This is an ever-evolving story of a girl writer and her two greatest loves, the movies and travel. As she hikes the trenches of Hollywood, you're brought along for the ride.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Autograph Hounds of the Digital Age

Somewhere in my old bedroom there is a box scattered with TAB bottlecaps, E.T. collector cards, Viewmaster slide inserts, Little Golden Books, and my childhood autograph collection.  I treat each item like a relic, an invitation into my own past.  

Like very few kids today, I wrote letters-- letters to friends, letters to family far away, letters to pen pals across the globe, and letters to people I'd never met, people I admired.  

A segment of those letters spurred my childhood autograph collection.  I'd go to the public library and spend hours searching the gigantic celebrity address directory.  I wrote my "fan letters" in cursive, in bubble letters, in colored markers, in my very own handwriting. Sometimes I drew pictures on them and plastered them with stickers.  

I tossed each letter into the mail as if it were a wish I was sending off into the world beyond.  

I rarely asked for anything in return, but sometimes I politely asked for an autograph, if it really, really meant a lot to me.  Even if I never ever received a reply, the joy I felt in writing those letters was something I felt I could pass onto the recipient for the mere cost of a postal stamp.  I was always genuine and polite and very much a kid admirer.

I got replies -- thank yous from publicists stating that the celebrity no longer accepted fan letters (Jessica Tandy, at the time), signed glossy 8x10s (Cindy Crawford), thank yous with regrets (Shirley Temple--too many requests), and even my letter sent back to me (oddly) emblazoned in thin, purple magic marker (Bill Cosby.) 

Today, as I live in Los Angeles and work in entertainment, I see celebrities *not often* but much more often than the average person.  The magic is still there, like a sprinkling of pixie dust, but it's no longer a big deal.  They're just people, but part of me still wants to protect them.  As someone who came from the roots of being a genuine fan, I always honored the person I admired. That honor doesn't seem to exist much anymore in the age of Ebayers and paparazzi.  An autograph, a moment with a celeb, a splash of pixie
dust is nothing if it's not worth money-- lots and lots of money.  

Outsiders wanting in, people wanting a piece of the pie, folks thinking they can barge into the private life of a celebrity lunching at the table across the room just because they think they can, because they think that since celebrities have sold their souls to the public, they no longer deserve privacy.

A couple of weeks ago, Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson were at Arclight Hollywood promoting their new film, Last Chance Harvey.  As the studio cars waited for them, several "fans" approached Dustin and shoved laserdiscs and DVDs in his face. Security got him into his car, but these "fans" persisted.  Dustin signed from the backseat, just so he could go home.  

I knew, as did Emma and Dustin, that these weren't real fans.  They were organized Ebayers and those laserdiscs? Probably for sale online somewhere.  There's no respect or sentimentality behind those autographs.  There's no story to tell or human connection involved.  As in many things, it's all about the bottom line... how much is that celebrity worth in the marketplace? They're not people, they're A-listers or D-listers and like stocks, their worth is weighed depending on the "going rate" on Amazon.

For every childhood autograph I collected, there is a story... a meeting, a letter, a connection.  I know there are still real fans out there, but something has been lost as civilization has entered the fast-paced, money-hungry digital age.  Shove another DVD in their face, explode another flashbulb, bully your way into their kid's birthday party because there's a chance that you could get that money shot.  It saddens me that there are so many out there who look at a celebrity and see nothing but dollar signs -- Dirty, dollar signs at the expense of others. Yeah, that's sexy.  
Copyright 2008 KLiedle
Photos by Bob Willoughby "The Graduate" and secretleaves paperworks/flickr

P.S. I still write letters... sometimes in colored pencils, sometimes in marker.  I still draw on boxes and plaster glittery stickers on things.  I like scratch and sniff.  

A kid still exists in all of us...

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