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Fame Junkies: The Hidden Truths Behind America's Favorite Addiction Hardcover – December 11, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Author and NPR commentator Halpern (Braving Home) takes a critical look at Americans' infatuation with fame and determines that fame is elusive, desirable—and also possibly addictive. Noting his own unglamorous background as a "parka-wearing, non-fiction writing, generally unslick guy from Buffalo," and boyhood fascination with the show Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, Halpern then turns his attention to fans, wannabe celebs and the army of journalists, photographers and promoters sustained by the famous. So begins a journey on which the author crashes a cattle call sponsored by the International Modeling and Talent Association, parties with professional celebrity assistants and befriends Rod Stewart's most passionate follower. What Halpern discovers, aided by media experts and psychologists, not surprisingly addresses issues of technology, social power, self-esteem and prestige. The problem is that Halpern, like many of the experts he relies upon, reasons by analogy and ends mostly with speculation. Still, sobering bits come from reading that in 2004 the three major networks' nightly news shows allotted 26 minutes to the conflict in Darfur yet spent 130 minutes covering Martha Stewart's woes. Halpern concludes this engaging study with the obvious: "our obsession with celebrities isn't about them; it's about us and our needs." (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Warning: if you are a devoted viewer of Access Hollywood, or reader of Us Weekly, this may not be the book for you. Halpern, who reports on Hollywood for National Public Radio's All Things Considered, isn't interested in the -smiley-face, upbeat side of fame and fortune. He wants to tell us about the dark side of fame: the schools that teach you how to be a celebrity, the conniving parents behind the scenes, the greed and desperation and humiliation that go hand in hand with being famous. Beyond the celebrities themselves, he's interested in the fame addictions of regular people--the millions who watch American Idol or who seem to care what happens to Paris Hilton or Pamela Anderson. It's not exactly a pleasant book--most of the people in it are either deluded or just unlikable, although there are some shining lights--but the story is illuminating and, in places, shocking. As a cautionary tale, a warning that fame ain't all it's cracked up to be, it well may be indispensable. David Pitt
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 1 edition (December 11, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618453695
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618453696
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.8 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,779,427 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

When I was twenty years old, I took some time off from college and moved to Prague. It was the sort of inspired, half-baked decision that you can only make when you are twenty and clueless. A few weeks into my stay in Prague, I found an apartment and settled into a routine of doing very little ' wandering around the city, reading, and living off the money I'd saved. Almost immediately I sensed that it was a special time to be living there. This was back in 1995, and the city was teaming with artists, expatriates and lingering tourists, living in two-dollar-a-night hostels. Everyone there was writing a novel, or a play, or at least some essays. The apartment that I took over ' a drafty subterranean vault beneath a neighborhood pub ' had been the home of a long string of expatriated Americans before me, and the closets were filled with an array of dusty, discarded and abandoned manuscripts, most of them uncompleted.

Eventually, I got swept up in the bohemian spirit of it all and set to work on piece of writing of my own, a screenplay to be precise. The screenplay, which was called the Papaya Trap, was about a con artist who falls in love with a beautiful one-armed girl.

The truly transformative event of my time in Prague, however, was my decision to investigate my family's roots in this part of the world. I knew that some of my ancestors had once lived in Prague, and on a whim I telephoned my great-uncle (Joe Garray) in America, and asked him if we had any relatives who were still here. "No they all perished in the holocaust," he said. But I kept pushing him and eventually he told me that the man who saved him from the Germans still lived in a farm house in Slovakia at the edge of the Tatra Mountains. A week later I took a commuter plane to Bratislava and then a train to the small town where this man lived.

I showed up at his door after sundown and he came to the gate cautiously, leaning heavily on a wooden cane, face trembling and bald except for a few long loops of white hairs, his feet engulfed in a swarm of mutts who guarded his every step. After trying to explain who I was for almost five minutes, he led me through the back door and into his kitchen. It was bare room, illuminated in dingy fluorescent light, occupied only by a few stools, a couch covered in dog hairs, and a hissing radiator. Here he told me about hiding my uncle and their numerous close calls with the Slovak Gestapo. When the situation at the farmhouse became too heated, they fled to the mountains in the cold of winter and lived like hermits for six months. More than anything else this story convinced me that I wanted to dedicate my life to becoming a professional storyteller.

After college, I landed an internship at The New Republic. My chief responsibility at the magazine was researching and fact-checking. I spent hours, days, and weeks looking for correct spellings and exact dates. Being a quick fact-checker was always a point of pride among the office grunts like myself, and though it was an obscure and largely useless skill, I found it quite helpful in tracking down information on dangerous and outlandish towns. On my lunch breaks and in between assignments I searched for clues, and gradually I found them ' reports of holdouts living on lava fields, windswept sandbars, and desolate arctic glaciers. I spent Sunday afternoons combing the web with a smattering of search terms like 'squatter,' 'won't leave home,' and 'people call him crazy.' I became friendly with the press office at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and I pumped them for ideas. It turned into something of a hobby.

Eventually, the short magazine pieces that I wrote on people and their homes attracted the interest of a literary agent who convinced me to write a book, which I then did. This book ' Braving Home (Houghton Mifflin, 2003) ' allowed me to quit my job and become a fulltime, self-employed writer.

Customer Reviews

This book is well written and researched.
Karen Franklin
The book is split into three basic "takes" on the culture of fame, each of which is full of enlightening interviews, anecdotes, studies, and commentary.
Phillip H. Steiger
Now I have a book to give to people who are obsessed.
Novel Teen

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By nursebettyknitting on January 10, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This is a terrific ,intelligently written exploration of our fame obsessed culture...Entertaining, engaging book that was simply hard to put down. I am a psychiatric nurse, and I really enjoyed authors' use of newer psychological theories to explain the fenomena of fame obsession.I am passing this book to my friends at work.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By P. Kujawinski on January 8, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I picked this book up after seeing the long ABC 20/20 segment on it and was hooked within minutes. Jake Halpern unveils the strange and wild obsessions people have with fame. I read his previous book, Braving Home, as well, and immensely enjoyed his writing style. Just like Braving Home, Fame Junkies is a rollicking good read, with compelling characters, situations and insights. I couldn't put it down. Highly recommended.
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16 of 21 people found the following review helpful By T. Hyde on January 4, 2007
Format: Hardcover
An outstanding critique of the celebrity-obsessed subculture that has permeated American life, with some sobering thoughts about why so many people, especially teen-aged girls, have lost their focus on what is real, what is important, and what is really important. This book brings to mind the old Roman proverb about the necessity of providing the masses with "bread and circuses".

A must read for every student of modern American culture and sociology. Parents of teenage children should also peruse this book, if for no other reason than to understand why their daughters prefer People magazine to Scientific American, and their sons watch professional wrestling rather than the evening news.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Phillip H. Steiger VINE VOICE on January 27, 2009
Format: Paperback
One of the best compliments I can pay a book is that it sticks with me and comes to mind often as I interact with life. Reading "Fame Junkies" was sometimes disturbing, always revealing, and it has stuck with me. I am not a fan of pop culture to begin with. I have the same problems with it many people do: the rampant consumerism, the inherent shallowness of it all, the oversimplification of necessarily deep concepts, and the outright narcissism. But this book helped me see it all on another level.

The book is split into three basic "takes" on the culture of fame, each of which is full of enlightening interviews, anecdotes, studies, and commentary. It is hard to say I was impressed by one part more than the others, but I continue to think through the act of giving up a "normal" life and career to become an assistant to a star. Halpern does a great job of telling some of those stories and allowing the reader to hear from their own mouths why assistants do what they do.

I have since quit watching any form of celebrity TV. I used to unwind from time to time with a little Leno or Letterman, but now all I see is narcissism. And not just on the part of the "stars" - it is the cash currency of the world of fame. If self-absorption disappeared and humility reigned, well, things would be different for the world of TV, print, and movie media.

In that vein, "Fame Junkies" is a modern tale of the consequences of meaninglessness and vice. The people represented in the book are nice and normal people (for the most part), and they are presented fairly by Halpern, but theirs are cautionary tales. Because their lives seem to lack any over-arching meaning, they seek for it through the fleeting attention paid to them by others. Or in other cases, they live their lives vicariously through the famous.

These are among the morality tales of our culture. Read them and learn.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By GenMe on January 20, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I loved this book and finished it within days ... even though I have a young baby and not much time!

Reading Fame Junkies allows you to be a fly on the wall in all kinds of interesting places, from modeling & talent conventions to the Hollywood apartment complex where hopeful child would-be-stars live with their parents. The book is really a collection of fascinating stories. This is journalism at its best; Halpern gets his subjects to say all kinds of funny and (sometimes unknowingly) insightful things. My favorite: Halpern asks one guy so many questions that he finally snaps, "Where are you from, kid -- Buffalo?" Of course, Halpern *is* from Buffalo.

And the topic could not be more timely: large percentages of young people long for fame, and value being a celebrity over many more worthwhile things like being a leader in their community or being the CEO of a company. After all, we live in a world where kids are constantly told they can "be anything" and are "special." Many of them want to be celebrities, though it's hard to imagine why. So the book is a cautionary tale as well -- we need to think of a way to stop the fame obsession before it gets any worse.
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14 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Mediaman on June 22, 2011
Format: Paperback
This incoherent mess of a book is from a supposedly intellectual guy who came up with what he thought was a clever idea to sell to editors (why we like fame) and then brought together a bunch of unrelated subjects without truly doing serious homework on the subject. He doesn't adequately define what he means by fame, selects random facts and stories that often don't relate to the topic (at one point discussing alcoholism?) and doesn't seem to even understand some of the people he is writing about.

His introduction chapter is a bizarre mish-mash of stream-of-consciousness ramblings about "fame" or "celebrity." Instead of using it to define his topic and explain what the book is about, he concludes (from what I can figure out) that the world has had famous people since the caveman days and that it may all be tied to an addiction trigger in the brain. If that doesn't make sense to you, then it makes even less sense when reading the book.

The author doesn't really address the title topic and picks some odd subjects instead. A small-town talent agent. A Hollywood bus tour. A Pittsburgh woman who wants Rod Stewart to have a star on the Walk of Fame. An actors' retirement home. These are all peripheral to fame and don't explain why we're a society of fame junkies. It's like he focuses on clever sideshows and not the main stage--if he were writing about the popularity of the Ringling Brothers circus, he would do a story on the person selling cotton candy and the guy cleaning the elephant cage instead of telling us what was going on in the three rings or why we like to watch the trapeze act!

In one chapter he tries to bring spirituality into it but falters since he seems to have a drive-by view of Christianity.
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