Educated and deeply ashamed tabloid addicts (you know who you are) will appreciate British journalist Tom Payne's debut book, Fame: What the Classics Tell Us About Our Cult of Celebrity. In between journalistic anecdotes that depict our current relationship with celebrity and scholarly vignettes that discuss how fame was handled in Greek mythology, Faust and Chaucer, Payne challenges his readers to examine their own obsession with celebrity culture.
Over the course of twelve essays, Payne poses a number of questions, the most persistent of which asks why, given all the modern and historical pitfalls, do people continue to choose to pursue fame? "If it is true that fame is a cross the famous carry, and yet that it is something so worth having that those sometimes cruel types, the Romans, thought it a punishment to take away, why, why on earth, would anyone want it?" Payne uses the classics to argue that celebrity culture is nothing new and that celebrities have always had a meaningful function within society; he's less concerned with the premium we place on fame than with the ever-increasing number of people interested in attaining that fame themselves, in spite of the obvious sacrifices.
In this moment of turbulence and hyperconnectedness, it is helpful to have a framework as steady as the classics to deliberate in when considering the new developments. Provocative, witty and enlightening, Fame's goal is to elevate the discussion of celebrity culture and lend it some academic legitimacy. Gossip hoarders, allow yourselves a collective sigh of relief.