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At What Price Fame?

People are getting famous for no reason. But why are we endorsing them?
When the late Rick James declared “Cocaine is a hell of a drug” during that now-legendary Chappelle’s Show skit, everybody cracked up laughing. He did too, but you could tell that he was dead serious. And while I don’t doubt that he spoke the truth about his experiences with the powder, it seems that the quest for fame has become as addictive and destructive as any narcotic…undeserved fame, even more so.
Watching people spiral-out under the glare of the spotlight is never fun. It’s quite exhausting, actually, yet it’s become a very frequent occurrence as of late. Nearly every week, a headline pops up somewhere that completely blows me away. Sometimes I can’t believe what I’m reading about, but mostly I can’t believe who I’m reading about. Because they don’t deserve any more ink (or another hyperlink, for that matter!). I refuse to mention anybody by name, but you know who I’m talking about. They do, too.
There are so many people in the news who need not be. Because they have no real talent, all they can bring to the table is trumped-up drama. With so little to offer to the proverbial “conversation,” it’s a wonder that they are the topic of anything, but somehow, they’ve stumbled upon this thing called fame and have made it their mission to be near a camera, at all times, to say and do just about anything to stay relevant. Not only is it sickening, but it also sets a really poor example for the young, impressionable minds that are being molded while all of this craziness is being played out on television, on the Web and in the news. It leaves an impression, all of it.
Most recently, I’ve had to ask myself how we’ve arrived at a place where the accomplishments of a 16-year-old, multiple gold medal-winning Olympic gymnast can so quickly be overshadowed, first by the ever-so-ridiculous online critiques about her ‘do and later by the news of what happened on last night’s episode with so-and-so’s baby’s moms, or the crash-and-burn of a month-long marriage of a pair of reality television fame-whores. How insane is that? Very. And sadly, this is where we are — tuned in, yet more focused on nonsense than talent or achievement. 
I’ve always believed, naively, that fame was the result of hard work and sacrifice combined with blood, sweat, tears and focus. Not so much, not anymore. These days, all you have to do is call yourself a “celebrity (fill in the blank)” and show up. Fame is so easy to come by and so many people are intent on getting a slice for themselves, at any cost. I just think that’s so strange, but as one of my dearest friends constantly reminds me, I will never understand that level of thirst. He shares my frustration, though, and also senses that time is running out on this phenomenon. Whenever someone who’s famous for no reason finds themselves in the hot seat, gagged, with egg on their face (or “bombed” by flour, on the red carpet, with the cameras rolling), he’ll call me to discuss. Then he shifts his focus toward the celeb du jour and says, “When you build your foundation on a house of cards, you can’t get upset when the wind blows.” Pretty much.
I often wonder when enough will be enough. Like, seriously. As consumers, we share some of the blame too, because we give these people an audience. We give them life. There has to be some balance, but first, the bar needs to be lifted up — way up — and we’re all responsible for carrying our share of that weight.
Regina R. Robertson is West Coast Editor of ESSENCE.  Follow her on Twitter @reginarobertson.