In America, fame and celebrity are not only separated by aesthetic attributes but also by meanings. Celebrity is not fame. Celebrity is the condition of being celebrated every day and forever, and it demands constant work and focus from whoever is fortunate enough to have it. For example, the author Chuck Palahniuk told me that when he recently had a photograph taken with Ed Norton and Brad Pitt -- who star in the movie version of his book Fight Club -- they were all standing, looking at the camera, when suddenly, just before the flash, Pitt turned his head so as to show his good side. As a celebrity, Brad Pitt is always at work, always transmitting information about himself with no moment of rest, no respite. (Another source told me that Brad Pitt is also in the habit of licking his full and lush lips so as to draw attention to them.) Fame, on the other hand, is not something you manipulate or even do; it is more like a lottery. It may or may not happen to you at any given moment. There is no telling who will become famous and who will not; fame doesn't require skill or even an agent. One night you happen to be high, black, pulled over by some racist cops, and beaten within an inch of your life, and the next day you are famous. Monica S. Lewinsky, to give another example, became famous because she happened to suck Bill Clinton's cock, but she is by no means a celebrity. For this to happen she'd have to talk about the delights of oral sex all of the time, become a leading advocate for oral sex, suck another president's cock, and maybe even diversify and go down on the first lady as well. She must also become a spokesperson for a brand of cigars, be seen on the cover of Aficionado now and then, and, like Brad Pitt, regularly lick her lips at every photo opportunity. If she does all of this and much more, then we will celebrate her.
But celebrity is not solely the outcome of hard work and dedication -- celebrity is also something that is innate, something that a person has in them from the very start. As an instructor in creative writing, I frequently have students who attend my classes because they are trying to become famous, and have somehow concluded that writing a book will do the trick. For these young men and women, writing is nothing more than a vehicle ("a bizarre vehicle," as the novelist Matthew Stadler put it) to transport them to fame. (If the book doesn't work out, then I'm sure they will try something else, like breeding horses or televangelism.) But what these students don't realize is that if by some amazing miracle their book makes them famous and suddenly they are bleeping on the social radar, without celebrity their fame will vanish as quickly and as unexpectedly as it appeared. Here is the snag: Celebrity not only requires serious commitment but, as Matthew Stadler suggested to me, a lot of talent. You have to have the gift of celebrity first, then you become famous, then you work hard at maintaining your glamorous status.
In fact I may even suggest that there may be a gene for celebrity (the celebrity gene!), which is dormant until the moment fame has arrived, at which point it comes to life in a blaze -- "the light of celebrity."
I believe the novelist Bret Easton Ellis (author of The Rules of Attraction and Glamorama) is endowed with such a gene; he is a true celebrity, and does an excellent job of maintaining it. He attends, I hear from very reliable sources, all the best parties, and eats with other celebrities at the most expensive restaurants; he is everywhere one goes when one wants to be seen. Martin Amis (the author of Money and Success), on the other hand, is famous but not a celebrity, at least in America -- which is the only place in the world you can be a legitimate celebrity. Amis has tried his desperate best to become a celebrity, spending something to the tune of $50,000 to have his bad teeth fixed so that the public can recognize in his dentiglorious smile someone whom they would love to celebrate. But it hasn't worked. He just doesn't have it in him. He is not blessed with the celebrity gene. Salman Rushdie is also not a celebrity, but seems like one because he is perpetually famous since his life is constantly threatened by religious fana-tics. Rushdie (whose last book, Ground Beneath Her Feet, desperately tried to capture the essence and meaning of celebrity) has tried to break out of fame and enter the fabulous world of celebrity by rubbing shoulders with rock stars like Bono, but we cannot be fooled by these cheap tactics. We know he doesn't have the right stuff.
I must stress again that producing a book does not make one a celebrity. A book is only a means to achieve fame. In this respect, think of Stephen King; he is not a celebrity but he is certainly famous because of the sheer volume of work he has produced over all of these years (the same can be said of Joyce Carol Oates). This is not "celebrity," but what author Stacey Levine calls "a kind of logorrhea," meaning, like a man who has some rare flesh-eating disease, these types of writers are famous only because they are afflicted by a strange writing illness.
Celebrity is not for the sick, it is only and always for the healthy and the beautiful; and unlike fame, it lasts forever.
The Beautiful Ones