Every day at our hotel in England, there were dozens of young fans waiting outside for a glimpse of a popular Nickelodeon star who was staying there. On the night of the London premiere, five days into our trip, I felt a tickle in my throat that meant I needed some soothing tea and a full night’s sleep. I left the party early and as the driver pulled into the hotel, the usual fans had encircled someone and were shrieking and giggling, even at midnight. The teenage television star broke away from signing autographs and coincidentally we entered the hotel together, and then the elevator. She complimented my suit. We both had bodyguards.
Her floor came up first and she politely said goodnight to those of us remaining in the lift, as she turned down the hall she sweetly sang a line of a song. After the doors closed, I joked that only one of us needed any kind of protection this evening. The large man who was accompanying me home - one of several assigned to our traveling Europe entourage - told me a story about something he’d observed time and again in his job.
A few years ago he was looking after a popular British pop star, someone I’d never heard of. He said that young girls would stand outside hotels and restaurants and her concerts, sometimes crying when they met her, blubbering about how beautiful she was and how much they loved her. While the celebrity was lovely both inside and out, the bodyguard told me that he always noticed the fans most devoted to her were often extremely physically pretty, and seemingly unaware of it. The pop star was normal looking in a certain sense, she had occasional acne, maybe, or an imperfect profile. But it was about perception, on the fan’s side both of themselves and the one they idolized.
I’m assuming she was successful because of a certain amount of talent, likewise with the Nickelodeon star I didn’t know before this week. Surely it’s not all about looks, but witnessing young, pretty, smart, talented girls waiting in the cold night for the briefest eye contact of someone they think they love made me wonder about who we admire and why. Do we really want to see them up close? Does knowing that they have zits humanize them or ruin the perfection the rest of us are seeking?
Our friend Mat tells a story in the documentary my husband made about when he was a kid in Oklahoma just learning the BMX tricks that he would one day wholly reinvent.
At the time, he was imitating the pictures he saw in sports magazines, stylized photographs of riders suspended high in the air. When Mat finally began showing up at contests on the west coast, he was entirely self-taught and had rarely seen other riders live. He was going so much higher, and landing tricks so much more consistently than anyone else. He was basing his performance off their highlight reels. It hadn’t occurred to his pre-pubescent mind that a trick was tried a hundred times before they actually landed it for the cameras. He didn’t know that the photograph’s distortion of angle or lens would make the rider look like he was going so much bigger.
It worked in Mat’s favor of course, shooting for what he didn’t even know hadn’t been done yet, he went so far beyond everyone else. Working alone in his backyard unaware made him a legend.
After just one week of complete five-star treatment, I can see why celebrities and public figures fall out of touch with normal. It’s not only about luxury, at a certain level it’s about competence. On our trip last week we were surrounded by people there to make our lives easier. Drivers, security, water fetched, itineraries complete. We did not check in ourselves at the airport or hotel. If we had so desired, we could have gone the entire eight days without talking to a single person not in our circle. CEO’s, politicians, movie stars, this kind of treatment is to free them up to do their best job and their best job only and not have to worry about the daily minutia that takes up brain space. For a work trip, this is ideal. For daily life for years on end? You’d end up so out of touch as to circle around to the opposite: you’d be dumber.
After our social media trip to San Francisco on Monday, I flew home late while the rest of the group stayed the night in the bay area. Before I knew that transportation was arranged, I was trying to think about how I would get home from the Burbank airport. Was there a taxi line there? I couldn’t think of one. Burbank is the easiest place to park, but my car wasn’t there. I was way overtired and my problem-solving compartments were rusty. Inside my head, I was whining about how hard this was. Getting home from the airport. In my own city. This is not hard, this is called functioning.
For us, this season of movie release is an exception. We’re basking in the fun that surrounds it, but in November we’ll be back to Duck Dynasty marathons and making peanut butter lunches. We currently live in a sweet spot where The Gorilla is recognized and applauded for his work, but we don’t have to deal with the dark side of paparazzi or what I guess to be mental illness that comes from living in a fishbowl.
This month, it’s all about Hollywood. Next month, I’ll be relieved to be a Housewife.
image from Masato OHTA