Reaching for the stars

Pam
Pam Frampton
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"Fame … what you like is in the limo
Fame … what you get is no tomorrow
Fame … what you need you have to borrow"

- From David Bowie's "Fame"

What would you think if I told you I had a shrine to Burton Cummings in my bedroom?
That it consisted, in part, of a half-smoked DuMaurier cigarette of his, tastefully displayed in a plastic wineglass, surrounded by scented candles, all backed by an eye-catching poster display.
The posters match my Burton Cummings binders and exercise books.
The butt was tossed from the stage during a concert at Memorial Stadium.
For those of you too old to know or too young to care, Burton Cummings fronted The Guess Who. He liked to wear red plaid shirts and tight white jeans or black leather pants. He smoked and drank and liked himself a bit too much, but boy, could he sing and play the piano.
Now, would it make me seem any less unhinged if I told you I was only 16 when I had the shrine?
That I eventually tossed the cigarette butt? (OK, so I smoked it - like, wow! Traces of Burton's DNA and mine, like, almost intermingled!), got rid of the plastic wineglass and moved on to more mature things, like Wham!, Culture Club and Tears for Fears.)
Teenagers have had a thing for posters and memorabilia and celebrity crushes practically since the Earth began. Why, I bet Cain and Abel would've had posters up in their rooms of some cute biblical chicks, had the few people in the world not all been related to each other at that time.

Temporary trend
It's a harmless phase that most kids grow out of; their hero represents an ideal they aspire to. Fledgling guitar players might be in awe of Eric Clapton, and that might make them practise more. Wizards-in-training might adore Harry Potter. People with a penchant for swans might like Bjork.
I always understood the girls who cried (though not the ones who screamed) when they saw Paul McCartney with The Beatles, and sobbed when he got married - the first time - because to many girls he represented the kind of sweet, romantic, chivalrous-yet-cheeky boy many of us dreamed of but figured we'd never find in our own little corners of the world. (That was long before the "Larry King Live" seal hunt fiasco.)
The problem is, for some kids, hero worship and the obsession with fame is far from harmless.
Last year, Britain's Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) surveyed 304 teachers in the U.K. about how celebrity culture was affecting their primary and secondary school students.
On the ATL website, general secretary Mary Bousted notes that the findings weren't all bad:
"We are not surprised about infiltration of celebrity culture in schools - it reflects the current media obsession with celebrity and the effect of celebrity culture on society as a whole," she said.
"Celebrities can have a positive effect on pupils. They can raise pupils' aspirations and ambitions for the future."
But celebrity culture can have negative effects, too, the survey found, and can deeply influence children's life aspirations.
"We are deeply concerned that many pupils believe celebrity status is available to everyone," Bousted said. "They do not understand the hard work it takes to achieve such status and do not think it is important to be actively engaged in school work, as education is not needed for celebrity status."
As we've seen with stupid human tricks in the news recently - "Balloon Boy's" parents staging an irresponsible stunt to try to land themselves a reality show; a social-climbing couple crashing a White House gala - you don't even have to have a particular skill to get the world's attention. Sometimes, all it takes is the right gimmick - though that's not to say you'll wind up rich.
As teacher Elizabeth Farrar noted in the British study:
"Too many of the pupils believe that academic success is unnecessary, because they will be able to access fame and fortune quite easily through a reality TV show. They believe that they are much more likely to achieve financial well-being through celebrity than through progression to higher education and a 'proper' career. Our school is a small village school, too, not an urban one."

Infatuated with fame
This unhealthy fascination with fame doesn't always wane beyond youth.
After all, it's mostly adults snapping up the scurrilous magazines at the supermarket checkout: "Brad tells Angie: No more babies!" "JLo's secret cellulite!" "Madonna plans to adopt entire African village!"
Now, I'm not saying that you should be ashamed to read those gossip magazines; they can be a harmless guilty pleasure, the mental equivalent of scarfing down a can of Vienna "sausages."
Just be sure you take them for what they are - collections of largely unfounded and unattributed rumours, candid photographs of celebrities at their worst moments, highly airbrushed pictures of celebrities at their best moments and plenty of fluff with a capital F.
But realize, too, the message they send to the young, impressionable readers in your home. Do you really want your sons and daughters to grow up taking delight in other people's struggles with weight, or divorce, bankruptcy, drunk-driving, addictions or child-custody battles?
My advice? Recycle those magazines when you're done with them, or use them as a talking point to teach children about critical thinking and about how shallow celebrity coverage doesn't really tell them anything important about the world, or the lives of people they only think they know.
At least that way, they'd be worth the paper they're printed on.

Pam Frampton is The Telegram's story editor. She can be reached by e-mail at pframpton@thetelegram.com. Read her columns online at www.thetelegram.com.

British ATL report - http://www.atl.org.uk/media-office/media-archive/celebrity-culture-increases.asp

Organizations: ATL, Burton's, Culture Club The Beatles Association of Teachers

Geographic location: Memorial Stadium, U.K., Vienna

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