Celebrity Lives as Art: Mad, Bad, and Dangerous to Know

What is fame? The advantage of being known by people of whom you yourself know nothing, and for whom you care as little. Lord Byron

I would rather heap scorn on some actor-besotted rag like US Weekly than read it, and am not in the habit of sending fan mail in the hopes that some rock or soap star will come and deflower me. Even Andy Warhol, to my mind, get too much credit for being a star maker just because he churned out some movies in the Factory. If anything, Warhol began the decline of the celebrity, as he heaped attention on people with no talent or accomplishments. Fatuous, small-minded uninteresting little twerps fill the pages of the modern rag and reality TV show.

Perhaps you are wondering you could live up to my high standards of charm, uniqueness, intelligence, attractiveness and expertise. You are? Well then, allow me to present the man who started it all, the first man to have women throwing themselves at him sight unseen, the only to be talked about in London in 1816:

Byron, painted after his death fighting for Greek independence, crowned with laurels.

Lord Byron, famously named by a lover as “mad, bad, and dangerous to know.” His lyric poetry, combined with luscious dark curls, brought him fame at a young age. His sensual appeal appears in his work throughout his life; indeed, it becomes a part of it. Even after becoming too ‘bad’ for the London scene to tolerate, when his divorce from his wife brought up questions of sodomy and incest and his debts from his exorbitant drinking and gambling chased him to the continent.

Difficult in person, but in theory a dream of a man, he kept his readers, especially the female of the species, enthralled with his tales of dark heroes who were all reminiscent of him. In his rollicking epic Don Juan, in which he, as narrator, begins to write events of his own life into the poem, and between the bawdy lies and bawdier truth one is utterly charmed. He and his work are engrossing, whether your taste is for the Gothic, the lyric, or the romance, you’ll find a witty and sexy bad boy reflected within. Take a look at a biography, like the one by Elizabeth Longford that I’m reading now, and you find a string of romances and writings, and a poor biographer struggling to defend Byron from a thousand accusations, even now the individual fighting against the world.

Celebrity culture, created by Byron, who put his life into his writing, was furthered by Oscar Wilde, another British dandy at the opposite end of the 19th century, who declared his life was art. Wilde dressed and acted the part throughout, and slyly led respectable Victorians to the precipice of free-thinking anti-prudery. Outrageous and flamboyant as a drag queen in his velvets and green carnations, Wilde scandalized the public with his unique morality of aesthetics even as they laughed at themselves when he tore high society to shreds in the theatre. Tried ‘for posing as a Sodomite,’ Wilde could no longer not speak ‘the truth that dared not speak its name’ and the media frenzy was bigger than OJ Simpson and Britney Spears combined when he was sentenced to prison.

Depicting Wilde’s reception in America on his book tour. He started a sunflower craze.

Byron and Wilde, the patron saints of this blog, whose contributions to aesthetics are as notable for they way they lived as what they wrote. Interesting and with eventful, active lives, the talented and dangerous duo also happened to be damned good writers who brought glamour to the arts. Blame them for celebrity culture if you will, I just wish that there were more celebrities like them.

One thought on “Celebrity Lives as Art: Mad, Bad, and Dangerous to Know

  1. Interestingly enough, another divinely handsome poet turned out to be John Donne. I guess I should have known that. He didn’t attract all that love that he could then go on to poetize in his own unique way without having something to offer on the surface.

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