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10/08/2013 06:57 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Lifestyles of the Rich & Desperate: The Sociology of Being Famous For Being Famous

Reality TV stars are like the "dollar store" of celebrities. But that's not necessarily a bad thing. I like dollar stores. For just a buck, you can buy an entire box of cereal or a full bottle of laundry detergent or one-twentieth of a lap dance. (And yes, that long-past-the-expiration-date, made-in-a-dumpster-behind-a-Vietnamese-pig-farm cereal will probably make you barf, as will watching Scott Disick drive around in his Rolls Royce. But neither will cause permanent damage.)

But people hate reality show stars. People don't just dislike reality stars; they hate them. Right now, the "I Hate Paris Hilton" Facebook page has 1,780 "likes". The "I Love Hugs" Facebook page only has 196 members. Hence, if my calculations are correct, while she may be out of the media spotlight, Paris Hilton is still more relevant than hugs.

There's a reason for our hatred of reality stars. It's not because they're stupid and talentless and out-of-touch. I mean, Congress is stupid and out-of-touch, and Americans love Congress. (I just looked it up. The "I Love Congress" Facebook site has 71 "likes". That's a lot. And the "I Hate Congress" Facebook site only has... oh, okay, it's more than 71.) Rather, we're so offended by this idea of "famous for being famous". The term -- famous for being famous -- even has its own Wikipedia entry. Seriously. It is part of the vernacular now, like "you can't teach an old dog new tricks" or "Donald Trump just mentally undressed me".

What people don't understand, though, is that it's not just reality television stars. Most famous people -- the vast majority, in fact -- are famous for being famous. Nicole Kidman is famous for being famous. Sure, she's a good actress. But she's famous for divorcing Tom Cruise and for being pretty and for marrying that handsome American Idol judge with the Australian accent, Jennifer Lopez. She's still a good actor. But she's older now and she's no longer in the tabloids much and... she's not as famous as she once was.

There's a talented actress named Melissa Leo. She's an Academy Award winner. You've seen her work. She appears regularly in major Hollywood films and television shows. But she's middle-aged and she's not glamorous and she didn't have a baby with Kanye West. I don't think most people would recognize Melissa Leo. She's not really famous.

There are a million famous actors, but only a handful of people are famous for acting.

George Clooney is a good actor. But let's get real; nobody cares about George Clooney's take on method acting versus the Stanislavski realism-in-performance technique. People want to know who he is dating and how much his house costs. George Clooney is famous for being famous... and for ruining that Batman movie.

Okay. I'll give you Meryl Streep. And I'll give you Daniel Day-Lewis. They're recognized for superior talent. Meryl Street and Daniel Day-Lewis are defined, in the public eye, by their acting ability. But so what? Where is it written that being a good actor entitles one to fame? (What? Oh, it DOES say that in L. Ron Hubbard's Dianetics? Okay, well that explains a lot.) Even Meryl Streep and Daniel Day-Lewis, extraordinary actors that they may be, are really just sort of famous for being famous.

Who is the best plumber in the country? How come that guy isn't famous? When my pipes break, I don't care if Meryl Streep gives a saucy-but-subtle performance in The Devil Wears Prada; I just want the person fixing my toilet to know what he's doing. If Leonardo DiCaprio gives a subpar performance in Shutter Island, I'll be fine. But if my dentist pulls the wrong tooth, there's a problem. (note to self: Still haven't gotten around to seeing Shutter Island. Is it any good? Eh, add it to my Netflix queue.)

Obviously, I wouldn't expect my dentist to be famous. Hell, I can't even remember his name. I think he has brown hair. But dentists are important. However, importance has nothing to do with fame. That's not what fame is about. So give reality stars a break. People don't hate Brad Pitt for being famous. But when you're at the dentist's office, what's more important 0- the Brangelina gossip in the brand new Us Weekly magazine you're reading about while sitting in the waiting room, or having your cavities filled? (It's a trick question. The Us Weekly magazines in the dentist's waiting room are never brand new. My dentist still has magazines from 2008.)

Actors and sports figures and politicians are famous because they're in the public eye. We recognize them. Reality TV stars are famous because they're in the public eye. What's the difference? Have you ever really watched a basketball game on TV? I mean really watched it? It's absurd. Grown men are wearing shorts and dribbling a ball. Professional basketball players are famous for doing ridiculous things... just like Snookie. They're famous for being famous. Just like Snookie. Just like Mathew Broderick. Of course, most people can't do what professional basketball players do. But most people can't throw a javelin very far, either. And the top javelin throwers in the world aren't particularly famous... because they're not on TV.

But at least athletes do have a unique skill. Getting back to acting... I have many friends in the performing arts and I'll probably get in trouble for saying this, but acting is pretty easy. It is. Yeah, some people are better at it than others. But anyone can be a good actor. Despite having no previous acting experience, Dr. Haing S. Ngor won an Academy Award in 1985 for his role in The Killing Fields. Doctors can act, apparently. But would you want Nicolas Cage performing your angioplasty? Quvenzhane Wallis was 9-years-old when she was nominated for Best Actress for Beasts of the Southern Wild. In what other profession can you succeed when you're nine? Tax attorney?

Famous people are famous for being famous. And that's fine.

But I have a different theory. People just think they hate reality stars. What they actually despise is fame itself. And the Kardashians simply encapsulate that contempt. In 2013, society is fueled by fame. You can't avoid it. Fame is now ingrained in the social structure of everyday life. We're all a part of it.

To some extent, the fame system works the same way as our economic system.

The divide between the nation's wealthiest 1 percent and America's bottom half keeps growing. Rich people have hot tubs in their helicopters. But for a custodian with two kids and a sharp pain in his abdomen, visiting a doctor is- or at least it was- a financial struggle. Congressmen- none of whom are poor- literally shut down the freakin' government in protest of a law that offers poor people cheaper health care. ("I Hate Congress" Facebook page: 13,853 likes) That's how much they value poor people. So why haven't the millions of financially-struggling Americans stormed the castle? Because those with social power have created an economic system that leaves the have-nots dependent on the rich guys. We're all part of the system. We're all in this together. And you can't overthrow yourself. (And it's physically impossible to "pull yourself up by your own bootstraps," too. Think about it.) We're told, over and over, that if the corporations fail, we all fail. If the rich people lose money, then the poor people lose jobs. Obamacare -- health care for all -- will raise Rush Limbaugh's taxes... and if that happens, poor people will lose their jobs. At least that's what we're told.

And so what's an average American to do? Well, there is no point in protesting the system. Instead, he should pull himself up by his own bootstraps, work hard, follow the rules, and eventually he, too, will be among the top 1 percent. And... okay, that's not going to happen. But hey, there's always the lottery! And there's no point in trying to avoid the fame culture. It surrounds us. It matters. Fame means something. But there's hope. There's always a chance you will win the fame lottery. Honey Boo Boo did. And, yes, nobody respects Honey Boo Boo because she doesn't "deserve" to be famous. Only the accomplished people deserve to be famous. Just like, we're told, Americans deserve their financial spot in life. Poor people deserve to be poor because they don't work hard enough. And wealthy people are wealthy because they deserve to be wealthy. They're accomplished. And luck and circumstance have nothing to do with it.

Jon Gosselin, of Jon & Octomom Plus 8 fame, is waiting tables now. His reality show is over and he needs to make money. I watched an interview on Inside Edition or Entertainment Tonight or 60 Minutes or one of those celebrity gossip shows. Gosselin was asked if he has hit "rock bottom." Rock bottom!? Holding an honest job is hitting rock bottom? What's wrong with waiting tables? We need waiters. Without waiters, we don't get our food. Meanwhile, his show was cancelled and I'm not hungry. But many of the same people who mocked Jon Gosselin's fame are now mocking his blue-collar job and his lower-middle-class standing.

Stop picking on the reality stars. Sure, they're annoying as hell and listening to them spout their opinions is equivalent to being force-fed dog poop. But their fame is no different than anyone else's fame. Fame, just like wealth, is not the same thing as accomplishment. The great author J.D. Salinger spent his life avoiding fame. Had he chosen to take advantage of his name recognition, had he chosen to go on talk shows, had he chosen to compete on Dancing with the Stars, he would've been more recognizable. But that wouldn't have changed a single word of The Catcher in the Rye. Whether you're a heralded writer or the star of Sister Wives, "fame" is the same. It just means that a lot of people know you.

Tom Cruise acts. Ryan Seacrest hosts. Rachael Ray cooks. Peyton Manning throws. Steven King writes. Rachel Maddow pontificates. Justin Bieber implodes. Will Smith forces his kids into show business. The Bachelorette hands out roses. They do what they do. Whatever. That's fine. Good for them. But no verb entitles you to fame. Accomplishments speak for themselves. And the fame part just gives us something to read about in Us Weekly magazine while we're waiting at the dentist's office.

One final thing about fame...

This is true. Years ago, when my sister was a teenager, her cheerleading squad was invited to perform with Richard Simmons at our local arena. Fitness guru Richard Simmons was touring the country, giving motivation speeches and doing a sort of live-version of his "Sweatin' to the Oldies" thing, and our town was one of his stops. After the show, the cheerleaders got to meet Richard Simmons. And my sister and her friends asked for autographs. But, as the girls were told by a publicist at the event, Richard Simmons was too busy to sign all nine autographs. Instead, he would sign one autograph. And the cheerleaders' coach would photocopy the signature and each cheerleader would get her own photocopy of Richard Simmons' autograph.

I know what you're thinking. How long could it possibly have taken Richard Simmons to sign all nine pieces of paper? Anyway, I'm not a professional appraiser, but I'm figuring an original, legitimate Richard Simmons signature, with certificate of authenticity, notarized and licensed, is worth about, oh, I'd say nothing. It's literally worth no cents. And so logically, monetarily speaking, that means a copy of a Richard Simmons autograph is worth less than nothing. That means that possessing a copy of Richard Simmons' signature actually devalues your financial portfolio. Your overall wealth goes up the moment you throw away your Richard Simmons autograph.

They should give Richard Simmons his own reality show. Seems like it would be pretty entertaining. And he deserves it.

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