"Don't confuse fame with success. Madonna is one; Helen Keller is another." –Erma Bombeck
There's no accounting for taste. After hearing teen pop music sensation Justin Bieber's name, Red Room's CEO Ivory Madison finally checked out one of his videos recently, and was completely mystified by his fame—wondering at first if it was a satire, but then seeing that over 170 million people had watched the video, and it was not. This became a topic around the office, and so last week we asked Red Roomers to blog about Justin Bieber. If they didn't know who that is, we asked for posts about someone or something whose celebrity is impossible to understand.
Emily Dickinson wrote, "Fame is a fickle food/Upon a shifting plate." In a time when many column-inches are used to discuss the attention Jonathan Franzen is getting for his new book versus the attention given books by any number of his peers who are women, it seems more and more that we can't agree about who should be celebrated and why. We feel, along with Socrates, that "fame is the perfume of heroic deeds," but can't agree on which deeds are actually heroic. During our conversation, Ivory brought to my attention this quote from Albert Camus: "To become famous, all one has to do is kill one's landlady."
Reactions ranged from spirited defenses of Bieber to dispirited agreement that culture is doomed. (By the way—congratulations, Justin, on winning the MTM Video Music Award for Best New Artist on September 12th.) We enjoyed the first sentence of Michael Christopher Lent's post: "My grandmother always said that if you didn't have something nice to say about someone then blog about them." Three posts stood out:
- Shaun Landry is wary of fleeting fame, and tells us why in no uncertain terms in "Your 15 Minutes is Dangerous." (She includes a great take on the would-be Qur'an-burning Florida pastor, by the way.)
- J. Marc Schmidt understands Justin and modern, transitory celebrity, and gives a masterful rundown in "Hanson Did Not Play the Reeperbahn: Why is that person famous?"
- We laughed out loud at Nancy Brady Smith's conflation of Justin with the Beaver family in C.S. Lewis's The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, and hope you will too. Read "Justin Beaver and fame."
These bloggers will receive books by Red Room authors that touch on what it means to be a rock star and achieve a certain type of fame. During its twenty-three-year run, The Ed Sullivan Show launched many performers to fame; Gerald Nachman chronicles them in Right Here on Our Stage Tonight!: Ed Sullivan's America. One artist whose fame at least matched his talent and contributions to music was Jimi Hendrix, and in his new book Becoming Jimi Hendrix, Brad Schreiber recounts "the untold story of a musical genius." Jack Boulware and Silke Tudor's comprehensive work, Gimme Something Better: The Profound, Progressive, and Occasionally Pointless History of Bay Area Punk from Dead Kennedys to Green Day, may teach you a thing or two.
Jack Boulware, by the way, is co-founder (with fellow Red Room author and early Redroom.com author liaison Jane Ganahl) of Litquake, San Francisco's annual, week-long literary festival. This year's festival runs from October 1st through 9th. Look for annoucements and features in the coming weeks on Red Room's homepage and elsewhere about various appearances and readings by your favorite Red Room authors.
–Huntington W. Sharp, Senior Editor, Red Room