Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.







**You may contact me by e-mail at livinginbarbados[at]gmail[dot]com**

Friday, December 12, 2008

Rubbing Shoulders.

I have never figured out why people get excited about "celebrities". I can understand how certain positions in our society lead us to give respect, adulation, or other positive responses, as well as disgust, criticism, and a wave of negative reactions to certain individuals. Note, also, that our (western, capitalist) society tends to give these reactions to only certain types. Rare is it that we "celebrate" someone just for being good, like a nurse, or the dustman (garbage collector). We don't fall down on our knees, literally or metaphorically, for someone who has great religious credentials. Those days are long gone. We may even have forgotten how to love or revile our own relatives. Great Uncle Ned, who went to prison for stealing chickens back in 1880, is forgotten for Michael Vick and his sad story of dog baiting or O.J. Simpson and trying to steal back his memorabilia. Grandma Delores, whose recipe for roast lamb is the envy of the island, and has been passed down the family and is savoured every month, gets less recognition than a foul-mouthed, white-coated English chef who says "P*** off" in a Cockney accent on TV, and whose food you've never tasted.

We look for stars--rising or falling--and increasingly it seems, the less they actually produce or do for the rest of society that can be called good, the better. Look at Britney Spears. Why? Oh, she's spotted getting at the airport, looking again as if she is having trouble managing her life. Look at me. I'm pathetic too.

Politicians also get a good mixture of both reactions, not least because some of us had put our trust in them with our votes, or had shown our dislike for them with the lack of our votes: just look at the Governor of Illinois (Rod Blagojevich--hard to pronounce), with his 'potty' mouth, and his wife (for whom no one voted) who seems to have been more than a partner for life. Yikes! America seems to provide us with more than enough examples on the negative side. Look at Governor Spitzer--a man who clearly had no idea how to get value for money: you paid how much for some sexual titillation? Look at Senator Ted Stevens (Alaska)--bribes, what bribes?

But, I just don't understand the "fanaticism", such as wanting to hang around a hotel lobby to see Beyonce walk by. Actually, my hormones can understand that, but my brain does not. Why would I want to get a closer look at Denzil Washington, and hang around for hours hoping that he will walk by, or get all frothy and like a baby with my food when I see him at an adjacent table in a restaurant? I've seen the guy in films, close up too. What do I expect to see now? That he is only 4 feet 6 inches and has been fooling us by wearing Cuban heels? I visited Bequia last summer and someone mentioned that he came there in his yacht occasionally. I was dipping in the sea at the time, and I have not bathed since. Imagine. My feet in the same sea as Denzil's yacht.

I've been to a presidential inauguration ball (I palled around with Capitol Hill lobbyists), and I saw up close and a bit too personally the Gores with that famous kiss; I could almost taste it. It did not make a politician of me. I once trained in the same running camp as Linford Christie; I think I even beat him in some drills. Yet, I never got to be Olympic, World, European or C0mmonwealth Champion in the 100 metres. I went to Mexico in 1986 and visited the England football team in their hotel; I saw Diego Maradona up close and very personal over some chicharon (fried pork skin) before the final game, which his team, Argentina, then won. Yet, I have no World Cup medal to my name. My hair--or lack of it--makes me now resemble England footballing great, Bobby Charlton, though. Was that because we spoke when we met in Mexico City?

Look at me. I have had my share of personal fame and it continues. I've won athletic championships; my name is in the records book---can't take that away from me. I played football at a high level and had my sweat mix with that of international players, even shared a bath with a few. Cooooooo!

On a lesser scale, but up there, nonetheless, I got a letter published in the Barbados Advocate this week: it was my view on work and the benefits of telecommuting, spurred by a flash of stream of consciousness writing. Now, truth is that a liming buddy mentioned it to me last night; he and others shook my hand; they know good writing when they see it. That's as much pay as I could expect. For some reason, my assiduous reading of the papers had overlooked my own moment in the sunlight. It was on Wednesday and .... I've been on the radio a few times over the past few months. Sure, when I go to the school yard I have to deal with the adulation of other parents back-slapping me, or some children yelling "Uncle Dennis! I hear you in the radio. You're famous." After any of these instances I have to admit that I do feel a rush of pleasure: most of us like recognition. But I would be shocked to see people camping outside my house, or blocking my car, or pressing their underwear on me to sign, or other "foolishness". Hello, it's still me, guy. Bumbling, grumbling, laughing, crying, eating, sleeping, just like I used to. I don't even have the right to say that I am worth more; I certainly don't get offered any money more than I did before, and that's a big fat zero anyway.

We know that there is a large vicarious element of our lives. Association with important events or people rubs off, we believe. After some disaster, we can hear, "Last Monday I was on that same flight that crashed yesterday. Imagine that." So, what? You were not in the crash. Going back to the Denzil moments, what do we think is so special about saying, "Denzil Washington was in 'Nobu' when we had dinner there the other night. He was eating the same sushi dish as me! Feeding himself with his own chop sticks. I thought these stars all had helpers." Why would I think of myself as so honoured to be in the presence of someone I had seen in a film? I'm at a loss. If I said that I had read President-elect Obama's books that would have less eye-opening appeal than if I said that he and I had palled around on the basketball court in Chicago.

I can be pretty stupid myself, so why would I want to get excited about some wild escapade by some movie star? Come on! When my daughter crashed the car into our house, with not even a drop of alcohol in her system, why would I not think of that as being a major event and not better to be associated with that when some overpaid athletes crashes on the highway and get charged for driving under the influence?

Why would I want to think so little of myself that I could not wait to say that I was standing in someone else's shadow?

I dont think that I am narcissistic, but I am certainly not going to fawn over anyone. Least of all someone I do not really know. That said, I do plan to be in Washington DC on Inauguration Day next January. I will be a part of history, especially if I can score a ticket to see the swearing in. If not, I will have live with the fact that I was there for that day. But, I do not presume that my longing to see President-elect Obama become the 44th President of the United States will rub off on me in any way other than to say that I was present. I'll wave and yell like a lunatic and maybe he'll see and hear me and hail me next time we meet for a jog on the Washington Mall. I can hear it now: "Yo! DJ. Howya doin'?"

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