On Fame

From English comedian, writer, actor, novelist, filmmaker and television personality Stephen Fry’s blog:

Fry_narrowweb__300x4410Fame. It’s an embarrassing thing to talk about, for all that it is a national/global obsession. It is one of the few apparently desirable human qualities that … no, what am I talking about … it is not a quality. It is not like courage, mercy, kindness, strength, beauty or patience; or laziness, dishonesty, greed or cruelty for that matter. What is different about fame, I was going to say, is that it is so contingent. If you are tolerant or strong or wise, you are tolerant and strong and wise wherever you are on the planet that day. You don’t become bigoted, feeble and dim-witted the moment you cross a continent. Famous people however, can become entirely unknown the second they leave their homeland. Only the World Famous are famous everywhere, and there are precious few of them. They used to claim Mohammed Ali was about as well-known as a human could be, the same was said of Charlie Chaplin and Elvis. Who now? Osama bin Laden? Michael Jackson? Robbie Williams can walk around Los Angeles without being recognised and they say Johnny Carson was so surprised/irked/mortified at going unremarked in London whenever he showed up, as he did regularly for Wimbledon Fortnight, that he arranged for British TV to carry his Tonight Show at a reduced rate. Martha Stewart can travel by Tube unspotted, but not by Subway. And so on. As for myself, well, I mean next to nothing in Italy, but seem to strike a chord in Russia. Don’t ask.

Fame has this unusual property. It exists only in the mind of others. It is not an intrinsic characteristic, feature or achievement. Fame is wholly an exterior construct and yet, for all that it is defined by other people’s knowledge of a given person, they cannot dismantle or deactivate the fame that their knowledge engenders. What an ugly sentence. I mean this. We cannot, however much we may want to, make someone unfamous.

More here.  [Thanks to The Knackered Hack.]