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Mon, Apr 26, 2010
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Educating my kids on fame
by Clara Chow

LAST week, I spent a fair bit of time with celebrities and media whores. These fame-hungry people, however, existed only on screen and on stage.

At the premiere of the musical Chicago at the Esplanade on Tuesday, I watched the lead murderess characters Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly pull out all the stops to get column inches.

The production, which made its Broadway debut in 1975, satirises celebrity culture in the 1920s. Things have changed little since Prohibition-era Chicago, what with the frenzy that accompanies notorious girls caught behaving badly.

Witness Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan and recent 15-minute mistresses like Jamie Jungers (Tiger Wood’s) and Michelle “Bombshell” McGee (Jesse
James’, aka Mr Sandra Bullock).

The music video for the song Telephone could be a modern- day update of Chicago, with Lady Gaga – the fame monster du jour strutting about a prison yard – and Beyonce hamming it up as mass murderers in a diner.

A couple of days later, I experienced La Dolce Vita for the first time at the National Museum’s excellent Fellini retrospective.

The classic black-and-white 1960 Italian film blew me away with its melancholic portrayal of a journalist who gets increasingly corrupted by the rich, aimless, decadent company he keeps and writes about.

While I’m no charismatic rake like the film’s Marcello (played by the late drool-worthy Marcello Mastroianni), I had lived a paler version of his life as a lifestyle reporter in a past life, and could relate to the surface glamour and underlying frustrations.

The movie that coined the term “paparazzi” remains a timeless indictment of celebrity culture and hedonism.

It is a coincidence that both the musical and the film have re-opened here at the same time, but it is worth examining how the notion of fame has evolved in this day and age.

In particular, how are our children’s attitudes towards fame being shaped in a world filled with reality and talent shows, instant celebrities and Internet phenomena?

Last year, a survey done by a public-relations company concluded that more youngsters want to be famous.

Compared to their parents’ generation, who wanted to be
teachers, bankers and doctors, five- to 11-year-olds polled in Britain wanted to be sports stars (12 per cent), pop stars (11 percent) and actors (11 per cent).

The success of TV shows like American Idol and Glee, with its highly-motivated, stardom- driven, stage career-minded heroine Rachel Berry, is probably doing its part to inspire more teenagers who want to make it big.

And there is no shortage of cute baby clothes with slogans like “Rockstar” to perpetuate the fame game from birth.

To be honest, it might be a while before my two sons – aged four and six months – understand the concept of mass popularity. The elder one, Julian, says he wants to be a firefighter.

And when I asked him if he wanted to be famous, he ignored me.

Then again, he already has a Saturday Night Fever/John Travolta - esque habit of reminding me not to mess up his hair.

Should either Julian or his brother Lucien decide one day to pursue fame and glory, I wouldn’t stand in their way.

But I don’t consider my job done unless I have raised them to know the difference between fame and success; and that, while the former may open doors for you and send freebies your way, the latter achieved through low-profile legitimate hard work may mean enjoying the same perks on your own terms, without the downside of losing one’s privacy and other weird pressure.

After all, as La Dolce Vita so beautifully made immortal on celluloid, the sweet life looks unbearably tantalising from the outside, is delicious in small morsels, but acquires a bitter aftertaste when you glut yourself with it.

And you know what they say about kids and sugar: Moderation is key.

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