Many people have sought fame for a very long time. The desire to be known or worshiped by one’s peers has probably been around since the first humans gathered together in large groups, and most definitely since village life came into existence.
Once upon a time leaders, like queens and kings — not to mention unruly emperors and tyrants here and there — were the most famous folks on the planet. Or, at the very least, the biggest celebrities in the neck of the woods where they tended to hang out.
Come the Classical Age, and later on during the Renaissance, the Age of Discovery and the Age of Enlightenment (a lot of ages here), explorers, warriors, deep thinkers, fine artists, reformers, writers and eventually full-blown scientists began to join the ranks of the well-known.
All you have to do is take a brief look at the cast of characters appearing on the roll call from past centuries, with names like Christopher Columbus, Leonardo Da Vinci (not DiCaprio), Descartes, Francis Drake, Galileo, Martin Luther, Mary I of England, Michelangelo, Thomas More, Sir Isaac Newton, William Shakespeare, Voltaire and many more standing out. These figures, with their varied lives, can give you a good idea of the path to power and fame back in the day.
Classical musicians, such as Beethoven and Brahms, stood out as well, although conspicuously absent were popular folk singers and actors. While a local lad or gal with a respectable set of pipes or a penchant for the theater might have gained a bit of celebrity, these performers generally weren’t the ones who held onto lasting fame.
In fact, actors were once considered the lowest of the low in many parts of the world. While the ancient Greeks tended to hold some actors in fairly high esteem, the Romans were not overly fond of them. Many were slaves, or considered to be people without any morals, capable of performing any lewd act on stage if asked to do so. Actors were definitely not favorites with the philosopher, and Roman Emperor, Julian the Apostate.
In Britain, a general anti-theatrical feeling pervaded the upper echelons of society for a very long time. The Tudors were particularly suspicious of actors, believing most to be up to no good. Acting was viewed as a “profession” of beggars and drifters. People who gave nothing back to society. The entertainment and happiness of the humble masses mustn’t have rated too high on the list of priorities for the Tudor Government.
Oh, how the times have changed. In the modern world, actors and the cult of celebrity rule over an incredible swath of our daily lives. How we dress, what we think, what brands (for shallow people) or political causes (for deeper people) we support, and the work we aspire to is so often influenced by actors and pop musicians. The tastes and ideals — intelligent or brainless— celebrities put forth in the public spectrum hold tremendous sway.
Films and television, as well as music, can start social dialogues, give us something to gossip about, aspire to or ridicule. The lowly actor, while still out there — perhaps slogging it out in community theater, or in the shadier areas of Hollywood and New York — who struggles to break free can still dream big thanks to the superstar status of others. Bringing dreams and fantasy to life, after all, are what actors are supposed to excel at.
While plenty of actors cling to broken dreams (don’t get into the business if you can’t take an emotional pounding) because they haven’t achieved the status of the Ryan Goslings and Angelina Jolies of the world, they can take heart in the fact that someday, they just might arrive on the scene. Maybe.
Quick, what’s the name of the President of the Ukraine? The Chinese President? The President of the United Mexican States (yep, they have a “United Sates” in their title too)? No, not sure? Something Slavic, Chinese or Spanish sounding? Sorry, that doesn’t cover it.
All right, who starred in ‘When Harry Met Sally,’ ‘Gravity,’ ‘Maleficent’ or ‘Rambo?’ Exactly. All you have to do is score one.
Actors have succeeded in the fame game in ways Putin or Xi Jinping (China’s president) can only dream of. Some eventually channel their power into the greater good (Angelina Jolie, for example) and charitable causes. For others who wallow in the trappings of fame for fame’s sake, well, we can only hope that they’ll use their awesome power in the days to come for something nobler than being featured on TMZ.