It’s a strange world in which we find ourselves.
The start of the New Year confirmed to many of us that some individuals we thought we knew so well weren’t the same folks we thought they were.
Many of them appeared to have transformed into a new persona literally overnight, leaving people, who had supported, admired, and trusted them, in a state of disbelief, distress, and overwhelming sadness.
The depth of duplicity to which they had sunk shocked us to the core. But it did something else too. It set us on a path to find out how human beings can cause so much hurt, do so much damage, and care so little about what they had done.
I would like to offer one explanation, which is based upon my academic background and application of sociological, cultural, and media psychology principles.
There is an insatiable human need to be loved. We are social creatures who look to one another to supply this crucial component of our very survival.
As evidence that we are loved by others, we constantly seek affirmation, i.e., outward signs that sum up the degree and substance of the affection and esteem in which we are held.
In our present-day society, just as in societies of old, fame defines the amount of acclaim an individual has acquired at a moment in time.
In my book “Hollywood Nation,” I had the pleasure and honor of interviewing the late Joel Siegel. The legendary film critic told me a fame-related story about President John F. Kennedy, how he broke with tradition by not wearing a fedora hat at his inauguration.
Hats at that time were a part of the standard look for men. Siegel mentioned that even at “ball games they wore a hat.”
But when, at such an important event, people saw the fedora missing from JFK’s head, suddenly the fashion attire went out of style.
Siegel’s Kennedy anecdote helps to provide insight as to why seemingly insignificant things surrounding famous people actually matter a great deal.
For a long time now, I have suggested that in our society those we place on the celebrity pedestal greatly influence us. In many instances, we actually hold affection for them and innately desire the affection to be mutual. Consequently, we often seek to emulate them.
In my book “Tales from the Left Coast,” I note that each of us longs to be accepted. And we also seek some evidence that we, as individuals, belong to something larger than our singular selves.
In wanting to belong, we frequently alter our behavior to fit in with the behavior of others, i.e., we conform to societal and cultural norms. Whether or not the conformance is a good or bad thing may hinge upon the circumstances, context, and applicable ethics.
A natural fear that we all carry, albeit one of which we may not be conscious, is fear of death. Our survival instinct compels us to try and alleviate this fear as best we can.
People of faith are able to dispense with the fear of death with the theological reassurance of an afterlife, which is far greater than the earthly one we currently experience or any that a human mind could ever imagine.
For those lacking in the above-described belief system, or a similar spiritual ideology, fear of death may be lessened by thoughts of achieving a type of immortality that fame might seemingly offer.
Our inner awareness of our mortality at the conscious or subconscious level may lead us to seek protection from the fear that we will someday cease to exist.
Psychologist Orville Gilbert Brim, who collected data on the subject of fame with the support of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, opined that fame is “like belief in the afterlife in medieval communities, where people couldn’t wait to die and go on to better life.”
According to Brim, the desire to achieve fame ultimately springs from the human need to be part of a group, to obtain acceptance and approval.
The antithesis of one who is adored is one who is an outcast.
When we receive love and adulation from our fellow human beings, it is the highest of highs. Likewise, when we are rebuffed, rejected, and/or exiled it is the lowest of lows. In fact, the latter experience is tantamount to death.
According to Sigmund Freud, the pursuit of fame can be explained by the subconscious impulses that relate to our need to be recognized.
These impulses are more predominant in those who have stronger ambitions, which may explain why some people have a heightened need to pursue fame more fiercely.
The notions of – the pursuit of fame, the need to hold onto it once it has been secured, and the desire to make it grow ever larger – are woven together with the impulse to conform.
In my assessment, this would explain why so many people, the likes of which I described above in my opening, caved so easily to other influential individuals and groups, whom they most longed to please, and whose continuous acceptance they still desperately desire.
It is a hollow choice that these people made.
And they may soon come to know that fame is fleeting, but misfortune oftentimes lingers.