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Is 15 Minutes of Fame So Five Minutes Ago?

Nancy Sundstrom - March 18th, 2004
The book‘s title intrigued me first, but once I‘d confirmed its subject matter, I just planned on sitting down and not getting up until I‘d finished it off.
That‘s because like Eliza H., the heroine of Emmi Fredericks‘ delightfully funny and a-little-too-close-to-home novel, “Fatal Distraction: Or How I Conquered My Addiction to Celebrities and Got a Life,“ I tend to spend a tad too much time lingering at the water cooler poring over why the weekend‘s box office draw from “The Passion of the Christ“ would kick the butt of “Starsky & Hutch,“ opining about why the Janet Jackson-Justin Timberlake breast-baring incident is so five-minutes-ago, and arranging strategic social engagements around new episodes of “The E! True Hollywood Story“ and “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.“
I‘m not proud about any of this, but I do own up to it, and truth be told, my head full of worthless knowledge makes others duke it out over me when it comes to needing a partner for Trivial Pursuit or any other game involving like sets of “skills.“ Like Eliza H., I suffer from “celebraholism“ and could readily benefit from the 12-step program prescribed in Fredericks‘ book. If you relate to any of this at all (and I know there are many of you out there who do), then you, too, are likely to find much to appreciate in this zippy, frothy concoction.
Eliza H. (just like in AA, she does not reveal her last name) is a New Yorker who works in publishing and lives vicariously through celebrities. She instantly consumes each new edition of People, Entertainment Tonight and whatever brand new special is gracing the E! Channel, much to the dismay of a number of relatives and friends.
Her obsession with celebrities and celebrity is steeped in her being raised as an only child whose dance teacher-mother left her in the company of an eclectic collection of babysitters as she pursued her career. To help pass the time, Eliza watched endless TV and movies and daydreamed about hanging out with movie stars and taking a walk down the red carpet to accept her own Academy Award. From the beginning, we know that Eliza being enamored with a world of fame, wealth and personalities comes from the deep void of loneliness that surrounded her while growing up. Despite all the yucks and inside jokes in the story, that alone serves to anchor it as a cautionary tale.
The first chapter, in fact, states as much:

“A warning to the reader. ..
This story is not for the faint of heart. While mine is ultimately a tale of triumph, it is also a harrowing chronicle of a trial of the human spirit. So, if you‘re not in the mood for peril and heartache, just put the book down. You can find enlightenment and self-awareness some other time. It‘s okay by me.
All right. Now that we‘ve sorted out the players from the poseurs, let‘s continue.
A plague is sweeping America. An addiction that afflicts the unsuspecting citizen without warning. Early symptoms are often missed. Denial leads to postponement of treatment -- or, indeed, failure to seek help at all. Inexorably, the sufferer is gripped by a state of near delusion. Relationships suffer. Isolation sets in. Normal, everyday life as most people know it becomes unbearable. Larger and larger cash outlays are required to sustain the habit.
What is the plague I speak of? The disease that enslaves and weakens millions around the globe?
Yes, you read right.
Celebraholism: a complex psychological disorder characterized by an excessive, compulsive need for exposure to celebrities.
To further illustrate the affliction of our age, I present two scenarios.
In the first scenario, you and I pass each other on the street. What happens?
Nothing. (What did you think, I was going to run up and assault you with a hammer?)
Second scenario: You and a celebrity pass each other on the street. What happens?
Your mind explodes. You think. ..
Oh My God, it‘s So-and-So! (Reader, feel free to supply the celebrity of your choice.) I can‘t believe it. So-and-So -- on the very same street that I am walking on.
You hope maybe they notice you, that your eyes meet, and they say, You. Yes, you. Come to me. Be my costar, my sperm donor, my slave...
Or you start wondering if maybe they‘ve had a little surgery since you last saw them. You sneak a look to see if the difference shows.
Or you think, Gee, he‘s shorter than I thought.
But whatever you think, however you react, these thoughts are not just passing impressions. These thoughts have far greater significance than, say, if you walked by me and thought, My God, that‘s an ugly sweater.
Skeptical? In denial? Let‘s take another look at Scenario Two. Maybe you pass a celebrity, and you don‘t think very much at all about it. But it‘s a good bet that at some point in your day you‘re going to say something like, “Hey, you know who I ran into today? So-and-so. He‘s shorter than you‘d think.“ And someone will say, “Oh, no, I knew he was short...“ And so on. You are now engaged in conversation, connecting with another human being. All because you ran into a celebrity.“

As she enters her 20s, Eliza‘s fascination with celebrity has only intensified, and pals like the spectacularly untalented Dinah, the gorgeous and gay actor Danny with whom she shares an apartment, basset hound Norm, and Ivan, an aspiring writer who wants nothing more than to have some genuine affection returned from Eliza, all play a role in the sit-comedy of errors that has become Eliza‘s life. Are her show-busy dreams to be realized at all? Will her fixations derail reality-based friendships and potentially deeper entanglements? Is there a chance that the scales will be tipped in favor of relationships with real people vs. those whom she fantasizes about in most of her waking moments?
“Fatal Distraction“ brims -- to the point of near overfill -- with quippy one-liners, celebrity trivia and, ultimately, a light-handed, but firm message about the seductive power that the infamous 15 minutes of fame holds over all of us, whether we want to admit it or not. This is a book that manages to be both funny and just a little scary, all of which gives it the heft it needs to be taken seriously. There‘s as much parody here as there is real heart, and in the final analysis, that‚s an accomplishment not to be taken lightly, while “celebrity“ is.

  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
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