The 4 Worst Things that Happen When You Meet Your Heroes
There are so many writers, performers, and musicians who have filled my life with their work, and I have no shortage of heroes. Personally, I think hero worship can be good. Recognizing the greatness in someone is a defense against cynicism. If we see people we respect achieve perfection, then we know perfection is possible. And if it's possible, then it's something to strive for.
This is the photo that came up when I searched "perfection," and while I wouldn't go that far, who am I to argue with the good people at Getty?
But just because it's good to have heroes doesn't mean it's good to meet them. In fact, most times I think it's best to avoid it, and here are four reasons why.
There's an Excellent Chance Your Hero Is a Douche
Did you know that a lot of celebrities are douchebags? Of course you did. Here's how you knew: Most celebrities are human beings. Have you met human beings? We're the worst, so, statistically speaking, most celebrities you'll meet will be awful. Whether it's supermodel Naomi Campbell throwing telephones at personal assistants or Bruce Willis being seemingly hostile at an interviewer for no reason, bad behavior abounds.
Even if they're not dbags in the first place, being a celebrity gives you more opportunities to act out than having a normal job, meaning that even a nice guy might growl at someone at the adjacent urinal if they asked for an autograph. Just like the majority of celebrities, the majority of fans must be terrible, too. Even my micro-inkling of Internet fake-fame has shown me countless "fans" who thought they could endear themselves by being combative assholes. I had one guy criticize my family and not understand why he got de-friended on Facebook. He's probably reading this now and telling his foreman at the jackass factory, "Hey, that asshole he's talking about is me!!! I'm that asshole."
Still not clear if the "jackass factory" employs jackasses or actually manufactures them as well.
In summary, people are terrible. Some of those terrible people become famous and act out as terrible celebrities. Some terrible people become terrible fans and act terribly, making otherwise nice celebrities act out. Ultimately, the deck is stacked against a pleasant celebrity interaction.
Reality Destroys Fantasies
But y'know what? Sometimes celebrities are lovely. Last year, I was lucky enough to moderate a panel with Six Million Dollar Man/Fall Guy Lee Majors at the Edmonton Expo (and Gillian Anderson at the Calgary Expo, but that's a different story). In the late '70s, Lee Majors was married to Farrah Fawcett and was the highest paid actor on television. A major star. Despite this, he appeared for the Expo without a trace of ego. He was kind and courteous (even to fans who didn't deserve it) and seemed happily married to a lovely woman. But there was one problem: He couldn't run 60 mph and wrestle Bigfoot with his bionic arm. He was just a normal man, not the superhero from my early childhood.
So I met a humble, well-mannered, gracious actor who even posed with me and my action figure, but I had questions: Was I better off having met him, was it better to pretend Steve Austin was a real person and not an actor, and ...
... why did I look so fat and ugly standing next to him?
I'm still not sure. I know the curtain was pulled back for a minute, and even though the actor behind the hero was a great guy, it's fun to pretend superheroes are real sometimes.
Also, it's in my contract: For every ugly pic of me, I'm allowed to insert a decent one and pimp my book.
You'll Find Out You Loved Them Wrong
The next reason you might not want to meet a celebrity is that you'll learn that all your thoughts and theories are wrong. Y'see, when you really like an artist, you study them. And then after a while something more than study happens: You project. You might think they're singing or writing directly to you. That's what happened here when John Lennon had to set a dirty hippie straight that not only was he not the Beatle who sang the "you're gonna carry that weight" lyric, but that he was not singing to this fan he'd never met.
But even if you're not delusional, many fans pervert their heroes' art to serve their own purposes. Perhaps the best example of this phenomenon is shown in this Englishman's short interview and documentary of Randy Newman. My buddy Blindboy of the Rubber Bandits passed it along to me because we both share a love of Randy Newman. For those of you who think Randy Newman is just that guy who writes innocuous songs for Pixar movies, here's a brief history: Randy Newman is a singer-songwriter with a 40-plus-year career. Many of his songs feature satiric or ironic lyrics that have occasionally gotten him in trouble with listeners -- particularly when he is singing in the persona of the character he is commenting on. In addition to his handful of hits like "Short People" and "I Love LA," he has written hit songs for other artists. He is also an award-winning film composer and millionaire.
However, if you watch this interview, the take-away message is that Randy Newman is a sarcastic Jew that everyone hates. Why? Well, because the interviewer seems pretty much to be a fairly unlikeable Hebrew himself. He sees himself as a misunderstood, sardonic minority, and therefore he needs to see Newman as a similar acquired taste, bordering on failure.
In his attempt to explain to viewers how great Randy is, he completely sells Newman's success short. But the best example of this comes at 9:00 in the video. See, he's no dope, the interviewer, and he's done his research. After consulting maps, he notices that a lyric in Newman's semi-autobiographical song "New Orleans Wins the War" makes no sense: "We used to live on Willow in the Garden District." Well, apparently, Willow isn't in the Garden District. Accordingly, the interviewer has a theory that perhaps this song is a comment on the unreliability and sentimentality of nostalgia. I admire the interviewer's research and appreciate the seeming validity of his theory, except he's wrong. Know how I know? Randy Newman tells him he's wrong.
As you can see, Newman explains that the Garden District was a desirable location, so lower middle class folk would stretch the truth to seem like upper middle class folk by expanding what streets were considered part of the Garden District. And having been given this information, the interviewer spits out his theory again. The truth delivered straight from the artist he worships didn't gibe with his personal notions of that artist's work.
I'm pretty sure that, even now, this interviewer doesn't understand what he's done or who he's met, but imagine if you were just a touch more self-aware; it might be a bummer to learn that all the theories and beliefs composing your hero worship were false.
Meeting Won't Be Enough
OK, now here's the final scenario. Let's say your favorite hero is not a douchebag and the reality of meeting them does not destroy the pleasant fantasy you've constructed. Let's also pretend that, given the chance to know your hero better, you learn that all your thoughts, theories, and intuitions about their work and their very soul are completely correct. Then what? What are you going to do with that? It's possible that your brief encounter can lead to a short, lovely anecdote that you hold close to your chest for warmth. If so, you're very lucky. Meeting your hero will be a lovely thing for you. But even in this pleasant scenario, things can still go badly.
For example, this sample was taken from you while you were sleeping. Does that look normal to you?
Let me explain. I'm a huge Jon Stewart fan. In my deluded mind, Jon Stewart and I are supposed to be like the best friends ever -- and not just because we could double our wardrobes, given that we're the same height, weight, and build. We'd crack each other up and finish each other's jokes and he'd introduce me to Stephen Colbert as his "brother from another mother," even though I know he'd never ever actually use that phrase. (Trust me, I know. I like get him!)
Anyway, I'm not actually delusional, so I don't truly believe any of that, but let's say I do meet Jon and we totally hit it off. Guess what? After the elevator we're trapped in starts to move again, he says "See ya," and that's it. He's gone and I'm left to wonder, but, but, but aren't I cool enough? And let's say you don't work in the same field as your idol. Let's just say you're a landscaper who doesn't play golf, but who worships Tiger Woods. Would that landscaper be content to have a totally normal and rewarding encounter with his hero and then know his hero is very content never to speak to him again?
"Just gonna finish pruning these bushes and then it's over to Tiger's for drinks."
Like I said, some people could deal with it, but most people, especially obsessed people who worship celebrities, are not good about accepting things in moderation. So, really, stop hanging around outside expensive restaurants hoping to meet your heroes. It probably won't end well.
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