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The Tribeca Blog

Dern, Min and Co. Break Down Fame Game

(L-R) Jake Halpern, Dr. Robert Millman, Bruce Dern and Janice Min chase fame in Tribeca(Photo: Tobi Elkin)

By Tobi Elkin

Lindsay, Angelina and J-Lo -- oh my! While none of these lovely ladies was in attendance, their auras were omnipresent during Thursday night’s Tribeca Talks event Fame! I’m Gonna Live Forever! A panel of experts dissected the “American Idolization” of culture, the obsession with crafting and maintaining fame and the rabid desire to document stars’ looks, fashions, diets/workouts, rehab stints, accidents and lovers.

The panel, consisting of Jake Halpern, journalist and author of Fame Junkies; US Weekly editor-in-chief Janice Min; actor Bruce Dern (Coming Home, the Tribeca '07 selection The Cake Eaters); and Cornell University psychiatry professor Robert Millman, M.D., was moderated by Josh Wolk of Entertainment Weekly. The good doctor is known for developing the diagnostic term “Acquired Situational Narcissism,” a label to describe the idea that one deserves fame, is somehow entitled to be paid attention to. Athletes, politicians and actors are prime candidates for developing the syndrome. “You stop noticing everyone else," Millman said. "You stop looking out and you're not interested in anyone else. Baseball players and stars, they often act very nice but they’re not interested in you; they know you’re interested in them.”

Dern related a story from his new memoir Things I’ve Said But Probably Shouldn’t Have about meeting Marilyn Monroe on his first day at The Actors Studio in 1960. The two got to talking, and Dern escorted Monroe back to her apartment on Sutton Place when they both saw a woman in a long coat and dark glasses coming around the corner. Monroe, then the biggest star in America, turned to him and began crying, “Do you know who that was?” Dern said, “Yeah, I think I do.” Monroe cried, “That was Greta Garbo.” She began sobbing harder. Dern asked her, “What’s the matter?” Monroe replied, “That was Greta Garbo, and she didn’t know who I was!”

Since Marilyn’s plaintive cry for attention, things have definitely gotten worse. “There’s just more exposure to the world of fame now," Min said. "It used to be that a celebrity could go to the grocery store and no one sent tips to TMZ or Perez Hilton. Now, I think it’s well-accepted in the media in Hollywood that being a celebrity is now a 24/7 job. ... Your actions, your personal behavior are all part of the package now. You’re held accountable for your actions.”

Wolk asked Min what it is that young Hollywood wants. “They want gratification that people think they’re pretty," she said. "It’s a heightened awareness of the things you desire in junior high and high school: People to acknowledge you’re pretty; that men desire you; that you have the best clothes; that you’re the most popular. It’s really as simple as that."

And the proliferation of fame no longer occurs during weekly water-cooler conversations after Grey’s Anatomy: It’s all on-demand via the Web, blogs, instant messaging and other pervasive and profuse technologies. “It seems like we want to put [celebrities] on a pedestal and simultaneously tear them down," Wolk said. "We’re more and more in a hurry to see the whole thing played out,” he said, citing the accelerated trajectory of the celebrity rise and fall.

But fame -- the real kind -- can’t really be manufactured. “Anyone will tell you fame isn’t something you can really define; it’s just a feeling people have about someone,” Min said. “It’s that irresistible quality that makes you want to know more, whether it’s good or bad or both.”

Posted at May 5, 2007 9:12 AM

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