These days what everyone seems to want – every young person, anyway – is not to be rich, but to be famous. Though I suppose accompanying riches would not come amiss to most.
Rich and famous? Sounds like something of a nightmare to me. I have never – sincerely or otherwise – wanted to be rich.
Enough money not to have to worry about it would be good. More than that is unnecessary for anyone. It also seems (and I speak from observation, not experience) to bring more worries with it.
The greed for more money than anyone needs is a kind of mental illness. Unfortunately, in a money-based society it is the madness that drives the system.
So where exactly does fame fit in?
We have become even more obsessed with a shallow, TV-based “celebrity” than we are with cold cash. Extracting one from the other is almost a side-effect – though it’s one that can work both ways.
There would be no profession of “publicist”, and no Simon Cowell, if fame couldn’t be milked for money. And no Rich List if we didn’t put a celebrity value on extreme ownership.
So if a sane person wants only enough money, how much fame would be enough?
I did once think I’d like to be famous. Or, at least, I used to envy people I knew who had become “successful”. Which is, I suppose, a kind of hybrid of “rich” and “famous”.
Going to a so-called “good” university, then working in newspapers, I have known a few such people. Do I still envy them? Not really. Are they happier, healthier, more comfortable in their own skins than I am in mine? Probably not. So what’s to envy? Apart from financial security – if they have it.
I am occasionally spoken to by people who recognise me from the photo at the top of my newspaper column. That’s usually pleasant enough. A gentle pat on the ego. If it happened all the time I’m sure I’d soon tire of it.
I used to think it would be good to write a bestseller. Well, I still do – but not quite enough to put in all the necessary work. What a waste of that effort it would be – and what a disappointment – if I turned out not to be good enough. Or lucky enough.
And JK Rowling is not the only successful author who has found fame to be a mixed blessing at best.
Of course, I wouldn’t mind picking up one of the big literary prizes. Though I know the whole prize culture is a debased and tawdry business. Little different from X Factor, Britain’s Got Talent, or the Little Snoring biggest marrow contest. Beset with backbiting and flavoured with sour grape.
But the real measure of success – of being someone – in 2016 is the Wikipedia page.
At least one of my friends has one, and so does my great-grandfather, Isaac Hourwich. Several of those creeps I met at my “good” college have them. You can find me on Wiki, but only as a name in two long lists of names.
I suffer from Wiki-envy. There, I’ve admitted it.
So how about Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, now officially the sixth most visited site on the worldwide web?
The founders of the five sites ranked higher – Google, YouTube, Facebook, Yahoo! and Amazon – are all multi-billionaires. Jimmy Wales isn’t.
His site is about the movement of information, not money. And all the more laudable for that.
Does his lack of preposterous riches of Mark “Facebook” Zuckerberg or Jeff “Amazon” Bezos proportions trouble him? I doubt it. He’s famous enough anyway. And surely a lot more financially secure than me.