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Long Weekend, Albert Einstein and the Nature of Fame (oh, and Matt Drudge)

By admin Published: August 27, 2007

I took Friday off to help younger son move into his college room, followed by errands, chores and a little bit of extra sleep on Saturday and Sunday. I did write my weekend HeldenFiles columns, and caught up on some TV viewing, but did not get around to the blog.

Of course, there are always things to blog about. For example, the current reports that Owen Wilson has been hospitalized; CNN isn't giving a reason at the moment, but the National Enquirer is promoting "exclusive" news that it was a suicide attempt. We shall see.

Also, New York magazine has a long profile of Matt Drudge that devotes a fair amount of space to Drudge's current reluctance to be interviewed, given his own pursuit of fame -- and dishing about others. I remember when Drudge was much less shy; in 1998 he attended the TV critics' summer press tour, thanks to his deal with Fox News, and he seemed to relish the fireworks his appearance generated.

The Drudge saga fits in with what I posted earlier: That I have been thinking about the nature of fame, the Britney/Paris/Lindsay/Nicole/Lauren/Heidi/whoever mob -- and Albert Einstein ...

I have been slowly working my way through Walter Isaacson's book "Einstein: His Life and Universe" -- slowly because, even when made readable, the descriptions of Einstein's scientific work takes considerable concentration. Still, in the modern context, it's interesting to read about Einstein's difficult relationship with fame; as Isaacson notes, Einstein for the most part spent his 50th birthday in 1929 in private, in "a refuge from the publicity." But he was a Nobel Prize winner and the world's best-known scientist. A New York Times reporter tracked down Einstein and wrote a story headlined "Einstein Is Found Hiding on His Birthday."

On a trip to America beginning in December 1930, Einstein at first wanted to avoid a press conference in New York, complaining about "facing cameras and having to answer a crossfire of questions."

But even by then, Isaacson wrote, "The world, and especially America, had irrevocably entered the new age of celebrity. Aversion to fame was no longer considered natural. Publicity was still something that many proper people tended to avoid, but its lure had begun to be accepted."

Einstein went ahead with the press conference. Fifty reporters showed up, along with 50 cameramen. "The reporters asked exquisitely inane questions," Einstein wrote, "to which I replied with cheap jokes, which were enthusiastically received."

And what does this have to do with anything? Simply that, however much he may have grumbled, Einstein also felt the need for celebrity and fame. (He did not turn away that New York Times reporter on his birthday, for instance.) Actors, musicians, business tycoons, and the so-called "people famous for being famous" may gripe about some of the attention they receive -- but they want other attention. At least, they want it when it suits them or their needs. They just want to control the process as much as possible. (I've written here before about celeb attempts to dictate what they can be asked, and how their comments can be used.)

Isaacson had previously noted C.P. Snow's comment about Einstein: "There was a streak in him that enjoyed the photographers and the crowds. He had an element of the exhibitionist and the ham. If there had not been that element, there would have been no photographers and no crowds. Nothing is easier to avoid than publicity. If one genuinely doesn't want it, one doesn't get it." (italics mine)

Well, one doesn't get it if one has never asked for it. But once you seek out fame, or pursue a career in which fame is a component, there's no turning back -- until and unless the pursuers of the publicized turn their backs on you.

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