Tharp On: Fame


It’s no secret that I have always craved fame. Like Captain Hook, I too have spent much of my life in search of that glittering bauble. I’ve been a desperate, needy, attention whore since the day I graduated from diapers to big boy pants. You could say that this desire is in my makeup—that it exists at the molecular level, planted firmly into the deep recesses of my DNA.

A legendary family story drives this point home: I was five-years-old, visiting Disneyland with my parents and siblings. At one point I got separated from my mother, who quickly went from concerned to all-out panic mode. After all, this was the height of summer and the theme park was packed with throngs of tourists. As she frantically searched the crowd, her eyes were drawn to a stage nearby, on which three unfortunate performers in furry, suffocating costumes (complete with huge plastic heads) danced as the Three Little Pigs. And who was right there next to them, carefree, getting down in front of the whole crowd? You guessed it. It seems that even then, as a toddler, the attention heaped upon me by my doting mother was somehow insufficient; I had an appetite for recognition that only the public spotlight could even begin to satiate.

Why is this? Why do some of us want to be famous? Is it taught to us by society, or does it spring from a deep-seeded feeling of inadequacy? Sure, there are a lot of perks to being famous—you get ushered past velvet ropes straight into VIP sections, you can get out of speeding tickets, companies give you FREE STUFF, and most importantly, you can bang way outside of your looks class—but isn’t fame more than often just a pain in the ass?

Any Westerner who has spent time in Korea knows this for a fact: People wave at you in the street, stare, and loudly say HELLO; total strangers approach you on the subway, grab your arm, and pepper you with all sorts of awkward, personal questions. It’s weird and often annoying, but it is part of the gig. Just be consoled by the fact that you can finally sympathize with Brad and Angelina’s plight.

Sure, not everyone wants to be famous, but even the most jaded among us are not immune to the buzz and pull of a celebrity in the room. I’m the worst offender. Last year, during the opening night party at BIFF, I stood next to Willem Dafoe for thirty minutes. I attempted nonchalance, but not for one second was I unaware of Mr. Movie Star’s presence just feet away. And I was too much of a pants-wetting coward to actually say anything to the man, electing instead to feel famous vicariously. I was a lesser-satellite orbiting his massive fame sun, basking in the ego-arousing radiation of his important-person aura.

One time, while living in LA, I was at a comedy show attended by none other than Monty Python’s Eric Idle (appropriately named, since the Pythons are my idols). I kept tabs on him all night and attempted to ambush him as he exited the men’s room, grasping for a handshake and a bit of face time. But fame is a powerful thing, and when he approached I became completely paralyzed, star struck to the center of my being; he saw me staring and shot me a look that commanded, Stay the hell away from me you pathetic, obsessed fan. I froze, let him pass, and impotently slinked away, stinging with shame.

For a person like myself, shame never serves up the ever-nasty dish of discouragement. Nah. While stars passing through Busan are few and far between between, should my path cross with one’s glitter-filled footsteps, I might just pull out the issue of Haps when I was on the cover –brandishing it like a talisman.

The actual famous person will raise their eyebrows as they take it all in and probably utter something like: Hmmm… It sure doesn’t look like you…  Whatever… your head looks much fatter in real life. Who is on the cover this issue?

I’ll take a permanent marker with me just in case they want me to sign. Who knows? Maybe they will have seen my earlier work with the Three Little Pigs.~

You can get Tharp’s book Dispatches from the Peninsula: Six Years in South Korea on Amazon or

Steve Feldman’s review of the book is here and more of Tharp’s Haps stuff here.

Blog: Homely Planet

Image by Russell McConnell



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