Is fame ever good for anyone? Or does it ultimately poison and destroy anyone who achieves it? Fame meaning not just Hollywood, Nashville, or Broadway, but being the famous professor who shakes up the field, the pastor who has a huge church and influence, or the politician who makes a mark. In his book The Frenzy of Renown, Leo Braudy says:
Between the ideal (and safely dead) figures of the past and the infinite compromises and corruptions of the present appear the figures of contemporary fame-aspiring to a condition of achievement and recognition independent of the normal pressures of age and imperfection. Like a dim remembrance of unfallen purity, the dream of fame promises a place where private dreams of recognition triumphantly appear in public. Fame allows the aspirant to stand out of the crowd, but with the crowd’s approval; in its turn, the audience picks out its own dear individuality in the qualities of its heroes. Famous people glow, it’s often said, and it’s a glow that comes from the number of times we have seen the images of their faces, now superimposed on the living flesh before us-not a radiation of divinity but the feverish effect of repeated impacts of a face upon our eyes. The ease with which we allow ourselves to be absorbed by such images, the desires to be that way ourselves, confirms that the essential lure of the famous is that they are somehow more real than we and that our insubstantial physical reality needs that immortal substance for support. Where the infinite reproductions of the faces of the famous mediate between us and whatever they have actually done, the urge to public fame has little necessary connection to the urge to recognition for worthy actions. Its goal becomes a state of being. In compensation for the erosions of life and death, the new media of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries thus create the modern dream of fame as a vision of wholeness, an effort to move outside the blare of publicity by using it for oneself, to be an object of attention rather than one of the mob of attention payers.