Culture: Why it's good to be fame-hungry

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The Independent Online

What's wrong with wanting to be famous? That's the subject I'll be discussing with various critics of our celebrity-obsessed culture – Cosmo Landesman, Lynn Barber, Peter Whittle and Camilla Wright – on 29 September at the Institute of Contemporary Arts. As far as I'm aware, I'll be the only panel member actually defending the desire for fame.

I am often struck by how hypocritical people's attitude to this subject is. For instance, at the GQ Men of the Year Awards a couple of weeks ago, the loudest cheer of the night was reserved for Led Zeppelin (pictured), who mounted the stage to pick up a gong for "Outstanding achievement", with other, lesser award-winners being dismissed for just "wanting to be famous". Admittedly, the three surviving members of Led Zeppelin are outstanding musicians, but didn't they, too, want to be celebrities at some point in their careers? Or is their worldwide fame just a convenient by-product of their talent?

Some people will point out that those who desire fame and fame alone are unlikely to achieve it – with the possible exception of Tara Palmer-Tomkinson – but that isn't a criticism of the goal in question, merely a helpful bit of advice about how best to achieve it.

According to Freud, all artists are motivated by the desire for three things: fame, money and beautiful lovers. Given the obvious truth of this observation, why is it still taboo for any artist to admit to this array of motives, particularly the first? Take Martin Amis. He has always subscribed to Arthur Koestler's dictum that a writer's ambition should be to trade 100 contemporary readers for 10 readers in 10 years' time and for one in 100.

On the face of it, this sounds like a worthy condemnation of those authors who aim for a place on the bestseller list rather than lasting glory, but why is fame in the present so much more contemptible than enduring fame over time? Surely the latter is just more of the same. Of course, the work itself will have to be of a much higher quality to secure the ultimate prize, but I can't see why the desire for everlasting fame is so much more respectable than the desire for 15 minutes of it. Indeed, since Martin Amis ultimately wants to be more widely known than Jeffrey Archer, isn't he the more shallow of the two?

For more information on the debate at the ICA, visit www.ica.org.uk

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