Any good writing on the "all celebrities know each other" thing?
January 22, 2014 9:43 AM   Subscribe

In this story in the NYT about how the Knicks decide who gets courtside seats and what they have to do for them, there's a throwaway line that Michael J. Fox's memoir discusses "the celebrity-camaraderie phenomenon wherein they all know one another, even if they don’t." I've always been fascinated by that. Other than that memoir (of course), is there any good writing about that subject? I could imagine that a smart actor, or even better a screenwriter or newly-made comedian or assistant or some other behind the scenes person, has described how this language and code of behavior is taught and practiced, and who is allowed to play the game.
posted by AgentRocket to Media & Arts (12 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
I'd say this is less of "thing" than just a greasy display of superficiality and false intimacy. Ala "Paula, DARLING, you look fabulous, SUCH a pleasure to meet you". Swap in any elite - aristocrats, royals, etc.

To a less smarmy degree, the same is also true of anyone in any tribe or category. Plumbers in your county have probably sort of heard of each other even if they haven't actually met, too.

The difference with celebrities is they tend to be on TV and everyone watches TV. So just as you feel you kinda/sorta know celebrities, celebrities get that same feeling watching people on TV. The diff is that AgentRocket's feeling of knowing people from TV would not be reciprocated by those people, while Michelle Obama's would.

So no heavy "code", and no "game". Just a pretty simple and quite uninteresting superstructure of false intimacy and media funhouse mirroring.
posted by Quisp Lover at 10:25 AM on January 22, 2014 [4 favorites]

I swear that a comedian -- I want to say George Carlin -- had a (semi-)well-known bit about this. Does this ring a bell for anyone else?
posted by scody at 10:30 AM on January 22, 2014

What Quisp Lover said, with the additional idea that celebrities got where they are by being liked -- by the public, by the casting agents and producers who hire them, by the journalists who cover them. Camaraderie is essentially a job skill.
posted by Etrigan at 10:43 AM on January 22, 2014

Yes, but the intended route of likeability is entirely one-way. They want to be liked from afar, and they're likely not going to like you back....the exception being with others who are liked from afar. We're all fans (including celebrities) when we're doing that watching, but celebs are meet as mutual fans.

Like I said, funhouse mirrors....
posted by Quisp Lover at 10:50 AM on January 22, 2014

There's also the fact that celebrities who work in the same field or in adjacent fields would know each other by being part of a wider social circle. Like, if Aziz Ansari is a cast member on Parks & Rec, that makes Tina Fey a friend of a friend. Megan Mullaly is his coworker's spouse. Quincy Jones is his coworker's dad. Nicole Holofcener directed an episode last season. He's met X, Y, and Z other people at work-related events like the Up Fronts, Comic-Con, and the like. Etc. It's not that all celebrities know all other celebrities, it's just that they have the same kinds of interactions that we have, and of necessity, some of those random people they know in their lives, through work, friends, etc. are also famous.
posted by Sara C. at 11:59 AM on January 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I suspect you didn't want (even MeFi-level) chatfilter about celebrity culture, but writing, and googled around for stuff I'd read in the past, mostly unsuccessful. I did find these:

An actual academic paper, Being a Celebrity: A Phenomenology of Fame

Björk interview: 'I didn't like being a celebrity. It's a service job. Like washing toilets'

The Billfold: What It’s Like to Be a Personal Assistant for the Rich and Famous, I and II

The Unreality of Being a Celebrity, NYT reviews of memoirs by Shirley MacLaine and Rob Lowe

But yeah, there's something I couldn't remember enough details about to find, but it's a pretty good run-down of things you asked about, like the kabuki theatre surrounding whether someone actually has the pull to get inside a club or backstage at a concert, who would take whose phone calls, and so on. It was one of these B- or C-listers who had been briefly famous and is still remembered but hasn't worked at that level in a while, yet still is involved in the industry while living a more middle-class, mostly ordinary lifestyle.

It may or may not be the same source but I also recall an anecdote about the frequency of finding out that someone is using you to get to someone more famous or powerful, or even just for the juice of touching fame themselves, and how that makes one socially cautious.

As to what Sara C. said, and in somewhat the same vein, there is the shared experience of being a celebrity that can be important, because the other person knows what it's like and isn't star-struck -- so you get a peer-to-peer, seeing-each-other-clearly sense from them. Another celebrity knows what it's like.
posted by dhartung at 1:24 PM on January 22, 2014 [6 favorites]

Marc Maron talks about this from time to time on his WTF podcast - often from the perspective of wondering whether he's a "big enough" celebrity to have that kind of access to his own idols outside of comedy. Not sure if it's included in his memoir or not, but it's definitely a subject he's interested in.
posted by Mchelly at 1:37 PM on January 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

There was a whole documentary made on the subject of celebrity, where quite a few celebs talk about exactly this, by the lead actor of HBO's Entourage, Adrian Grenier. I think the film is ostensibly a documentary about a young teen working as a paparazzi photographer, but it quickly becomes about fame itself. One of the scenes I remember is Matt Damon talking about how no one is even interested in his acting or the process of movie-making, they simply want to know what it's like to be famous.

Also, there was a video recently made of a q & a session with the kid who plays the mean king in Game of Thrones, Jack Gleeson. He makes a very long speech about celebrity culture, along the lines of not being interesting enough to merit all the attention he's given, and that all he's done is simply pretend to mean on television for money. He's surprising articulate. I believe he actually goes as far as to say he's done with acting.

You can probably find both of these on through google searches. They're probably on Youtube.
posted by xammerboy at 1:43 PM on January 22, 2014

Here's the Jack Gleeson video:
posted by xammerboy at 1:47 PM on January 22, 2014

Rob Lowe's memoir Stories I Only Tell My Friends has a lot of these types of stories in it. It don't recall a lot of explanation about the ins and outs, though.
posted by soelo at 1:48 PM on January 22, 2014

The novels of Bruce Wagner are like the Edith Wharton of late 20th century celeb culture, and are full of this shit. They are also v. funny. He's also a bit of an insider, working as a producer and director, as well as a writer for film. he Chrysanthemum Palace might be the best one.
posted by PinkMoose at 5:02 PM on January 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

Actors tend to work with a different team of people for each movie, so they actually do know more people in their profession than most other people know in other professions. And as people with common "problems" (the social difficulties that come with being rich and famous), many celebrities only feel comfortable with other celebrities, and they need to hang out with like-minded celebrities (people who aren't going to unexpectedly expose them to a roomful of gasping, grasping non-celebrities). Even if they have never met, they know a lot about each other before they have exchanged a word because their lives are defined by the pressures of the profession and the social class.

But you want a book. Writing. You should read celebrity memoirs by smart celebrities.
posted by pracowity at 4:48 AM on January 23, 2014

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