Everybody’s in Show Biz
One of the most memorable passages in English literature comes from Shakespeare’s As You Like It:
“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts….”
The Kinks notably sang, “Everybody’s a Star.” One of the most intriguing films ever made, 1998’s The Truman Show, carried this idea to its logical conclusion. I have been haunted by this ever since, and played around with the concept in my unpublished novel The Simulators, which I think is the best thing I’ve ever written. We probably all have thought, at one time or another, that we’re being pranked here. And they’re all in on it.
I’ve had the pleasure of communicating with many older entertainers over the past few years, while researching my upcoming book On Borrowed Fame: Money, Mysteries, and Corruption in the Entertainment World. Most of them have been nicer than I would have expected. The underlying premise of the book is that fame has a very short life span for almost all who attain it. Maybe they were arrogant and nasty when they were A-listers. No present A-lister is going to answer my inquiries.
I can relate to all the musicians I communicated with, who sold millions of records and usually received few if any royalties, every time I look at my own royalty statements. The artist, the creator of any work of art gets only a fraction of the money that those who sell it get. I would have to sell hundreds of thousands of copies of each book to become wealthy from them. Needless to say, I have a ways to go to reach those figures. So start buying! And telling others.
Most musicians play because they love it. Most actors act because they love it. Most writers, like me, write because we love it. A small percentage of musical artists, and actors, and writers, become very rich. But the vast majority don’t. The size of the stage, or the reach of the platform, varies greatly. But like Bela Lugosi memorably put in the same high level performance even when he was starring in ridiculous Ed Wood productions, most artists try their best, even if the club is nearly empty, and the pay is laughable. I know that’s the way I approach every show I do; I assume millions are tuning in, even when I know the audience is small.
Each of our lives call for those “many parts” Shakespeare referred to. We are children, and teenagers, young adults, middle-aged, and elderly (if we make it that far). Most of us “play the parts” of sibling, aunt or uncle, parent and grandparent. We grieve when it’s appropriate, and celebrate when we should. Sometimes, the tears and laughter are forced or staged. We feign cordiality, and talk behind others’ backs. “The most acceptable form of hypocrisy,” Ambrose Bierce called it.
When someone asks us “does this make me look fat,” do we answer honestly? Usually not, since the person asking the question knows they are fat and is looking for validation. We lie- we act– to make them feel better. If a friend bakes us something, and wants to know “if it tastes alright,” do we ever tell them, “well, no it doesn’t- I can’t eat this?” But that kind of acting is part of civility, and hardly nefarious.
More often, people use subterfuge to get what they want. I stopped lendi
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