Fame – Why It’s Not All It’s Cracked Up to Be
Whitney Houston said that fame “made you a personality instead of a person.” Amy Winehouse’s sudden rise to fame plunged the singer into a fatal cycle of substance abuse. Most recently Ollie Murs admitted he battled with drink and depression after the pressures of fame became too much.
As X factor season threatens to plunge the latest round of pop wannabes into the spotlight, contestants might want to heed the words of the historian Leo Braudy who once wrote “lurking behind every chance to be made whole by fame is the axeman of further dismemberment.”
And as concerns deepen regarding the extent to which Jimmy Savile may have used his celebrity status to abuse vulnerable young women, perhaps it is time to assess a culture that either ignores the effects of fame or endorses often spoilt, bizarre and impulsive behaviour? Is it time for all those involved in “talent management” – an unhelpful term in itself – to assess the damage caused by feting the famous?
The maxim that “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” could well have parallels with the effects of fame.
Recent research into the effects of power suggest stress hormones combined with the psychological effects of having many endorse your behaviour can lead to a grandiose sense of self importance and entitlement.
And now psychologists have discovered that fame is frequently sought by those that feel worthless, who crave positive affirmation, the rewards seekers who hope, as a result, to be empowered.
Yet while there are parallels between the effects of fame and power the primary motive behind the desire to be widely known by strangers appears to be different from those that seek to be influential.
Psychologists have paralleled a hunger for fame with lingering feelings of childhood neglect. It makes sense: to the outside world celebrity is the ultimate party, the cool clique to trump all others, the champagne medication to heal the raw wounds.
The flashbulb moments though cut out and behind the starlight beam lies story after story of crumpled personalities.
Scientists have found that the feeling of power has a similar effect on the brain to cocaine. It increases the levels of testosterone, and its by-product three-androstanedi. This in turn leads to raised levels dopamine which can be highly addictive.
Cocaine itself can increase alertness, confidence, energy and euphoria. Yet the flipside can have varied effects too – anxiety, paranoia and restlessness, arrogance and impatience.
Without support and treatment the outlook can be bleak. Many seek solace in substance abuse. History is littered with those in the public eye for whom the effects of fame have cost them their lives.
Ironically, when fame comes, and its effects are irreversible, then some of those exposed increasingly seek the sanctity of anonymity. J K Rowling, Dido and Kate Bush sensibly guard their privacy and Kate McCann once acknowledged in a BBC interview that we “take anonymity for granted.”
This is no way explains the alleged appalling behaviour by Jimmy Savile nor does it suggest that every person in the public eye will develop its negative traits. So much depends on personality, relationships and other factors in their lives.
But there is enough evidence to suggest that the culture of celebrity by those that seek it, and by those that encourage it, and by those that work with it, need to heed the warning signs – that fame can be fatal.