cutting on the action

photography and film – facts, ideas, values


Stephen Fry has added a blog to his website. His second post Let Fame, long and discursive – the length of which the concern of many of the so far over 200 comments it received – led me in short strides to some of the academic work on celebrity. One of the most interesting (though at one unscientific remove, slight barmy) studies was the effect (or not) of fame on the creative writings of Kurt Cobain, Cole Porter, and John Cheever:

The Psychological Consequences of Fame: Three Tests of the Self-Consciousness
by Mark Schaller (1997), Journal of Personality 65:2, June 1997 by Mark Schaller, Department of Psychology,University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada .

The abstract explains:

Three investigations tested the hypothesis, that the attainment of fame leads to chronic self-consciousness. One of these studies also examined the relationship of self-consciousness with self-destructive behavior. Analyses of Kurt Cobain’s and Cole Porter’s song lyrics indicated increased use of first-person singular pronouns after each songwriter attained celebrity. An analysis of John Cheever’s short stories indicated greater use of the first-person narrative voice following his first brush with fame. Other analyses revealed that variations in Cheever’s fame were positively correlated with use of first-person singular pronouns in his private letters and journals. These measures of self-consciousness were also positively correlated with Cheever’s self-reported alcohol use. Together, these, three studies offer the first empirical support for a self- consciousness hypothesis linking celebrity to self-destructive behavior.

and includes a quote from Leo Gaudy at the end:

In the urge to find a better, more perfect self, the possibility of uncovering a worse, more misshapen one hangs like a threatening cloud. Lurking behind every chance to be made whole by fame is the axeman of further dismemberment.

I suppose it is but a short step to the analysis of Stephen’s writing.

Although Let Fame covers a lot of ground, I am as intrigued by the comments stream. The number of comments in such a short space of time is surely a measure of fame: whatever these people are writing about, the suspicion is that they are attempting in one way or another to brush, albeit mostly lightly, against fame. Quite a few mention incidents where they were in his proximity.

It is not always easy in the writing styles of these comments to detect the humour and irony. Apart from a few quite funny ones, what comes over is the earnestness, which would seem to fit with the fan-tasy: that’s what the fan’s role in the fame nexus is. Though some of my reading suggests that built in, too, is “you can build ’em up and you can pull ’em down.”

The wiki:celebrity is quite useful. I should advise Stephen to get cracking on an edit of that entry! He could use himself as an example.



“Only connect”. One thing thing almost certainly leads to another on the web. I ended up (half wondering about myself in that medical book syndrome state) reading extracts of a book and interviews with its author, Sam Vaknin (“world expert” on narcissism ) : Malignant Self-Love:Narcissism Revisited.

In interview he says:

….celebrities fulfil two emotional functions: they provide a mythical narrative (a story that the fan can follow and identify with) and they function as blank screens onto which the fans project their dreams, hopes, fears, plans, values, and desires (wish fulfilment). The slightest deviation from these prescribed roles provokes enormous rage and makes us want to punish (humiliate) the “deviant” celebrities.

There’s a pile of it in that vein, but taking away the jargon, there certainly something there. He’s bound to have expounded a poor man’s version of narcissism and its malignancies on Oprah Winfrey. It’s the sort of book title she would love to read off the book cover as she held it high as her latest recommendation.

October 4, 2007 Posted by | celebrity, Fame, human nature | , , , | Leave a comment