When I was an undergraduate at the University of Southern California, I had quite a few friends who were Filipino-American students (one of whom was an editor for a literary magazine that I hung out with quite a bit and who helped me write a way out of a corner for one of my plays relating to early 20th century Asian history, but that is another story). As a result of these friends, I was invited and watched a show created called “Almost Pamous” that dealt with the attempts of three Filopino-American brothers to achieve fame in their native Philippines on a singing show suspiciously like “The Voice” or “American Idol.” The end result was pleasant enough, and a bit bittersweet, and the acting was solid. I do not think anyone got famous over their roles in the show, but even as someone very unfamiliar with Pinay culture I found much to appreciate as an outsider, and that is saying something, I suppose. The lure to fame is one that I have at least some understanding of, even being as shy and awkward a person as I am.
Fame is a strange thing. There are many circles where one can be famous. For example, one can be well-known to people in a particular world but be largely unknown outside of that world. The largely obscure actors who have played on Star Trek shows, for example, belong to this sort of world, with a few exceptions for those whose fame has transcended the realms of nerd culture. Sometimes people grouse about being stuck in a ghetto, and some people embrace the fondness of a particular subculture. I can understand both feelings. For example, I could see that someone would be irritated by being typecast or only viewed as important by insiders of a particular kind, but much depends on perspective. Some of us are awkward enough that we are fairly stuck being the same sort of awkward people over and over again, like your Michael Ceras or David Byrnes of the world. No amount of fame is going to make someone what one is not, and sometimes one has to embrace one’s character and make the best of it. Sometimes one’s beliefs will make one pigeonholed, and one should embrace this too–for as our Lord and Master was treated, so we shall be treated. Some will be friends and some will be enemies. Some will not care one way or another about us either.
To want fame in a fragmented world is a difficult thing. There are many cases–too many to go into detail–where people initially found fame in genres or small niches and wanted to be famous in the larger world, and so were scrubbed of all of their quirks and eccentricities in order to do so. The end result was a bland and temporary fame that led to people receiving a large amount of casual short-term fans and a lot of frustrated but long-term loyal fans who wondered what went wrong. Ten or twenty years down the road, it is the loyal fans who stood by someone who will be the only ones who care about some of these people, but they are easily cast aside when someone thinks they can appeal to the masses. If we can only be famous airbrushed and with the rough edges smoothed out, is it worth being famous at all, especially because mainstream fame is extremely fleeting? Is it not better to be loved for who we are in the first place?
And yet, that is often the question. Are we loved for who we are? If we were confident in being loved, it would be easier for us to deal with the stresses of our contemporary existence. Yet many of us are simply not sure, not least because we cannot be confident that we are known for who we are, and because we often do not want to be known in all our complexity. If we want to be known for our looks, or for our intellect, or for our strength or various other competencies, we may be tempted to look at those who value us only for these qualities with contempt. Yet are we not to blame as well for showing only a part of ourselves to others? If we have been selective about what we show to others, can we truly blame others for not being mindreaders and for valuing us based on what they see? Perhaps it is better that we not be famous at all, even if it is only being almost pamous, but so long as there are ways to get attention, we can be sure that at least some of us will be using them, however ambivalently.