Recently profiled on ABC’s 20/20, the soon-to-be published book Fame Junkies highlights anecdotes and research on the attitudes of American kids (and adults) regarding fame.
Fame Junkies chronicles journalist Jake Halpern’s journey through the underbelly of Hollywood and into the heart of the question that bedevils us all: Why are Americans so obsessed with fame and celebrities?
We live in a country where more people watch the ultimate competition for celebrityhood – American Idol – than watch the nightly news on the three major networks combined. So what are the implications of this phenomenon? In his new book, Fame Junkies, Halpern explores the impact that celebrity-obsession is having on three separate niches of Americans: aspiring celebrities, entourage insiders, and diehard fans.
Halpern begins his journey by moving into a gated community inhabited almost entirely by aspiring child actors. During his stay, he interviews dozens of kids and teenagers, who seem to have an almost religious conviction that fame is a cure-all for life’s problems. What’s truly impressive is that these anecdotes are then supported with hard evidence. As part of the extensive research that he did for this book, Halpern teamed up with several statisticians and orchestrated a survey involving three separate school systems and over 650 teenagers. Many of his findings were deeply troubling. For example – when given the option of “pressing a magic button” and becoming stronger, smarter, famous, or more beautiful – boys in the survey chose fame almost as often as they chose intelligence, and girls chose it more often. Among today’s teenagers, says Halpern, fame appears to be the greatest good.
In second part of his book, Halpern becomes an honorary member of the Association for Celebrity Personal Assistants (ACPA) where he spends a great deal of time with Annie Brentwell who has slavishly devoted every iota of her personal and professional life to celebrities like Oliver Stone, Sharon Stone, and (most recently) Dennis Hopper. In her spare time, when she is not serving Hopper, Brentwell teaches at a school that the ACPA runs to teach aspiring assistants; and, of course, Halpern tags along. This section of Fame Junkies also investigates a fascinating vein of psychological research on what type of people are most likely to “bask in reflected glory” or BIRG. For example, college students with low self-esteem are far more likely to embrace their school’s football team when it wins and dissociating themselves from that same team when it loses. Halpern goes on to consider how BIRG research applies to Hollywood.