You’ve Brought Me Fame and Fortune and Everything That Goes With It*
Being famous has a lot of advantages. There’s the money, the VIP treatment, the A-list party invitations, and a lot more. But of course, there are some serious downsides to fame, too. Famous people, you might almost say, become the property of those who follow their doings. They are watched closely, and everything they do, say, and wear is noted and subject to criticism. And sometimes, that criticism can be malicious, even brutal, especially in today’s world of social media. Whether it’s fair or not, famous people are often judged in the court of public opinion, and sometimes, found guilty. And that’s just as true of fictional famous people as it is of real ones.
For instance, in Agatha Christie’s Evil Under the Sun, we are introduced to famous actress Arlena Stuart Marshall. She and her husband, Captain Kenneth Marshall, and Marshall’s daughter, Linda, arrive at the Jolly Roger Hotel on Leathercombe Bay for a holiday. The other hotel guests (which include Hercule Poirot) have their say about Arlena, and it’s interesting to see how they view her. Some say she’s a notorious ‘home-wrecker’ (and in fact, she does begin to carry on a not-very-hidden affair during the family’s stay). Others are taken by her beauty and grace and confidence. Still others have different views of her. All of the other guests, though, feel entitled to judge her. Then one day, Arlena is strangled at a cove not far from the hotel. Poirot works with the local police to find out who the killer is. To do that, he digs a little more deeply into Arlena’s life. And in the end, he finds out what Arlena was really like, and how that is related to her death. You’re absolutely right, fans of The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side.
Lynda La Plante’s Above Suspicion is the first in her Anna Travis series. In it, Travis joins the Met’s Murder Squad. They’re looking into the murders of six women, all of whom were in a similar age range, and killed in a similar way. Then, the body of seventeen-year-old Melissa Stephens is discovered. In several ways, her murder resembles that of the others, and the evidence begins to point to a man named Alan Daniels. It won’t be easy to go after him, though. Daniels is a popular television star who’s about to make the move to films. He has millions of admirers. The police know that if he becomes a public suspect, this could wreak media havoc, and lead to lawsuits at best. So they have to move very carefully as they investigate. Although it’s not a major part of the novel, it’s clear that Daniels is concerned about his public reputation. He knows that he’s being judged, and, underneath his confident exterior, he knows what will happen if his fans turn on him.
In Katherine Dewar’s Ruby and the Blue Sky, a band called the Carnival Owls makes it big and wins a Grammy award. The band’s lead singer, Ruby, is committed to sustainability and earth-friendly living. So, when she goes to the stage to accept the award, she makes an impassioned speech about her cause, imploring people to stop shopping and re-use. She has legions of fans who heed her call, and she gets a lot of interest and attention from several activist groups. Not everyone is happy about what she says, though. Some people argue that she shouldn’t have used her acceptance speech to make a statement. Others, including some very powerful people, don’t like the statement she made. They benefit from consumerism, and don’t want it to slow. Before long, there’s an undeclared war between those powerful people and the environmentalists. And it’s not long before Ruby’s comments get her into very serious danger. She’s going to have to find a way to stop a coming catastrophe – if she can stay alive.
Toronto-based celebrity chef Jake Hardy is the main character in Anthony Bidulka’s Going to Beautiful. As the novel begins, he has what seems like the perfect life. He is successful, with money and fame, and he has a loving relationship with his husband, famous designer Eddie Kravets, and their son, Connor. Everything changes when, tragically, Eddie dies in a fall from the balcony of their luxury condominium. The police find evidence that Eddie was murdered, and, as you can imagine, their main ‘person of interest’ is Jake. When news gets out about the tragedy, Jake’s many fans begin to wonder if he’s guilty, and several of them turn on him, posting all sorts of negative comments and theories on social media. Losing Eddie is hard enough for Jake; the social media trolling just makes things worse. So, Jake and his friend Baz follow up on one of Eddie’s last wishes – connecting with his hometown of Beautiful, Saskatchewan. That trip teaches Jake things about Eddie that he’d never known. It also helps him work out who the killer is.
Even writers face criticism and sometimes judgement from their fans. Many writers know the feeling of having a reader post a scathing review, or even send an angry email. The thing is, readers feel a bond with the characters in the stories they choose. If something happens that they don’t like, they will let the author know (e.g., ‘Why did you kill off ____? How could you?’ ‘You know, ___ should really marry __; you should have them fall in love.’). Most authors learn to take that sort of criticism in stride, use it where it’s helpful, and move on. But it doesn’t always work that way. Just ask Paul Sheldon, whom we meet in Stephen King’s Misery. He is a successful novelist who’s working on a new manuscript. He has a car accident and is rescued by a woman named Annie Wilkes, who, as it turns out, is a fan of his work. And therein lies the problem. In one plot thread, Annie reads part of the manuscript, and does not like the way some elements of the plot are going. So, she decides to take her own sort of action about the matter…
There are a lot of good things about being famous. But being famous means that complete strangers sit in virtual judgement, and that can have real consequences. Perhaps there’s something to happy anonymity…
ps. In case you’re thinking that the piano player in the ‘photo looks like Elton John, there’s a reason for that…
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Queen’s We Will Rock You/We Are the Champions.