Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Famous People I Don't Know

Once I was crossing at the light and overheard a conversation ahead of me.

"Do you remember Sean Maher?"


"That hot guy from Firefly--the doctor."

"Oh yeah."

"I had such a crush on him and would totally be his girlfriend--but he's gay!"

"Oh no way! Dang it!"

I smiled to myself, but I really wanted to tell these girls: I don't think the thing keeping you from being Sean Maher's girlfriend is his sexual orientation. I'm not sure exactly which circles she runs in, but from the conversation, it doesn't sound like she is hanging out with Sean and his friends on the weekend, going to the fro-yo place, and playing Mario Kart in the dorm lobby. But then, we talk about celebrities, I think, as types.

  • Pink is the party girl with the heart of gold, the best friend from junior high you stick with even after you've become radically different people.

  • Kate Middleton is the bratty, but beautiful, old high school over-achiever that you kind of secretly hope will fail even while basking in her successes.
  • Britney's the hot-mess you stay hopeful for, the one who, every time something normal happens, you say, "She's just doing so well."

  • Lindsay Lohan is the hot-mess that you wish would have a talk with Britney Spears, who is descending into non-hotness, and who reminds you of trouble-cousins you keep away from the open bar at family celebrations.

  • Adele and Taylor Swift are both the girls you want to see settle into happiness, although their goodness and talent seem perceptually thwarted by bad luck and misturns.

These types become part of our conversation and our obsession because they are familiar to us. We can imagine how the types would react to certain situations, our sympathies extend to them according to our commitment to those types, and we can imagine ourselves as their girlfriends, friends, parents and siblings. In some ways, they work like the towering figures of the Trojan war: instead of repeat stories about Helen, Menalaus, Ajax and Odysseus, we tell repeat stories about Jennifer Afflack and Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise.

Now that's all very well and good for types, but what about actual celebrities? The ones who, as I write this on a Sunday morning, are asleep on the west coast, maybe snoring, maybe drolling, and on the the east coast maybe eating eggs, or flossing, or maybe flipping through the DVR. I know it's nothing new to say "Stars--they're just like us!" but they kind of are in a lot of basic ways. How odd that someone can be an archetype and a person at the same time.

Some people get weird when they meet a celebrity. I probably would if I knew they were a celebrity. But probably I wouldn't recognize them. If we were, like, on the bus together or they were walking down the street, I probably wouldn't go over and say hi because I don't say hi to random people on the bus or on the street. If we were, say, at a party standing by the punchbowl together, or in the grocery store trying to find out why the dried fruit section doesn't have cherries (answer: it's in the baking section), then I'd talk to them just like a regular person. Probably because I'm pretty face-blind and I can't connect someone out of context. I think my family may have this problem in general.

My sister worked in a resthome when she was in high school. One day, she was caring for a woman, when a man came in to visit his ex-mother-in-law.

"Oh, I'll be done in a minute," she said.

"Okay," he said.

"You looking really familiar," she said.

"I'm Robert Redford."

"No, that's not it," she said. "Did you ever teach at Provo High?"

"No, I'm Robert Redford."

She finished up and then went outside and recognized the name. Robert. Redford. Everyone in Provo has a Robert Redford story, but I don't know how many of them involve people denying him to his face.

So I don't think I could date or be friends with a celebrity as a celebrity. Maybe as a person. But in my mind, of course, the types of these celebrities are mirrored in many of the people around me.

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