I read somewhere recently that Judy Greer has a way to categorize her fans. So when she sees them in public, she can tell who she’s dealing with.
Perfect, I thought. It’s about time celebs turned the tables. We spent a lot of time talking about them. They dominate TV, many magazines, and much of the chatter on-line. It’s about time they started studying us.
A celebrity lab by celebrities for celebrities would be a good idea for strategic, entirely self-interested reasons. However much it may feel like their celebrity is inevitable, fame is something conferred by the fans. And what the fans give, the fans can take away. Ask Alec Baldwin, Gwyneth Paltrow or Matt Lauer.
Celebrities could start with a typology of fans. And there is a lot to categorize. Some fans are deeply scholarly. They can recite the biographical details, film titles, dialogue. Some merely prize a particular film character. “I loved you in A Walk on the Moon!” Others just happen to be in love with the Star Wars or the Spider Man franchise and you are sudden, irresistible opportunity to make contact. Still others are merely excited because they are in the presence of someone famous. Distinguishing one from the other would be a good thing. Having a strategy for each of them would be better still.
There is also, of course, a dark side, fans who may or may not harbor ill intent. Some make a great noise but are essentially harmless. Others are stalkers in training. And still others are so dangerous, the right thing to do, the only thing to do, is to take cover as quickly as possible. Early warning here would be inestimably valuable.
The celebrity could assume that everyone they meet in public is a nut job and armor themselves with beefy security guards. But in fact public appearances, even impromptu ones, are part of the job, the way you renew your celebrity. Really, the celeb has no choice to expose him or her self to interactions with the public.
So celebrities really need a way to tell who they are dealing with, on sight, in real time. This person I see before me, the one grinning ear to ear and making a high pitched sound, is this a goof ball or a psychopath? A typology would help.
I got to see celebrity at work when I was the chauffeur for Julie Christie for the filming of McCabe and Mrs. Miller. She was so famous at this point that Life magazine had declared 1965 “the year of Julie Christie.”
One afternoon, Julie and I were in a candle store. We happened to be standing beside some guy who couldn’t decide whether his gift candle should be lemon or lime. Julie volunteered that the lemon might be quite nice. The guy turned to thank her for this advice but as it dawned on him that the speaker was the most famous woman in the world, he found he had no words. He walked out of the store, both candles in hand.
This is the best case of celebrity. Your charisma protects you from contact, smoothes your path, charms your existence.
But there were other moments when people would come up to us and barge into Julie’s personal space. I didn’t quite know what to do. You couldn’t tell whether this was a friend she didn’t recognize or a hostile she ought to fear. Scary as anything. And there would be this unpleasant moment when we would have to wait for the person to throw off a little more information, so that we could figure out who they were and what they wanted. And in that several seconds, we were vulnerable.
So some system for identifying strangers and a set of strategies for dealing with them would have been a very good thing. Go, Judy, go. And if you need a team of anthropologist to work on this problem, call me. I could put together a set of teaching materials and conduct a lab. It would be like teaching in the Harvard Business School classroom again except I wouldn’t have to memorize anyone’s name.