FAME: IS IT REALLY HOLLOW?

Fame is not anything like we expect.  Fame is an ‘outside’ experience which has no correlation with our ‘inside’ experience—with ourselves, with who we are.  This is why fame so often leads to madness.  It splits the person.  But what if the ‘inner self’ wishes for fame and does not get it, that could ‘split us’ and lead to madness, as well.  “Sweet fame” is how the Romantic poets referred to it—it was considered a worthy ambition for the poet. Perhaps fame is a comfort to some, a vindication, a desire to spread goodness and beauty.  We are not here to simply disparage it.

But we suspect fame is often misunderstood.

How is it…hollow?

Let’s see…the first myth of fame which needs destroying: fame is not adoration; it is, in fact, its opposite.

To be “talked about” is the last thing a good moral reputation needs.

And, as the famous Poe once quoted, “No Indian prince to his palace has more followers than a thief to the gallows.”

A hanging draws great crowds, and disgusting curiosity is enough, in itself, to crown fame upon almost anyone.

We hear that some writer is famous, and we often don’t know how they came by that fame.  We often have no idea.

We assume their fame is because they write well.

This is mostly naive.

There are millions of beautiful women.  Why do only some—for their “beauty”—become famous?

Think about it.

Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, James Joyce and his Ulysses, Charles Baudelaire and his Fleur du Mal, Allen Ginsberg, and his Howl, Nabokov’s Lolita, and Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence, just to name six famous modern examples, all owe their fame to law courts and cases of public morality. (one might note: the authors here are all men)

These are not just six ‘juicy’ works—these are icons in the top ten of Modern Literature, period.

Fame by cheating?

Poe—mentioned above—was chaste in manner, but his fame exists for another dubious reason: parody.

The Raven, Poe’s famous poem, was immediately parodied when it was first published.  Poe was reviled, as a harsh critic, in certain circles: parody and dislike often leads to fame, as well.

Another example which quickly springs to mind is the ridicule which greeted works of modern art—Marcel Duchamp and his museum-placed urinal—or the indignation elicited by new works of music.

The Beatles, in a sense, were parodied by The Monkees, a “manufactured” Beatles-type band for TV, and this leads to the question: is fame always a formula?

Those who worship the Beatles as sophisticated musicians often forget that children made up most of their audience when they first attained fame, and later, too, with their film and album, Yellow Submarine.

But is this such a bad thing?

We can almost say that fame is produced in two ways:

1. Sexually, offending child-like innocence—Flaubert, Joyce, Baudelaire, Ginsberg, Nabokov, and Lawrence.

2. Naively, offering up child-like innocence for sophisticated adult disapproval—Poe (“Once upon a midnight dreary”) The Beatles (“Yea, yea, yea”).

We could simplify the two types above by calling them the 1. Tragic and 2. Comic routes to fame.

The really famous will often feature a hybrid of the two:

For instance, when people found drug references (not innocent) in Beatle John’s “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” song, inspired by a drawing done by his kid (innocent).

Poe was ridiculed for a “childish” poem, “The Raven,” but was attacked for depraved habits, as well.

This interpretation of fame which we are now outlining is more accurate than the commonly used: Offends bourgeois taste.

Flaubert and Baudelaire date from 1857, and “Howl” went to trial in 1957, so we are looking at a 100 year window of sex, fame, and modernity, the so-called Tragic path.

T.S. Eliot, Robert Frost, e.e. cummings, Edna Millay, W.C. Williams, Gwendolyn Brooks, Maya Angelou, Anne Sexton, and Sylvia Plath have had some success, but since Plath’s “Daddy” was published in the wake of her suicide in 1962, not one poem has become famous, not like “The Raven,” anyway, or one of Frost’s little gems; that’s a drought of 50 years, and we now live in a ‘social media’ age where things “go viral” all the time.

Recently, thanks to Twitter and Facebook, a poem by Patricia Lockwood called “Rape Joke” made a stir.  The numbers were not phenomenal, but they were pretty good for the ‘poetry world.’

The raw content of “Rape Joke” could easily be filed under Tragic, and yet in a gesture to the “hybrid” characterization mentioned above, Lockwood’s poem “jokes,” also—if grimly.

We published a response to “Rape Joke” on Scarriet.  One reader reacted to it angrily, which we—writing about our experience as an innocent child—never saw coming.

Perhaps we have entered a Post-Famous-Poem Age.

Maya Angelou asks in her 1978 poem, “Still I Rise:” “Does my sexiness upset you?”

Patricia Lockwood makes this rueful comment in her poem, “Rape Joke:”

“The rape joke is if you write a poem called Rape Joke, you’re asking for it to become the only thing people remember about you.”

4 Comments

  1. Diane Roberts Powell said,

    July 3, 2014 at 10:15 pm

    “Is Fame Hollow?” you ask. No, but I’m afraid your head is. I would NEVER make fun of anyone EVER for writing a poem about being raped or abused. For you to parody Lockwood’s poem, and then turn the tables on me, is beyond the pale. I feel terrible about what happened to you as a little boy. He probably had hundreds or thousands of victims, since it happened in NYC. Pedos often graduate to sicker crimes and abduct kids and murder them. I have NO SYMPATHY for pedos at all. Prisons are there for a reason. Maybe, it makes you uncomfortable to consider yourself a victim, but you were. He was a skilled predator. You weren’t his first victim nor, I’m sure, were you his last.

    Now, I personally feel that you lashed out at Lockwood because her poem reminded you of the sense of powerlessness you had once experienced.

    • thomasbrady said,

      July 4, 2014 at 12:12 am

      Diane,

      My poem was not meant to be a parody of Lockwood’s. I do not condone rape or pedophilia in any shape, manner, or form.

      I respect your criticism. As far as you think my poem is a parody, I have failed and I truly apologize for making you upset. I believe the reader is always right.

      I was young and innocent at 7, and remained so for many years, well into my teens. It happened very fast, I really wasn’t sure what was happening, I don’t recall any discussions about it afterwards and I honestly don’t remember any trauma from it at all. Yes, I was lucky. I could have been thrown into a car and murdered. I was scared because I was an extremely shy child, but I was not mature enough to feel indignation, to feel anger that I was wronged or violated. I did not punish myself for letting it happen. I was too young. I should never have been allowed to walk home at that age in Manhattan by myself. My parents had never lived in a big city before, we had just moved to New York. This was the early 60s and information was not everywhere like it is today.

  2. noochinator said,

    July 5, 2015 at 4:33 pm

    Speaking of Anne Sexton, here’s her performing with her band:

  3. noochinator said,

    May 2, 2017 at 10:08 am

    Sylvia Plath in the news, over some of her letters being sold:

    http://takimag.com/article/career_suicide_kathy_shaidle#axzz4fulM9SPt


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