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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Whatever it takes to hit the spotlight

The Spokesman-Review

The woman called me to pitch, on behalf of others, a story about a good cause. She’s an acquaintance who once served on several community committees. After she took early retirement from a high-profile job, she moved away, but then moved back to Spokane within a short time. The story of why she returned is filled with life choices that reinforce her as the thoughtful, philosophical person I remember.

When I asked if she’d be willing to be interviewed for a column on her recent experience, the woman said no, she didn’t want to be in the limelight. This woman didn’t desire her name, her face – or her good works – to be announced to the world. She didn’t need the attention.

How refreshing.

Refreshing, because I’m a tad worried about the desperation I sense in some people who will do whatever it takes for their 15 minutes of fame. This phenomenon has escalated in the past few years. As I’ve noted in this space before, there are almost three dozen reality shows now on television. In 2000, when “Survivor” made its debut, the show was considered so novel that we placed a story about it on our front page.

The Academy Award nominees were announced Tuesday. The winners will be presented with Oscars Feb. 27. In the old days, it was the Academy Awards show and that was pretty much it. Now it seems as if stars attend award shows every other week, looking eager and desperate to win. This week’s People magazine features an eight-page spread on the Golden Globes held Jan. 16.

Remember when some of the nominees didn’t even show up at the Oscars? They were off filming in exotic locations. Or they felt the commercialism of the event compromised their craft. Or they sent surrogates to make political statements.

When Marlon Brando won an Oscar for his role in “The Godfather,” a woman dressed in Native American garb accepted the award by reading Brando’s critique of government policies toward Indians.

This year, I bet 99 percent of the stars nominated for Oscars show up – with bells and Botox on.

Also on the popular cultural scene, “American Idol” is again doing well in the ratings. Our Inland Northwest version, “Gimme the Mike,” never lacks for willing participants.

What happened to the days when people, with some rare exceptions, felt shy about singing in public? Two of my nephews were so bashful as children that during their elementary school concerts, they would turn their heads to the side and fake sing into the armpits of the students next to them.

I worry, too, what happens when a touch of fame touches people least equipped to handle it. A few years ago, I walked through our newsroom’s photo department and was startled to see a young mother holding an 8-by-10 picture of her baby. The baby had been murdered the day before by an acquaintance. When I saw the young mom later in the day posing with her baby’s photo on TV news, she looked almost giddy from so much attention.

Criminals give interviews all the time now. People caught in embarrassing situations speak about it publicly, with no seeming shame. And how about those couples who place on the Internet videos of their bedroom sexual adventures? They make reclusive author J.D. Salinger seem like a mental-health superstar.

My sisters and I – inveterate question-askers – have also noticed how few people ever ask us questions back. People tell us their stories in great detail. And then, when they are finished talking, the conversation ends, unless we ask another question. Maybe they simply lack curiosity. Or maybe their need to be heard overrides every other communication impulse.

What’s going on? Are we suffering from an epidemic of narcissism? In a culture that idolizes the surface, does only surface attention authenticate us? I don’t really know.

But that didn’t stop me from sharing these musings in my 15-minutes-of-fame column. Thanks for reading this today. I needed the attention.

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