The other day I was reminded of the classic children’s story, “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” It’s a Hans Christian Andersen tale about two weavers who swindle an emperor with a set of new clothes that are supposed to be completely invisible to anyone who is unfit for their position or stupid. Everyone around the emperor, including he himself, pretends that they can see the invisible garments, for fear of being ‘outed’ as incompetent or dumb. In actuality, though, they have all been taken advantage of because there is no substance to the clothes at all. There is nothing there. In the end, when the emperor goes to display his new “clothes” to a crowd, only a small child is brave enough to speak up and say, “But he isn’t wearing anything at all!”
I was reminded of this classic story when I attended an author reading in Victoria the other night with a famous Canadian author. The presentation was eclectic, strange, weird, and very short. As I sat there amazed that someone this famous could get away with a presentation that was so sub-standard and uninspiring, I also wondered what other people in the room were thinking. Were they amazed and thrilled at this display of quirkiness which left me cold? It got me thinking how often we treat celebrities with too much awe.
Now don’t get me wrong, this writer is good. They do have talent which immediately puts them in a different category than someone who is famous just for being rich or pretty. But in this day and age, shouldn’t we expect a bit more? Someone was paying this person to be there to connect well with an audience of hundreds of people and inspire them to read using the words that they said and the image that they displayed. I think that ‘someone’ was shortchanged. And so were we all.
The truth of the matter is, we do judge a book by its cover. It’s not enough for only the words inside to be a great read. If the cover doesn’t inspire us to crack the book open and discover the beauty inside, we will have lost out on that beauty forever. Shouldn’t celebrities be the same? The other night I was not motivated to read this author’s new book simply because I lost almost all respect for the person themself when I saw them speak in public. I wondered how many other people felt the same, but yet still observed hundreds of people lining up to get the author’s signature at the end of the reading. Clearly, many in the room were more impressed by the scene that had unfolded than I. Or they didn’t care because the person was famous.
Is it too much to ask for the famous to rise to the challenge of their positions? Sure, I realize that they are just people too. But it is sad when you see someone in person that appears to be so revered and the little voice inside you just has the urge to shout: “But you gave us nothing at all!”