Thursday, July 26, 2007

Acquired situational narcissism

July 24

Celebrities are boring. I can’t believe it has taken me 40 years to figure that out, but it’s true, at least for people who don’t know them.
It’s not their fault. If people treat you like stories about your bowel movements are enthralling, that’s what you’ll talk about, and the people will gush and repeat until they die the tale of how they heard Mark Wahlberg or whomever talk about poop.
That’s what the title of this blog entry is about. It was a term highlighted in The New York Times a few years back in a year-in-review section about ideas that had emerged that year. It means, of course, that if people treat you like you’re the center of the universe you’ll start acting that way.
I think that's why I left the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen with a touch of ennui. I met plenty of interesting people, but I think I felt a need to engage in banter with the famous ones. I should know better. If you don’t have anything to say to someone, famous or otherwise, don’t bother.
Even the ones who have something to say often don’t have a chance to. At Chefs & Champagne, a James Beard Foundation function in the Hamptons that I went to this past weekend, celebrity chef Charlie Trotter, who was the honoree, was answering a question I’d asked about his own foundation’s work, and we were interrupted by a local fan who semi-accosted the poor guy, expressing shock and delight to actually see him in person. So I left to talk to other people.
But what really has reminded me recently of the boringness of celebrities was meeting several rather unfamous but fascinating ones. I mentioned Tariq Hanna a few entries back. He decided to learn about pastry by working for a Dunkin’ Donuts franchise and determined that the best way to learn to cook was in a diner. Fascinating.
Last night I had dinner at Beppe with Sylvia Casares Copeland, chef-owner of Sylvia’s Enchilada Kitchen in Houston (she had me pick the restaurant, and I think moderately creative Italian exemplifies New York’s cuisine well).
Sylvia’s working on being a celebrity, but she isn’t yet. She’s making more TV appearances and she has a self-published DVD. She was in town to visit a dear friend and also meet with an agent and similar types. And her publicist had arranged for her to have dinner with me.
But for now she’s a divorced woman from Brownsville, Texas, in her third career. She parlayed her degree in Home Economics into a research chef job with Uncle Ben's. Then she sold Sara Lee desserts to restaurants in three states before opening her own restaurant, originally with her husband, until they got divorced. She opened it with no restaurant experience.
She opened her current restaurant after the divorce, five years ago, learning as she went, and the restaurant’s doing quite well.
She also had interesting observations about human nature and was in no way boring or pretentious.
What a relief.


John said...

I so agree. There are two side tenants to this I find crazy.

1) Let's say someone is famous, in this case for being a great chef.
They are an expert on cooking, food, and restaurants and they have mature views that should be listened to.
Then our celb will say something publicly on a topic they really know nothing about. For example, politics or international trade. And people take thier opinions as superior to thier own. Why?

2) These poor celbs are probably asked the same 5 questions all day every day. The book on Mario Battalli talks about him memorizing a couple jokes so that he can impress his fans when they stop him on the street.
If you break away from the norm, like your questions to Trotter, you will get much more realistic responses. They have probably have "practiced routines" that allow them to disengage from clingers just so they can go to the movies or shop or whatever without appearing to be a jerk.

If you really wanted to break the ice, you'd ask something totally out of left field. "What's your favorite color, my nephew wants to know?"

John said...

The more I think about this, the more compassion I have for celbs in public.

They litterally get attacked verbally and sometimes physically by strangers. If they react in kind, its a National Inquirer story or a law suit. It must be pretty stressful to worry if a new stranger will go "whacky."

Bret Thorn said...

Sure, but most celebrities chose to be celebrities, and most of them could stop being celebrities if they wanted to. It would take a year or two, but they could do it.
That doesn’t give fans the right to harrass them, but they did make their own beds.