Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The worst desirable thing.

I have achieved tiny amounts of fame in my life for very short periods of time. The one time I was working hard to achieve fame was the least successful. Padre Mickey and I founded The Wonders of Science when we were young, skinny and had better hair. We played local gigs, we made records that sold maybe a couple hundred copies, but that was about it for the fame. It was a lot of fun, and we have experienced an odd little flicker of fame residue. There are people who love to collect the recordings of unsigned punk and new wave bands from the 1980s, and some of those people have found the Padre or me online. It's nice to know we have fans in Sweden and Poland. Not massively profitable, but nice.

The next level of fame is being famous for a few hours in a controlled environment. The people who run the Classic Gaming Expo found my name on the internet and asked me to attend a few years back. This is a convention for people who like the old school video games, especially the Atari 2600. I went to the expo a few times, and I enjoyed myself. It was nice to catch up with people from my past, and it was an odd but not unpleasant experience to have people ask for my autograph on games I designed like Dolphin, Submarine Commander and Double Dunk. My friend Rob Fulop has attended, and he told me he now knows how Uhura feels when she attends a Star Trek convention. Rob wrote some big hits back in the day, much more successful than I was. If he's Uhura, I'm like Sam Rockwell's character from Galaxy Quest, some redshirt who was in one episode and got killed as part of the away team.

Then there is the famous where people want a piece of you. I've had a little of that as well. Very little, thank you very much, and I'm happy it didn't last. In 1985, I was on four episodes of Jeopardy! At least twice on every show, either the announcer Johnny Gilbert or the host Alex Trebek would say my full name and where I was from. This is long before the internet, so people had to find me the old fashioned way, through directory assistance or in the local phonebook. I was listed, so it wasn't that tough. Most of the people who called either knew me from the past or thought they knew me. Some people called hoping to interest me in wonderful investment opportunities. Just as I had a very little dose of this kind of fame, I also had only a modest dose of fortune, $25,550. It was the biggest check I ever got all at one time, but it was considerably less than my yearly salary in the video game business. I didn't bite on any of the investments offered.

Some people work hard all their lives trying to make a living in a job that will also make them famous. In today's world, some people get thrown into the full blown fame machine before they get to the part where they get rich or even moderately successful with a reasonable shot of future wealth. So it is with Susan Boyle and Joe the Plumber.

Ms. Boyle has a nice strong voice, but she may not have the temperment necessary to survive being famous at the completely crazy, people-camped-out-on-your-doorstep level of fame. She checked herself into a clinic after the final episode of Britain's Got Talent, suffering from nervous exhaustion. How successful she can be as a recording artist or having a career on the stage is very uncertain, and she reaches this level of fame without a supporting cast. No one can say if she will make the right decisions, or even if she will be able to find competent and honest people to handle her career.

Joe the Plumber is a completely different story, because Joe has no talent whatsover. He reached the spotlight by being worried about how Obama's new tax on people who made $250,000 a year would affect him personally, though he had never made anywhere near that much money in any year of his life. He was thrown to the jackals by some cynical operative in the McCain campaign, and his fifteen minutes of fame have been extended by an odd set of circumstances. First, the press still loves to report on him, in the same way they love sloppy drunk starlets and egotistical wide receivers. He may not be quite as big a train wreck as Lindsay Lohan or Chad Ochocinco, but he does put his foot in his mouth on a regular basis. Second, the conservative movement is at a loss for young stars, so they keep pushing him out onto the stage, if only to have some alternative to warhorses like Dick Cheney, Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich.

Usually, even "overnight sensations" have spent some time at the work they become famous for, and they've seen a few levels of fame before things get completely nuts. But now, it is possible to become a crazy level of famous literally in the space of 24 hours, going on a TV talent show or having some no hope presidential candidate repeat your name a jillion times in a debate.

We bloggers hope for some level of fame, at least to have our words read by people who don't know us face to face. But careful what you wish for. I don't think Susan Boyle is very happy with the Pandora's Box she opened. As for Joe the Plumber, I'm not sure even Joe the Plumber wants to be Joe the Plumber. Having the world's ear and nothing to say has to be a very lonely place.


dguzman said...

Interesting post, Matty Boy. I always love hearing about the patchwork quilt that is your life.

Karlacita! said...

If they give you a choice between being rich or being famous, choose rich every time!!!!

My verification word is "coitized," which is a perfect description of fame!

CDP said...

I'm with Karlacita. I'd choose rich and obscure every time. I couldn't handle fame. I'm not even sure I could handle brief notoriety.

Anonymous said...

That's a great line "Having the world's ear and nothing to say has to be a very lonely place". Indeed. And if you look at him again and again you see a person who really wants out. He knows how lonely a place it really is. Good one Matty.

namastenancy said...

I'm with dguzman - you've had a fascinating life. An early game designer and on Jeopardy? Cool! You'd probably related to this post - it refers to (ahem), those of us of a certain age who can remember Tetris:


Joe's a jerk but Susan's a sweet lady who probably had no idea of the flood of b-s that she would have to deal with. I hope that she finds what she really wants and has the strength to deal with it, whatever it may be. Personally, I'd rather be rich but unknown or known as an artist (ie, making a nice, comfortable living) but living in such a way that my actual wealth was invisible to the parasites of the press.
Of course, that's never going to happen (the wealth part).

Matty Boy said...

Thanks to all who posted.

To nancy: I agree about Joe, but I'm not sure how nice Susan Boyle is. I think a lot of us have projected a personality onto her that fits with the "diamond in the rough" life story we have been sold. We've seen how she handles tremendous success, but we really see character when a person is faced with unexpected difficulty and failure.