Corey Feldman was interviewed by People magazine about his relationship to Michael Jackson. For those who envision themselves becoming famous, pay attention: the artist-fan relationship, once established, does not evaporate the moment you walk off the film set or cease working on your latest production. It’s a 24/7 relationship that requires attention every time you step out into public space. You may not consider it part of your “paid work,” but trust me, failing to engage your fans with respect and decency whenever and wherever you go will only cause you eternal angst that ain’t worth the psychic energy required to fight it.
“What [Michael] taught me is that you always have to be nice to your fans and always treat them with love and respect,” Feldman said. “Even if you don’t remember the moment, they are always going to remember that moment. That’s something that I carry with me.”
Expanding upon that, he said, “Even if I’m in a terrible mood or am going through things, they walk away going, ‘Wow, that really meant something to me and meant something to him, and he wasn’t just blowing me off.’ I learned that from Michael.”
If you don’t expect people to pay attention to you every single time you step out into public space then you’re a fool for entering the entertainment business in the first place. Entertainment is not just about the performance (are you listening Anne Hathaway!), it’s about sharing an emotional understanding of what it’s like to be on this planet for a for brief years with others.
From my experience, there are three main types of attention you can expect to receive every time you step into a public space:
- 1. Photographers
- 2. Autograph Seekers
- 3. Picture with Fans
Photographers have one goal: make a gorgeous picture. Achieving that goal, however, requires being in a position to actually see the person being photographed. If there’s a bodyguard, a driver, or a publicist in the way, guess what, no good picture. So what happens, the photographer moves to find a better angle, much to the chagrin of the bodyguard, driver, and publicist. Moral: get out of the way or suffer the chaos of photographers scrambling to find a better angle.
Unfortunately, a problem emerges with the additional presence of autograph seekers and picture with fans: to achieve their goal requires getting up close to the celebrity. But as soon as they move closer, so do the photographers, because now their angle is being obstructed. So what ultimately happens when all three elements are present: a dangerous convergence on the celebrity that jeopardizes their safety that ultimately serves nobody’s goal.
There’s a simple way to avoid this chaos, though: Expect all three elements to be present when you enter public space and expect your staff to arrange to service all three elements. That means, the celebrity briefly poses for photographers, works his or her way down a line of autograph seekers, and finally takes a moment to pose with a few fans who like picture with photos.
It’s a simple process, but be assured, it will not go away because you don’t feel like it’s “your job” to service these elements. The effort required to fight the process could just as easily be set up to deal with these elements, which, in the end, merely reflect a reinforcement of the artist-fan relationship. Most of the people who engage celebrities on these terms are hard working and see themselves as fulfilling a communication role between the artist and fan.
The autograph seeker may sell your autograph but to whom? The fan. The photographer may sell your image to the entertainment magazines but for whom? The fan. The picture with fans simply treasure the moment that Corey Feldman mentioned and take pleasure in sharing that moment with their friends who are…fans.
Why publicists, bodyguards, and handlers do not understand the nature of this process and treat each of the elements in a systematic way is beyond me. Watching Robert Pattinson’s handlers pull out umbrellas to hide him from his fans as he walks from his trailer to hair and makeup seems ridiculous. What’s the point? If the fans were told Rob is working and at the end of the day he’ll take a few moments to work through the three elements mentioned above, everyone would walk away happy, including Rob.
A recognition of these constant three elements and servicing them in a diplomatic way is the simple way to deal with the nature of recognition and attention that comes with fame and celebrity. A failure to deal with them in a personal and direct fashion only produces chaos.
If you don’t expect that attention, though, or think you are not required to deal with it every time you step into public space, then you deserve a little refresher from Shakespeare himself: “A fool thinks himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool.” Your choice.
It’s a rainy day, so rather than shoot Kelly Clarkson on Regis & Kelly I delved into understanding the psychological meaning behind the artist-fan relationship. Google delivered a worthy result: American Heroes in a Media Age by Susan J. Drucker and Robert S. Cathcart. The working theory of this book suggests the notion that mass media itself has given birth to a late 20th and early 21st Century phenomenon; namely, anyone can become a social artifact aka celebrity when subjected to mass media packaging.
“The responses obtained in this investigation indicate that personal characteristics of celebrities rather than public deeds are related to their elevated status. Identification with the looks and personal characteristics that media publicity celebrates removes the celebrity from the hallowed pedestal of the hero.” (Drucker, Cathcart, 1994)
The dark side of this theory is that corporations today fulfill our psychological and emotional needs by offering up media packages (TV shows, movies, merchandise) that nurture a lifelong emotional attachment that replace human interaction with simulated relationships to fictional characters…which, unfortunately for the actors playing these roles winds up turning THEIR personal lives into fodder for fan consumption as well. The fictional character mysteriously transmogrifies into the real life of the actor whereby the line separating the two disappears in the blink of a tabloid eye.
“The hero may well be he or she whom every American should wish to be, but the celebrity is he or she whom every American can be” (Wecter, 1941).
So where does that leaves an actor like Robert Pattinson? I guess fighting for his personal life in the trenches of his onscreen fictional characters. Is it possible for him to maintain the line between his public and private lives once a fan has become emotionally attached to his fictional personality? Nope.
Starstruck: When A Fan Gets Close to Fame by Michael Joseph Gross