Fame is useless
if it increases the ego selfishly.
Fame is useful
if it propagates the useful selflessly.
In one of the stories within Woody Allen’s movie ‘To Rome With Love’, an everyman (ordinary man on the street) suddenly becomes famous for apparently no good or known reason. Then again, maybe he became famous simply because he was an everyman, with the highlight on him celebrating the average guy? Reporters flock and jostle to interview him on the mundane details of a day in the life of being him, quizzing him over what he had for breakfast and such. At one point, it becomes so overwhelming that he had to escape the paparazzi in his chauffeured car. Yes, he gets driven around, now that he is a celebrity. Baffled by his popularity, he asked the driver how was it that be became so famous. The chauffeur replied that some are just famous for being famous, even though they might not deserve the fame. Because of such limelight, ridiculous as it might be, everyone wants to know the opinions of the famous for seemingly everything, including the amazingly trivial. Even the usual ‘magically’ becomes special. This seems to be satire on how tabloids, the Internet and such capitalise on celebrities’ nitty-gritty life details which are of little significance if any. Some celebrities are not exactly worth ‘re-celebrating’ endlessly too, being in the spotlight merely due to association with other celebrities, or for having been one-hit wonders once upon a time.
The everyman soon finds the new-found attention annoying and is relieved when the fickle media just as abruptly becomes distracted by another everyman. Walking the streets as a ‘nobody’ or ‘anyone’ once again, he suddenly finds it even more annoying that no one seems to recognise him anymore. He struggles to remind passers-by about him, insisting to express his opinions on all kinds of everyday stuff. However, his ‘audience’ is just as fickle as the media, and ignores him. After all, it is not as if he is rich or famous; he is now just ‘someone’ typical like them. Such was his remarkable climb to fame and his unremarkable fall from it. He bumps into his ex-chauffeur, who remarks that life can be very cruel and unsatisfying whether you’re a celebrity or an unknown, that being a celebrity is nevertheless better. Is this so? Life’s suffering has little to do with fame or the lack of it; more from not knowing how to handle either situations skilfully. The lack of fame only causes suffering when one craves it to fatten the ego. Being too famous also causes suffering from excess self-centredness, which makes fame stifling when it could be used for the greater good, for selfless publicising of worthy causes.
Love it or hate it, fame is actually empty of any fixed characteristics! It is not always a good or bad thing, while it can ‘help’ better or worsen things. In Buddhism, wanting fame is one of the five worldly desires that binds us to the cycle of rebirth. The complete list includes craving for wealth, sex, fame, food and sleep. Notice how these elements are closely dependent. In the guise of appearing selfless, some might secretly crave anonymous fame too. Even for the camera shy everyman, fame can subtly become addictive, which becomes all the more obvious when it is as suddenly lost as gained. Well, easy come, easy go! Being cyclical, many crave great fame at first, only to fret how it costs their everyday privacy with mounting pressure to upkeep appearances, yet pining for more in its absence later! Such worldly fame is truly cumbersome, unlike enduring spiritual fame of the enlightened, that arises and expands naturally with expression of boundless compassion and wisdom. The Buddha most skilfully used his widespread renown – only for sharing the path to True Happiness with more. Will you use whatever much or little ‘fame’ you have in your social circles to do the same too? Why not?
Are you more famous
for being kind and wise
or are you more infamous
for being unkind and unwise?
I think fame is not a good thing ultimately. Look at good people who are famous, like the Dalai lama or John Lennon. They are targets of crazy killers and hostile politicians. If you want to do good, it is better to do so inconspicuously.
Fame has no fixed characteristics. It can be good or bad depending on how one deals with it. It is bad if one abuses it or doesn’t know how to respond to the limelight. It is good if used for propagating worthy messages – e.g. the Buddha did it so well that his teachings are still here today. HHDL used his fame to spread the Dharma way beyond Tibet and Lennon is a legend who helped inspire society too. Would imagine him thinking his sacrifice was worth it.