Recently, I’ve been reading about the trials and tribulations of the very rich and famous, and realized the aspiration to be part of that elite may not be so great as it’s cracked up to be. One reason is that becoming rich and famous may turn into more of a curse than a blessing, so maybe it’s time to appreciate NOT being rich and famous.
A second reason is that the rich and famous live in a publicity glass cage, like prisoners of their fame, where they are continually onstage, like characters in a modern-day soap opera, in which the sagas and scandals of the rich and famous are like modern-day morality stories. While these stories help reinforce our social values of right and wrong, or at least get a dialog going about this, the rich and famous individuals at the center of these stories are under a public microscope and subject to the slings and arrows of public opinion.
The recent stories that led me to think about these issues are the international fight over Edward Snowden, who became a sudden celebrity after he leaked the evidence that NSA was collecting information about just about everyone from our phone records and the Internet, leading to a national debate about whether he is a traitor or hero for revealing the extent of government surveillance on private citizens. Wherever he ultimately ends up and whether he is indicted for crimes by the U.S. government, his story has triggered a debate over the nature of society in an information age facing threats of terrorism. In effect, his story has turned into something of a morality play about the values of privacy versus security, and what is more important when they come into conflict with each other.
Still another of these front-page dramas that has captivated the nation is the scandal surrounding Paula Deen, the fourth most popular chef, earning $17 million as a brand for her TV shows, books, products, and fees as a spokesperson from several food companies. What started the scandal ball rolling is a statement she made in a lawsuit against her and her husband that she used the “N” word as a racial slur against a former employee. After she admitted she did so, the transcript of the lawsuit went viral, and even though the statement was one she had made several decades before, she was suddenly in the media and public opinion crosshairs, and not only did ABC fire her from her cooking show, but other companies who had used her as a spokesperson or sold her products began peeling away, much as when O.J. Simpson, once the Avis spokesperson famed for rushing through airports, lost all kinds of backing when tried for murder in 1994.
Though Deen apologized profusely with tears on the Today show, pundits weighed in saying her brand was permanently damaged because now, in an age supporting racial acceptance and equality, her apology for even a much earlier slur was not enough. Instead, the media went into overdrive in chronicling her fall, like the end of the Wicked Witch in the Wizard of Oz.
Then there was the Aaron Hernandez story, where sports, fame, celebrity, and money came together in the tale of a bad boy athlete who killed his good friend Odin Lloyd for disrespecting him by talking to the wrong people at a nightclub. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/27/aaron-hernandez-murder-charge-texts-video_n_3508836.html
So allegedly Hernandez arranged a hit and drove Lloyd to a spot where he and two friends killed him. Then when Hernandez returned he sought to destroy his video and security equipment, presumably to eliminate any traces of him arranging for the scheme. And a few days later, Hernandez was charged with murder. Whatever the outcome, the Hernandez brand is forever tarnished, and he has already been dropped from the team, and will certainly lose millions, both from the top lawyers he hires and the losses in income and endorsements.
Meanwhile, I’ve been watching the Monarchy series on Netflix that traces the rise of kings in England from the days of Alfred in the Middle Ages through the reign of Henry the 8th (and beyond, though the Netflix series stopped with Henry). And one continuing theme was the way each generation of kids in the royal families were instilled with the goal of ruling as large a kingdom as they could – and as necessary, eliminating any threats to their rule by marriage, conquest, or murder; but then once in power, the rulers were continually under siege from others who had their own designs on the throne. Thus, there were continual battles between the royal supporters and the opposition, commonly deemed traitors and put to death along with their top minions, unless they were victorious, whereupon the current ruler was deposed and often killed – or at least that’s my simplification of about a thousand years of British and European history.
Well, what comes through load and clear from all of these stories are these key points about wealth and fame. First, as much as becoming rich and famous is valued in our age of media-driven celebrity, maybe it’s overrated. Certainly, one needs a minimum income to become secure and comfortable; but once one has that security, it seems one can lead a relatively peaceful life with family and friends, without worrying about being caught up in the struggle for glory and acquiring even more money, while being exposed by a relentless media eager to exploit a person’s fatal flaw to bring someone down. For example, if Paula Deen was just an ordinary chef someplace, little notice would have been given to a similar lawsuit claiming discrimination – it would be just one of many such suits, but Paula Deen’s fame turned it into a scandal, destroying a reputation that took decades to build in a few hours.
Secondly, I think these stories serve as a kind of reminder of what we consider right and good, whatever the outcome for the person at the center of the turmoil. For example, the Snowden case reminds us of the value of personal privacy and suggests when the concern with security has gone too far, while Snowden has paid a very high personal price for sparking this debate. The Paula Deen case reminds us of how far we have come in accepting diversity, tolerance, and acceptance, even though the media and corporate America may have overreacted in turning Deen into a pariah for something she did decades ago and disavows now. And the Hernandez case reminds us that regardless of how much fame and wealth one has accumulated, one is not above the law; one has to play by the rules or one can very readily fall from grace by an evil action or series of them, and then there is no going back. Even the kings of England had to work with Parliament and appeal to the support of their followers and the people, or they could easily fall prey to the many contenders and pretenders who would bring them down.
Thus, while being rich and famous can bring with it many perks, such as a luxurious, elegant lifestyle and opportunities for the finest products, services, and travel, there are plenty of downsides, too. So, do you still want to join the rich and famous ranks? At least keep the potential risks of doom and destruction due to greed, envy, excess, missteps, and the media glare. And if you’re not rich and famous, think of all the benefits you may gain – so the ideal of gaining wealth and fame may not, after all, be so great.
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Gini Graham Scott, Ph.D. is the author of over 50 books with major publishers and has published 30 books through her own company Changemakers Publishing and Writing (www.changemakerspublishingandwriting.com). Her own website is at www.ginigrahamscott.com. She writes books and proposals for clients, and has written and produced over 50 short videos through her company Changemakers Productions. Her latest books are Transformations: How New Developments in Science, Technology, Business and Society Are Changing Your Life http://www.amazon.com/Transformations-Developments-Technology-Business-Changing/dp/1490318046/ref=sr_1_9?ie=UTF8&qid=1372302438&sr=8-9&keywords=Transformations+-+scott and The Battle Against Internet Book Piracy http://www.amazon.com/Battle-Against-Internet-Book-Piracy/dp/1490331921/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1372302489&sr=1-1&keywords=battle+against+internet+piracy.