Up There Orbiting the Earth

My subject heading is from my most favorite This American Life ever. It’s spoken by John Hodgman (who is, among other things, that wonderful man who plays the PC in the Mac ads) in a piece he did about the strange phenomenon of fame. The episode is called “Nice Work if You Can Get It” and I strongly recommend you listen to the entire thing, if you ever have 60 minutes to do so. If you have less minutes than that, then Hodgman’s piece, which is my favorite in an episode of favorites, lives in the first 20 minutes.

I’ve always been fascinated by the phenomenon of stardom. The phenomenon just gets more bizarre, too, as social networking grows. If, by following the actor Shah Rukh Khan on twitter, we know that he just ate sushi and also he’s nervous because he’s base jumping off buildings, does that mean that Shah Rukh Khan and we are friends? Of course not. Shah Rukh Khan has not the foggiest notion who we are, nor could he even begin to get to know all his fans, even if he wanted to. Well then, does it at least mean that we know him? No, not in any real sense. All we’ve got is the public image that’s being projected to us. So… what the heck are we all doing? What are we trying to get at? I’m asking both sides, the stars and the fans. I just think it’s fascinating how happily we will love what is essentially the imaginary concept of a person. Of course, as novel readers who love characters, I suppose we’re familiar with one version of that kind of love. :o) But in the case of superstars, the imaginary person we love is also a real person that we don’t even know, and might not like if we did. *begins to confuse self*

Last week I posted a very silly post about Shah Rukh Khan on account of my brains were exploding from work, but while I was looking for those pictures, I stumbled across some interesting stuff that got me thinking along less silly lines. His stardom is kind of a mindboggling phenomenon, seriously, and if you do a bit of your own googling, I think you’ll find plenty to read/watch. I’m going to embed the first part of an interview with Khan in which he talks a little about the phenomenon of stardom and how he keeps perspective. He also talks about growing up Muslim with religiously-tolerant parents, losing his parents at a young age, his relationship with his faith, the chances he took in his career, and so on. He seems modest but with a realistic appreciation of his situation (if he wants to walk on the beach and be left alone, without fans mobbing him, well, no worries, he can just buy the beach).

The second part of the interview made me sad because he talks (graciously) about routinely being pulled aside at airport security whenever he flies within the USA on account of the nature of his name and his looks. He talks about other stuff, too — what it’s like to win awards, his parents again, being a Bollywood outsider, concerns for his children, cricket — and the link for Part 2 is here.

Coming soon: a blog post that isn’t about Shah Rukh Khan. No, really, I swear!