On Fame

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I recently stumbled upon a documentary about the life and death of actor/comedian Robin Williams. I was unaware of his serious problems with drugs, alcohol, fornication and adultery, but at the same time was not overly surprised, given how things go in the entertainment world. Whenever I thought of Robin Williams I only thought of laughter and happiness with memories that hearken back to Happier Days.and whenever I see documentary like this I think about a distinctively human thing called “Fame”.

Desiring fame is one of those peculiar ways in which humans are different than animals, and it isn’t just a matter of spectrum. Just like “religion” and “the arts” and even wearing clothes, some things are uniquely human. Consider the animal closest to us; about 96% of a chimps DNA is genetically similar to ours, but they share 0% our religiousness, 0% of art & music and 0% of our clothes. I wouldn’t necessarily expect a 96% match in these areas, but if all we are is an evolved DNA code, I would expect a match greater than 0%. No primitive religious rituals or sacrifices to be found with apes, no primeval drum beats or structured dance, no basic cave drawings or banana sculptures, not so much as a fig leaf to cover their shame, and of course, no evidence of desiring “fame”.

Desires that are uniquely human can relate to the principle that every innate desire reveals the existence of its desired object. For example, hunger indicates the existence of food, thirst indicates the existence of water, and curiosity indicates truth or knowledge. Similarly, the desire for perfect unity, living forever and being remembered forever, indicate the real existence of such things, even the desire to worship something above nature points to the existence of something supernatural worthy of worship.

Fame allows one to be remembered after this life as a way to “live-on” indefinitely. We all want to be remembered and to remember others. It reminds me of a homily I once heard about an elderly man married for many years. He would regularly visit his wife in a nursing home. She had a severe case of advanced Alzheimer’s disease and she had no idea who he even was, but he would still come to see her anyway. Someone once said to the husband, “She doesn’t even remember you. Why do you bother to visit her so often?” The husband answered in angry protest…“Because I remember her!!”

Our desire for fame stems from the inborn desire for unity, connecting with others, wanting to be remembered, wanting to remember others and the desire for eternal life, but the logic of worldly fame rests on a fallacy. It is a very strange idea indeed that our fulfillment depends on the thoughts, opinions and applause of others, as if that were the only place we could find our true self.  Endeavors in human happiness are wasted on trying to live-on in the imaginations of others when they can only be realized in being in union with God.

In the self-centered attempt to make a name for ourselves, we echo the sin of the Babel Tower Builders in Genesis 11:4. They said, “Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name…” Instead of trying to make a name for ourselves, we should let God make our names great and “rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven.” (Luke 10:20). “…and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” (Gen 12:2)

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13 Comments

  1. Consider the animal closest to us; about 96% of a chimps DNA is genetically similar to ours, but they share 0% our religiousness, 0% of art & music and 0% of our clothes. I wouldn’t necessarily expect a 96% match in these areas, but if all we are is an evolved DNA code, I would expect a match greater than 0%. No primitive religious rituals or sacrifices to be found with apes, no primeval drum beats or structured dance, no basic cave drawings or banana sculptures, not so much as a fig leaf to cover their shame, and of course, no evidence of desiring “fame”.

    Good point. The prevalence of what amounts to genetic determinism in public discussion is one of the annoying features of the age.

  2. The souls in hell are not remembered. So if one wants to be remembered, avoid hell.
    Children carry us as their ancestors and they are our Posterity and mankind is the glory of God.

  3. Thanks Ben. I enjoyed your post.
    “Why is it that men who believe in evolution live lives just barely above monkeys, and believers in the one True God live lives just a little bit lower the angels?” (poor paraphrasing of Archbishop F.J. Sheen.)

    St. Maximilian Kolbe teaches us to “Aim Higher.” Good advice. If we are to be priests, prophets, and kings then we must rule our passions first. To be commander of our desires, fashioning them after the examples of Our Lady and Jesus Christ. Humility, modesty control of self. This allows us to be better teachers (prophets) and give correct sacrifices (priests), then, without even knowing it a soul who goes through out life in the service of God becomes radiant beyond measure. That brilliance shines in eternity, truly remarkable. Truly reflecting the pure Light that is God himself.

  4. “The desire to reduce man to being merely an animal…”
    I find people use this thinking only when it’s convenient. The way animals mate will justify fornication as “normal” and therefore OK. Then point out that animals will also eat their young and the same person tends to back-off the “animal-axiom”

  5. Keith Richards once said about fame, “A touch of glimmer is more addictive than smack.” I guess he should know. After all, he has consumed massive quantities of both fame and heroin in his 70 some odd years of earthly existence.

  6. Every once in a while you see so-called scientific studies that try to show animals have human like qualities or characteristics. They try to close the intelligence gap between man and animals so as to hint that they are no different from us, it’s just that we do not understand them and of course the poor dolphin having no thumbs otherwise they would probably have landed on the moon before NASA they are so intelligent.

    But….when ever they compare the intelligence of animals they compare it to human intelligence, never the other way around. Some animals indeed exhibit high intelligence and we remark how human they seem. Yet if an animal, say a dog, turns on it’s owner or attacks other dogs for no obvious reason we say, “Well, it’s an animal after all.” If animals are to be held in as high regard as humans because of their intelligence should they not also be held responsible when killing other animals or humans?

  7. I avoided watching Robin Williams because it was deeply disturbing for me. I have a cousin who was bipolar but did well when he was going to mass daily, not drinking and probably taking mood stabilizing medications. After stopping this routine he seemed to have had a manic break, then lost everything, and is still trying to rebuild his life.
    I have seen this pattern repeated several times and I could not bear to laugh with, or at someone, who appeared to have a deep underying mental illness.
    For Mr. Williams being a celebrity seems to have come at a very high and tragic price.

  8. It has been speculated that Williams had a dark and perverse past as he rose to “fame” in Hollywood, and that he was blackmailed into taking some of the roles he did out of fear of being exposed. I always found his demeanour to be one of a troubled soul. He came across as someone with deep inner battles who used over the top comedy to cover up his true self. My husband wasn’t fond of his anti-God and anti-Christian jokes and therefore not fond of his movies. But despite this I do associate some of William’s movies with my happy childhood. Such as when I went to watch Mrs Doubtfire in the movies with my Mum and my sister. I think people chase fame so they can feel love. But when we realise God loves us infinitely, then there is nothing greater which can fill that void.

  9. For Mr. Williams being a celebrity seems to have come at a very high and tragic price.

    IIRC, he had Lewy Body dementia. That’s not a function of fame.

  10. Art Deco, I recall the same thing. He was allegedly taking medication to combat his Parkinson’s symptoms which had side effects which affected his mental stability. Too bad his wife du jour was only intersected in the same fame and his wealth, rather than his well-being. A battle ensured over his estate between her and his grown children after his death.

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