There was a survey a while back that showed that a quarter of the American population believe that the sun revolves around the Earth, and not the other way round. This was of course the mainstream view until our old chum Nicky Copernicus upset the apple-cart with his heliocentric model, published in the 16th century. At last the Earth was put in its rightful place, although not everyone was thrilled with this particular advance in human knowledge. There were certainly some major grumblings from the Catholic church. Still, at least Mr C managed to avoid the fate of his defender and fellow astronomy clever-clogs, friar Giordano Bruno, who apparently was just too much of a rebel for the church and had his chestnuts roasted on an open fire, along with the rest of him.
The phrase ‘the world doesn’t revolve around you’ may have been heard to escape the lips of many a parent over the years, as they struggle to find reasons to not strangle the egocentric little monsters they have brought forth. To the child’s mind this is clearly nonsense, as they strive to demonstrate with outrageous demands, tantrums, protests and sulks.
My own discovery of the flaws in a Jason-centric-universe model came when my Mother brought home a small, noisy and repugnant creature from the hospital. Yes indeed, I now had a brother and competition for my parents’ attention. My world fell apart and it seems I took the news rather badly, with some almost Olympic-level sulking (that is an event, right?).
At some point I must have learned to tolerate the usurper, and stopped plotting to have him eaten by a pack of highly-trained ravenous hamsters that I’d secreted in the attic. Either that, or they all escaped. I did hear rumours of one or two local youngsters being savaged by some small furry beasts in the night, but I don’t know if it was pure gossip or over-active imaginations. Later a second brother appeared and I realised I would just have to stop sulking, accept defeat and make do with the titles of favoured first-born, number one son and heir to the Lennick empire and fortune, such as it was (at that time a greengrocers shop and an old biscuit tin containing twelve pounds, two shillings and thruppence).
It seems for many, the desire to be the centre of attention never really fades, and in some cases, people manage to make a decent living out of it. One can imagine our ancient ancestors sat around a campfire, laughing riotously at Ogg‘s ability to mimic the woolly mammoth’s mating call, or do impressions of a drunk gibbon passing out.
Move forward a few thousand years and we still have attention-grabbers making us howl, in some cases with material that is almost as old. Of course it’s unlikely that old Ogg ever experienced the type of fame and adulation that is heaped upon modern stars of stage and screen. He may have been a rock star, in his own fashion, but no modern rock star would be caught dead sitting around half-naked in a ragged animal skin, and living in a cave. Well maybe Lady Gaga, but she’d do it just to be contrary and only for a fortnight, tops, capturing every moment on her Instagram.
If you can turn those egocentric urges into something constructive and entertaining, society will not only tolerate your egocentricity, it might reward you for it most handsomely. But for the rest of us, being self-centred and egotistic is an evil, not something to celebrate. “Don’t blow your own trumpet!” we are told. Unless of course you are a trumpet player, where it would make little sense to blow someone else’s trumpet.
Of course the Internet has been a game-changer, and now it’s considered okay to post video clips or photos of yourself, as long at it’s you falling on your face, dancing like a drunken gibbon, or punching a scary clown. Endless selfies in the mirror runs the risk of serious mockery, which itself has become something of an art form.
I suppose every one of us secretly (or not so secretly) has at some point envied the folks that hog all the limelight, whether at the Oscars, the MTV awards, or on a late-night roundup of the year’s best video clips. We might covet their fame, their money, or the sheer good fortune of being paid truck-loads of cash to play-act, crack jokes or warble in tune a bit while strumming a guitar.
Naturally there’s a downside – with great fame comes great irresponsibility. The famous are flawed, just like the rest of us, but they find every faux pas, screw up or personal catastrophe all over the news, in lurid detail. The pressures of a life in the public eye bring the temptations to ease one’s anxieties with booze, potions and pills, an excess of which have robbed us of so many great talents over the years, although sadly not of Justin Bieber.
Fortunately fame has not, thus far, been any threat to my privacy, and my own skeletons remain firmly locked away in the closet, along with the gimp mask and the inflatable woolly mammoth. Should it ever come a-knocking, I will endeavour to keep my feet on the ground, remember my roots and keep in mind the words of the great Muhammad Ali:
It’s hard to be humble, when you’re as great as I am.”
Are you a giver or a taker? What’s the most selfish / unselfish thing you have ever done?
©Text copyright Jason Lennick 2016. All rights reserved.
Picture: Metamorphosis of Narcissus (1937) – Salvador Dali. Tate Modern Gallery, London.