Tales From the Bottom of the Film Business

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Google Groupies

I was at a holiday party of entertainment professionals the other night when a friend of a friend who I don't know much about (hey, it was a party) told me a story about a friend of hers who had dated one of the founders of Google. I don't remember which one, the details she provided were that he was rich (duh) and not super attractive, while the woman friend was a very pretty, sexy, go-getter – the type who usually gets her man. Nevertheless, after three dates, he stopped calling. Then this woman developed sort of an obsession with the guy. She lives in the Bay Area, so she'd always be looking for him in crowds. Whenever, in conversation, someone mentioned Google, she'd say, "Isn't that such a coincidence? Almost like fate?" To which, of course, her friends would reply that, well, everyone was talking about Google, especially since the company was going public at the time. She even drunk e-mailed him once when she happened to be in Miami, saying, "I'm here in Miami and heard you were here." The truth was, she hadn't heard anything, she was just drunk.

Finally, she hit the jackpot: she got invited by some geeky tech guy to the Google holiday party – and not just the regular holiday party, the VIP party. This, she thought, was her moment. When she arrived at the party she spotted him immediately – with a ridiculously gorgeous model on his arm. She realized that she had no chance. And so she left the party defeated, finally realizing that she'd never have this guy who had somehow – perhaps by virtue of his billions of dollars in net worth – become the man of her dreams.

What I found interesting about this story was not so much what it was, but what it wasn't. Instead of this chick being obsessed with a handsome actor or hot rock star, she was fantasizing about some shlubby guy who'd recently had an IPO. Call it the Paris Hilton phenomenon without the pornography: at last, not only can being famous make you rich, but being rich can make you famous, even if money's really all you've got going for you (although this guy probably also has brains, but those will only get you fame when they're accompanied by a Nobel Prize). Sure, if you're strategic about it, you can use your money to buy the personal trainer, plastic surgery, wardrobe stylists and hair and make-up people to make you beautiful. You can even buy voice, acting and public speaking coaches, dance teachers and choreographers, ghost writers, agents and publicists, and whatever else it might take to give yourself the appearance of having talent. And the "beauty" and "talent" you create for yourself might help you extend your 15 minutes to…well…how long has Nicole Richie been famous? But you no longer need to have these things up front. Extreme wealth has taken on such a value in our culture above and beyond what the money, itself, can buy, that we seem infatuated by the rich in an unprecedented way. A way that makes us want to watch their lives on television, buy knock-offs of the things they have and give them tax cuts they don't need. Maybe we think we are that much closer to being them now that we've realized they're just folks who were lucky enough to be born into the right families without any particular skills or genius.

In a story that I think is somehow a corollary to this, when I was working in the financial management office where I filed during film school, I had a friend there who happened to be rich. I don't know quite how rich, but her father had made enough of a fortune in business that she didn't really need to be working. Still, he wanted her to hold a job - which meant that she already had better values than a good portion of the rich people out there. Anyway, one night she went out clubbing in a short, tight dress and a guy came up and started dancing with her. Not just any guy, it turns out, but Marky Mark – back when he was still Marky Mark, former member of The Funky Bunch, and not yet Mark Wahlberg, serious actor. Well, he took a shine to her, they exchanged numbers, and they actually went out on a few dates. Pretty soon, however, she found herself losing interest.

"Yeah, he's hot," she said, "but we don't have much to talk about. He's just kind of a dorky guy who likes to hang out with his friends."

It wasn't as easy as that, however, to get the guy out of her life. Why? Because at the time, he was modeling for Calvin Klein, and he was everywhere. He was in magazines, he was on billboards. At Macy's, she heard a familiar voice talking to her on the men's floor and she suddenly realized they had a recording of him trying to talk customers into buying tightey whiteys. Let's face it, it's kind of hard to get a guy, even a guy you want to dump, off the brain when he's displaying a six-pack five stories high in the middle of Times Square. Nevertheless, she kept saying "no," and he finally got the message, and that was that.

I guess the point of all this is that there are people who will always be fascinated by fame, no matter where that fame comes from (let us not forget Joey Buttafuoco or Tonya Harding). And there are people who will just not give a damn, no matter what billboard-worthy person they meet. And where fame and money intersect I guess will continue to change depending on what's going on in our culture. But I don't think that the degree and type of celebrity obsession we have now speaks well of us. If you can tell a society by it's groupies, then ours is in trouble.


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