Let's be honest: I have never been particularly impressed with celebrity. Only once in my life can I remember ever having been starstruck. As a kid, probably 13 or so, I was at an event where Bill Clinton gave a short speech. He was the governor of Arkansas at the time. Afterward, I went up to shake his hand, and my dad had to remind me to introduce myself. I'm not sure how much of that is attributable to celebrity and how much was just being shy. I was embarrassed by the experience.
Every once in a while, I come into contact with a genuinely famous person. I have a hard time not feeling disgust at the way ordinary people fall over themselves to get at celebrities. Not surprisingly, given what I do for a living, these encounters occur at airports. I could tell you about the time I saw Ted Danson browsing in the DFW airport bookstore, or the time I was behind Jerry Rice in the Southwest check-in line at LAX, or the time I was behind Joyce DeWitt ("Janet" from TV's Three's Company) in the security line at LIT. I could even tell you about that time I ran into Kenneth Starr while arguing at the Court of Appeals. (He was terrible, by the way.)
But those things seem kind of boring to me.
In all four of those instances, at least one person approached the celebrity for an autograph.
There's a term for people who glom on to celebrities when they're "in the wild"--starf***ers.* It would never occur to me to introduce myself to someone on the basis that they happen to be famous. It would make me throw up to seek an autograph. There is literally no one in the world whose autograph I would want to keep. I understand the impulse. I just don't experience it.**
* - Several sources indicate that this term often has a sexual connotation, though not necessarily. I am using it in the platonic sense.
** - I really don't have the luxury of being starstruck. From time to time, my job involves dealing with people who are powerful, and often well known. If I let that affect me, I would be less effective as an advocate for my client's interests. I find that it helps to remember that they're just ordinary humans. Sometimes I just imagine them sitting on the toilet.
(I have this recurring fantasy that I am flying, sitting in first class, and my seatmate is a famous person. We engage in the usual small talk throughout the flight--just a normal conversation, nothing about the thing that makes the person famous. At the end, the person casually mentions who he is, and I smile and say, "Yeah, I know, I just figured you were tired of being recognized. Nice talking to you.")
What makes me bring this up is an experience Wil Wheaton recounted on his website today. Now, I follow Wil Wheaton because I find that he's an intelligent guy with interesting things to say. I wasn't particularly fond of his character in Star Trek when it was in first run.*** But as celebrities go, he's among the most accessible, down-to-earth people I've encountered on the internet.
*** - But remind me sometime to tell you about the time that my name was next to Jonathan Frakes's name on the Hertz board at LAX.
Apparently some Wil Wheaton fans weren't all that happy with their Wil Wheaton Experience at a convention in Calgary last year. A lot of people wanted pictures with him, so there was a long line and each person only got about 5 seconds, and in these fans' photo (which was supposed to be the highlight of their vacation) he didn't look happy. Then, the next day, he was charging $30 for an autograph, which they thought was inappropriate.
I just find all of that bizarre. First of all, why would you want your picture made with somebody you don't know personally and who doesn't know you? And if Wil Wheaton can get $30 for an autograph, I think that says more about the people who will pay it than about Wil. Bully for him. (I often sign my name dozens of times a day, and to be fair, I get a lot more than $30 for it a lot of times, but they aren't paying for my name, just my analysis.)
To his credit, Wil was apologetic. Apparently he was sick that day, and the convention was poorly organized, and he was emotional because he had just been reunited with the Star Trek cast for the first time in a long time. He took the time to listen to the fan's complaint, to respond, and to make the conversation public on his website. In his place, I doubt I would have been so accommodating.
But, really...celebrities are just people. Being famous doesn't make them special. It certainly doesn't make them better than ordinary folks, and believe me, some of them are a lot worse. They have all the same bodily functions as the rest of us, the same insecurities; they make the same kinds of mistakes. Many of them aren't particularly rich. And, most of all, they don't owe your their time and attention, and you don't owe them yours. Don't be a starf***er.