How Does a Celebrity Deal With Public Life?

By Robert Vaux

Introduction

Everyone laughs when asked about the "pressures" faced by the rich and famous; at first blush, there seems to be little downside to high salaries, fabulous parties and millions of people knowing your name. But in truth, celebrity exposure can cause a great deal of damage if it isn't handled properly. Many celebrities are unable to engage in basic tasks without being mobbed, and gossip columns and paparazzi can intrude upon their lives to the point of breaking the law. While there are a number of upsides to fame, celebrities need to find ways of coping with public life if they hope to persevere.

What is the Function of Fame?

The balancing act between a celebrity and the public can sometimes be tricky. The celebrity requires public exposure to sell his movies, records or similar projects, and a certain amount of intrusion is inevitable in that equation. For some celebrities, however, exposure is the purpose of their activity. They wish to be famous simply for being famous--not as a means to find better parts, negotiate better record deals or express their creativity with fewer restraints. Those who seek fame for its own ends often cannot differentiate between good attention and bad, and may "act out" in public as a means of generating attention. The celebrity's ultimate use for fame--whether as an incidental byproduct of practicing his craft or the sole point of his existence--often has considerable bearing on how well he handles it.

Privacy Uber Alles

The first and most common way of dealing with public life is to cut oneself off from it. Fame often comes with a great deal of money, which a celebrity can use to wall himself off from an overly intrusive public. He can buy a home in a gated community, take his kids to a private school, hire bodyguards to protect him when he goes out, and use personal assistants to run errands such as shopping. The late Marlon Brando even went so far as to buy his own island in the South Pacific, living life as a distant recluse rather than deal with public scrutiny. Though extremely isolating, such tactics often become a necessity, and it is still possible to have normal friendships with fellow celebrities who live or work nearby under similar circumstances

Someplace Far Away

Another solution some celebrities engage in is to move out of large cities. Rural communities or those located away from media hot spots like Los Angeles tend to place less stock in celebrity fame; after the initial shock wears off, locals will often treat the celebrity like just another person. (Actor Harrison Ford, for example, famously lives on a ranch in Wyoming, amid blue-collar neighbors who rarely raise an eyebrow at his presence.) The downside is that the celebrities must often travel to do their jobs. The upside is that the pressures of regular life become much easier to handle.

Public Life vs. Private Life

Because a certain amount of publicity is essential for a celebrity, some keep a sharp eye on the line between their public and private lives, and ensure that it never gets crossed. They will stipulate that certain questions never be asked, they will keep their family clear of paparazzi or public events, and they will not seek out interviews or exposure except when it relates to projects they are involved in. Actress Jodie Foster, for example, adamantly refuses to discuss any part of her personal life during interviews, and sports columnists often talk about the skill with which Michael Jordan kept exposure focused on his basketball and business endeavors, rather than how he lived or what his family was up to.

Image Control

Going hand-in-hand with those boundaries is a sense of controlling one's public persona through interviews, appearances and careful monitoring of the press. A celebrity with a "bad-boy" image who goes out to wild parties and generates controversial statements is more prone to attract intrusive public attention than one who is perceived as living a "quiet" life at home with his family. Creating that impression usually means working with a publicist who can arrange for controlled public appearances and interviews. No celebrity can completely control the media, but by gauging its impact, she can keep it in a proper context and prevent it from interfering with her quality of life.

Conclusion

Every celebrity is an individual, and each one deals with public life differently. The need to acknowledge the reality of their condition is paramount, as is the ability to strike a balance that reduces the stress and anxiety it may cause. We've all seen examples of what can happen when a celebrity can't handle exposure: drug and alcohol addiction, public outbursts, and an overall deterioration (which ironically feeds the very attention that is contributing to the problem in the first place). The key to survival lies in understanding boundaries, setting firm lines and knowing where and when to behave in a public forum.