wrongs," a theme that recurs often in every aspect of the celebrity culture that Halpern examines.

One reason people are encouraged to chase the chimera of fame is that with the rise of the celebrity-obsessed media, the need for celebrities has increased exponentially and apparently will continue to do so. All those talk shows and feature writers need "a steady supply of telegenic actors, singers, cooks, talk-show hosts, and meteorologists to fill the increasing number of celebrity slots," or, as Nora Ephron wittily put it three decades ago: "The celebrity pool has expanded in order to provide names to fill the increasing number of column inches currently devoted to gossip; this is my own pet theory, and I use it to explain all sorts of things, one of whom is Halston."

However rapidly the celebrity pool may be expanding, it's scarcely big enough to fulfill the longings of all those kids who think there's a place in it for them, who may have been encouraged in this belief by "our commitment to teaching self-esteem in the schools," whether or not that self-esteem actually has been earned. But once it dawns on them that they aren't going to be swimming in the celebrity pool, there's still a chance for some of them to achieve what apparently is perceived as an exceedingly attractive second-best: jobs as personal assistants to stars.

"Most assistants describe the bulk of their work as drudgery -- doing laundry, fetching groceries, paying bills. And unlike lawyers and agents, who rub shoulders with the stars and often make millions of dollars, assistants are not paid particularly well." They "typically make about $56,000" and are on the job around the clock. Into the bargain -- if "bargain" is the word for it -- they often face what one described to Halpern as "a problem with this job -- sometimes there is a loss of self."

Still, there is, as Halpern writes, "a definite quid pro quo in these relationships: Followers get a sense of belonging, security, and importance; and leaders feed off their admiration and devotion." Halpern argues that the need to bond with celebrities is a small manifestation of a general trend toward loneliness in American society -- the "Bowling Alone" theme -- and people's need to counteract it in their own lives. Perhaps so. But there does appear to be evidence that the personal assistants, like the celebrity wannabes, are motivated to varying degrees by a desire to make up for unhappy childhoods.

Ditto for the most intense, obsessive fans. One of them -- a middle-aged woman whose life is almost literally devoted to the rock musician Rod Stewart -- told Halpern: "I just had such a terrible childhood that I never wanted to have children . . . . I guess I didn't get a whole lot of love or acknowledgment as a kid, and that's something I seek when I go to a Rod concert." At People and Us Weekly magazines, as well as their supermarket counterparts, "the process of demystifying the famous" has enabled fans to view them as equals and friends, and to live vicariously through them.

All of which is true so far as it goes, but there's one aspect of the celebrity culture that Halpern approaches only indirectly: the extent to which ordinary Americans, unencumbered by miserable childhoods or loneliness, talk and read and think about celebrities. At the next table in a restaurant, the talk is as likely to be of Jen and Brad as of Bush and Cheney -- indeed, a lot more likely to be about Jen and Brad, even here in Washington. Surveys that Halpern cites indicate that younger Americans would rather be a Hollywood celebrity -- or a celebrity personal assistant! -- than president of a major corporation or a high elected official. I'll pass on the opportunity to sermonize about that, but Halpern's useful book doesn't exactly leave one brimming with optimism about the American future.


Copyright 2007, The Washington Post. All Rights Reserved.

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Book Description Mariner Books. Paperback. Condition: New. 226 pages. Dimensions: 7.9in. x 5.1in. x 0.6in.Why do more people watch American Idol than the nightly news What is it about Paris Hiltons dating life that lures us so Why do teenage girls when given the option of pressing a magic button and becoming either stronger, smarter, famous, or more beautiful predominantly opt for fame In this entertaining and enlightening book, Jake Halpern explores the fascinating and often dark implications of Americas obsession with fame. He travels to a Hollywood home for aspiring child actors and enrolls in a program that trains celebrity assistants. He visits the offices of Us Weekly and a laboratory where monkeys give up food to stare at pictures of dominant members of their group. The book culminates in Halperns encounter with Rod Stewarts biggest fan, a woman from Pittsburgh who nominated the singer for Hollywoods Walk of Fame. Fame Junkies reveals how psychology, technology, and even evolution conspire to make the world of red carpets and velvet ropes so enthralling to all of us on the outside looking in. This item ships from multiple locations. Your book may arrive from Roseburg,OR, La Vergne,TN. Paperback. Seller Inventory # 9780618918713

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