September 23rd, 2011 by ~ 7 Comments

My Celebriti-festo

Alton Brown’s recent blogpost titled, My Fan-ifesto, instructing the public on how he is to be treated as a celebrity has really stuck in my craw. (I recommend reading it first, as this post may not make sense without standing in context) In response, I felt I should also write My Celebriti-festo for my own sake as a reminder of what our celebrity-obsessed culture has created.

Dear Celebrity,

You are a product, not a person. This is how you are seen in the eyes of the average viewer, reader, or wannabe. You are only an image on a screen. Sure, you may put your proverbial pants on one leg at a time, but you have been relegated to being just another one of millions of items being pushed on us as consumers every single day. This is why when you are seen in person, you are still not a person. You are a highly advertised product, and like all products consumed by our mass-media culture, you will wear thin in our eyes, and you will wear out in our use. We will tire of you just like we tired of our pet rocks and our Razor flip phones.

So, celebrity, when you are at a book signing, or on the red carpet or seen at a local Starbucks, and some fawning woman wants your picture, that’s all you are. You are a picture, which again, is only an image. If you could ask that fan to sit down and share coffee with you, my guess is that it would be a terribly awkward conversation, because she doesn’t know you, nor may I add, does she really care to know you. She wants the picture, because she can carry the picture around and show you off to her friends. She can’t take you, so she takes your image. Please remember this when fans treat you like a thing and not a human.

If your life as a celebrity sucks, change careers. This is what regular people do when they get sick of their life, or tire of the situation in which they find themselves. A few years into my mid-life crisis, I realized I could either whine and stay put, or get off my butt and do something about it. So in a fit of brilliance or insanity, I’m not really sure, I pulled a 180 and I became a chef. I still have an equal amount of things to bitch about in my new found profession, but I am willing to take the bad with the good, because the good far outweighs the bad.

Customers are the reason I am in business. Without customers, I have no revenue, regardless of how great my food looks and tastes. From time to time, we do see the hard-to-please guest, but I won’t make these folk the focus of my attention. I have far more great customers than I do bad ones and the former are the ones I try hardest to please.

But when the day comes that I can’t handle the people who complain just to get a comped meal, or who feel the need to steal my French Press carafes, or just want to take up a large table at lunch just to use the Internet, then it’s time that I get into another line of work. Putting up an awkward list of rules in my restaurant for these very few will only serve to make me look like a crotchety old man, not a person of genuine hospitality.

Go back to the little room. Jack White wrote a little :50 second song titled Little Room, that serves as a reminder to always remember what it is that made you famous:

Well you’re in your little room
And you’re working on something good
But if it’s really good
You’re gonna need a bigger room
And when you’re in the bigger room
You might not know what to do
You might have to think of
How you got started in your little room
©White Stripes

Celebrity should always be a by-product of genuine, creative effort that flows from an internal, personal, soul-level source, not from external reward. For example, take the musicians who work hard, get noticed, become rock stars and begin enjoying the raving attention when their song is number one.

At some point, the musician must confront the question, “Do I love making music or do I crave the attention music brings me?” When they go from playing packed arenas to open air pavilions at State Fairs, it’s the love of making music that will carry them forward.

I wonder this about my industry and the rise of the celebrity chef. Are young people seduced by the attention of being Top Chef or the Next Iron Chef, or do they really just simply love to cook and enjoy the pleasure that brings in and of itself. It’s my belief that without this foundation, becoming a celebrity is a dangerous development.

Fame is fickle and fleeting, but at the same time, very seductive. If your success is written in the form of vast public appearances and gaining 400K Twitter followers, you may need to rethink your definition.

And that about wraps it up. So, dear celebrity, I hope this helps interpret for you how ordinary people view you and your position and status. We all have bad days and must deal with annoying people. Just don’t become one as a result of dealing with one.

7 Responses

  1. JD says:

    Such great thoughts, Kevin, relevant and true no matter what profession a person is in. Thank you!

  2. tyler. says:

    Your cool-headedness in the face of such an infuriating post is admirable.

  3. Anne says:

    Mr. Brown's "Fanifesto" is not about his celebrity, as he almost patently denies he is one. It is about common decency, rules, and manners.
    I've met the man several times, and there is not an ounce of diva in him.

  4. Amy says:

    I do agree about needing the passion for your career and not just being in love with the limelight. However, I beg to differ about being a product and not a person. Being a big fan of Alton Brown, I like him as a person and do not just think of him as a show. I think of him as a teacher, someone who has changed my perception of cooking, and in essence, my life (regarding cooking for myself). I would love to sit down and have coffee with him. Not all celebrities are like this, but as you read in his fanifesto, he's more "human" than a lot of celebrities out there. He actually cares, and that's something to be admired. He wrote Good Eats for himself, and was overwhelmed by the positive response from viewers on his show. He's grown into his role of celebrity, but still tries to be caring and considerate. I've met the man 3 times and I have friends that have met him more than that – they would agree with me on this point. His fanifesto was about people who have actually done this to him in the past, including signing a hamster and a ferret. There's nothing wrong with setting boundaries.

  5. J. Paxon Reyes says:

    I don't know, Mr Shinn. When you go to your webpage to vent out frustrations and then commenters attack you for it, what is your typical response to them?

  6. Anne says:

    Attack? Seriously? You see what Amy and I wrote as an attack? And people say I'M sensitive?
    We were simply venting our frustrations…
    If we were attacking, we'd be name calling.
    Oy.

  7. J. Paxon Reyes says:

    Anne, I apologize for the miscommunication.

    On previous posts, commenters have attacked Kevin Shinn for venting his frustrations about this or that. This is fine; it's his webpage and, of course, he's free to do it. But it sounds like Mr Shinn is not giving Alton Brown the same freedom. Now Shinn is like an attacking commenter.

    I trying to point out the slight injustice—as I see it.