A cry from the 'unknown'
PORTLAND, ORE. — For me, one of the most enjoyable aspects of the just-completed campaign season was the number of media critics who finally caught on to the fact that a lot of so-called journalists have a habit of simplifying complicated stories. In an election, you do this by ignoring issues and focusing on the "horse race" angle: who's ahead, where the rest are going.
It's a style that makes almost any topic compelling, and it's easy to change the horse-race theme into good guys vs. bad guys or winners and losers. For sheer amusement, however, the binary approach I find most amusing is when a reporter divides society into two camps: Celebrities and everybody else.
A recent example of this cultural viewpoint hit close to home when I saw a wire-service item about Hollywood personalities such as Jerry Seinfeld and John Lithgow who are, according to the story, "bringing boldface names to a world long dominated by unknowns; the children's book industry...."
Unknowns? Sounds like a shadowy cult, or a tribe of wandering zombies. I happen to be married to a children's book author, and while it's true she has never starred in a major motion picture or been a "Tonight Show" guest, I can say with certainty that her existence is known and appreciated by a significant number of people.
This isn't meant as a slam against movie and TV stars who want to branch out into other fields. Hey, if the producers of "Law & Order" offered me a role as a writer-turned-detective I'd be on the next plane to LA. But I know that will never happen because - for reasons I cannot explain - the forces that create celebrities don't affect me.
I did a book review segment on a local TV station for five years. During that entire period I took my little stipend checks to cash at the bank, and the tellers always asked to see photo ID. When I mentioned this humbling experience to a friend, he said, "It's not that they don't know you. It just means they still don't trust you."
To promote my spouse's book, I took publicity material to nearby elementary schools. The most enthusiastic reaction I got was from one secretary who looked up and exclaimed, "Are you from Roto-Rooter?!" I said no, just an author's husband with handouts for the librarian. It was a letdown, but I know from personal experience that when a school bathroom crisis requires the presence of a plumber, any one else who shows up in the lobby will be a disappointment.
My one close brush with unsolicited adulation came a few years ago in a supermarket when someone grabbed my elbow and I turned around to find an attractive woman staring at me.
"Oh," she said after a pause. "You look just like someone else from the back."
If I ever write my autobiography, that line will be the perfect title.