Monday, October 10, 2011


I'll never escape!
Try as I may, I just can't seem to escape some things.  Death, taxes, and episodes of NCIS anytime a television with a cable hookup is playing anywhere near me are but a few examples.  This post is, I suppose, about me how I relate to myself, but I'm going to tell it in the most convoluted and roundabout way I can think of, which has to do with celebrities.  First, though, my inescapable curse.

I have a story which has roots deep within my psyche from long, long ago which I have never satisfactorily completed.  It involves my Jennifer persona, and it was the root for both The Academy and a number of other stories.  It's had a lot of names over the years--so many I can't even keep track of them.  As far as my writing goes, this is like that one drunken abusive ex you keep breaking up with only to make up again a few months later.  Our latest make-up cycle started last week.  Why do I mention this?  It's not that it poses a particular problem.  If the story is that important to me that I keep coming back to it again and again. then I should write it and see what I can learn from it.  It is, however, by this roundabout route that I am now going to talk about my on-again/off-again perverse fascination with Avril Lavigne, whose album The Best Damn Thing features prominently in several incarnations of the story.

Oh yes, we're back to Ms. Lavigne again.  With a vengeance.  But here's why, and it's not the reason you might think.

In the course of rewriting this story, wanting a reference point for what I was writing and not actually possessing any photos of Ms. Lavigne on my hard drive other than the one I used on my previous post about her, I decided to be a creep and see what was out there, and stumbled upon a rather perverse fan site that shall remain nameless.  In a literal sense, it had what I want, but the entire experience left me feeling rather disturbed, and so I made it the subject of my meditation that night.  The more I thought about it, the more the entire concept of a celebrity seemed, well, very strange to me.

I've always found peoples' relationships with celebrities a little weird, but I find relationships with pop stars to be especially bizarre.  Let me see if I can break it down.  So here you have somebody famous (Whether Ms. Lavigne or Justin Bieber, or some hypothetical pop star X), who produces a product that excites your emotions (and probably some other things) by creating a vicarious experience that you then submit yourself to as a way of escaping the dreariness and monotony of your life.  Middle school pretty much sucks balls, I get it.  I was once in middle school too.  So you have this famous person, who supposedly lives a much more interesting, glamorous, and above all else much less painful life than you do, and by religiously following this person as if they were the prophet of your own personal religion, you vicariously experience their supposedly hunky-dory life in place of your own and you feel better.  Before I'm accused of making this up, I know this because I have at various points in my life felt this before.  In her own way, that's what Jennifer was to me, and since Jennifer and Ms. Lavigne were strongly-paired stimuli, it's only natural that I would feel some of that too.

How can you say no to that?  The smile, the arms.
She wants you to live vicariously through her.
I suppose on the face of it, it may not seem that strange.  But I've always found mental escape mechanisms to be a little odd, and this is a relationship I have unwittingly found myself on both ends of in my own small way.  I should make myself clear: while I may have wanted to be famous for a while, fame and fortune aren't really my goal anymore in life, especially as it pertains to my writing.  Fame is a tricky thing.  Over the years, as I've put more and more of myself online as I treated myself for all my various problems, I've found myself with less and less privacy.  What remains private in my life has grown tremendously in intensity, and I'm not sure how comfortable I am with that.  This is exactly the paradox that I imagine being someone like Ms. Lavigne produces.  Every once in a while I'll be on Jezebel and I'll see some photograph (the one I'm thinking of was of Leighton Meester a couple of years ago when Gossip Girl was at its peak) with some comment or caption about her clothes.  Meester was looking quite stylish in the photograph, but on the same day I checked out at the grocery store and saw a "Fashion bloopers" edition of Star or one of the other tabloids, and I had to remind myself that being stylish only ever really seems fun when it's voluntary.  Imagine having to be turned on like that all the time, lit up and self-conscious, your every move scrutinized.  Unless you're a born attention whore like Lady GaGa, who already possessed the confidence and poise to wield her fame properly when she got her break, it will destroy you.  You need only look to Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan to see how that goes wrong.  And then your consolation prize is to be used and abused as a masturbatory means of letting others feel better about themselves through your failure.  Which only makes the image I have of Ms. Lavigne even more bizarre, because not only does she seem confident and poised, she seems utterly nonchalant about the whole thing.  Make no mistake, either, Avril is actively exploiting this paradox.  As soon as the whole Abbey Dawn label came into the picture, this was nothing more than a business, if it hadn't been already from the start.  She sells a lifestyle that young girls want to buy.  It's a form of subservience packaged and sold as empowerment.

I suppose empowerment is what this all comes down to.  I dislike the idea of buying an image.  I think if someone is truly empowered, they'll be able to take whatever they want and make it their own.  A vicarious celebrity experience (or even a religious one, to take the argument a step further) is the opposite of empowerment.  You are literally saying "I would rather be someone else."  If you can't accept and appreciate who you are, how are you supposed to have any power at all?  Where's the happiness in wishing to be someone other than yourself?

This experience comes about, I believe, from a misconception of both power and happiness.  Either Avril Lavigne is extremely unhappy, or she's so desensitized to her fame that she's essentially a sociopath.  Neither is who I'd like to be.  Look, my life isn't all that great.  I'm poor, and I have almost no savings, and I'm several tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt.  I get by by the skin of my teeth.  I wrote a book that a few people read and liked, and my blog gets a few tens of hits every post.  I'm not rich; I'm not famous.  But neither is a prerequisite to happiness.  I find happiness in being content with the way things are.  This doesn't mean that I give up on improving my condition.  That's resignation.  Acceptance is a beginning, not an end.  With acceptance comes nearly unlimited power to get what you want.  That's true power, not a million Twitter followers.  Twitter, MTV, Fox News--that's only a megaphone.  You still have to say something worthwhile.  I don't need this blog to say something meaningful.  This is why living vicariously, whether through celebrities, a religious figure, or your children is so dangerous.  It does nothing but push you down and step all over you.

I have a lot more to say on this subject.  If my life has become about empowerment over the past few years, then I have no choice but to answer the call and respond.  We build prisons for ourselves--every last one of us--and we lock ourselves away, because we think it's right and proper and we deserve it.  But we don't like it.  Not at all.  So we invent ways of feeling like we've escaped it.  They can grow quite elaborate.  But in the end, all we've ever had to do was walk right out the door.

Don't want to be someone else.  All you'll ever be is who you are, and that's better than all the fame and fortune in the world.