Is Fame a Four-Letter Word?

Monday, February 10, 2020

Thanks to the author of The 4-Hour Workweek, we can dip our virtual toes in fame. In "11 Reasons Not to Become Famous," Tim Ferriss writes an eye-opening post on the good, the bad, and the ugly of achieving fame. And don't let the fact that Ferriss isn't an A-list celebrity put you off: Some of his stories will give you pause, and you will be glad of the warning and his advice for how to mitigate some of fame's consequences.

Consider his advice on kidnapping (!), which he illustrates with his own brush with that particular hazard:

Image by Brian Solis, via Wikimedia, license.
If you appear semi-famous online, guess what? Even if you're not rich, it can be assumed that you have enough money to make a nice ransom. There are places where kidnapping is an established industry, and professionals do this on a regular basis. The US is generally safe, but if you're flying overseas, you should be aware of a few things.

For example, if you use a car service, give them a fake name (and nothing cute like "James Bond," which will blow it) that they'll use on the sign or iPad to find you at luggage claim. Here's why: it's common practice for organized crime to have an arrangement to buy flight manifests from airport employees. This means that the potential kidnappers, much like a Michelin three-star restaurant, will Google every name associated with every seat to figure out exactly who is who. If you appear to make an attractive target, they will then go to the airport an hour before you land, find the driver with your name on a sign, and pay or threaten them to leave. They then replace your driver with their own driver, who now holds the sign and waits for you. B'bye! This can take other forms too. Once in Central Asia, I had a driver show up at my hotel to take me to the airport, but ... he used my real name, and I'd given the car service a fake name. To buy time, I asked him to wait while I made a few phone calls. About 10 minutes later, the real driver showed up to take me to the airport, using the designated pseudonym. The first fraudulent driver took off, and to this day, I have no idea how he knew where I was staying or when I was leaving. But it bears repeating: there are professionals who do this, and they will be very good at what they do.
Ferriss is far from making a mountain out of a molehill here: (1) This is just one thing he has had to deal with (and arguably not even the most hair-raising); and (2) He offers the following excellent way to conceptualize why fame presents oportunities and hassles in equal measure:
In that short span of time, my monthly blog audience had exploded from a small group of friends (20 -- 30?) to the current size of Providence, Rhode Island (180, -- 200,000 people). Well, let's dig into that. What do we know of Providence? Here's one snippet from Wikipedia, and bolding is mine:
Compared to the national average, Providence has an average rate of violent crime and a higher rate of property crime per 100,000 inhabitants. In 2010, there were 15 murders, down from 24 in 2009. In 2010, Providence fared better regarding violent crime than most of its peer cities. Springfield, Massachusetts, has approximately 20,000 fewer residents than Providence but reported 15 murders in 2009, the same number of homicides as Providence but a slightly higher rate per capita.
The point is this: you don't need to do anything wrong to get death threats, rape threats, etc. You just need a big enough audience. Think of yourself as the leader of a tribe or the mayor of a city.

The averages will dictate that you get a certain number of crazies, con artists, extortionists, possible (or actual) murderers, and so on. In fairness, we should also include a certain number of geniuses, a certain number of good Samaritans, and so on. Sure, your subject matter and content matters, but it doesn't matter as much as you'd like to think. [bold in original]
Since then, Ferriss has become more famous -- about New York City-sized famous. He takes a similar look at Gotham -- and his collection of stories starts making lots of sense.

A good thing about his post is that it is clear-eyed without being alarmist. Ferriss also has much to say about the good fame has brought him, and he ends with a great quote about fame from another famous person.

-- CAV


2-11-20: Corrected spellings of Ferriss and mitigate. 


Snedcat said...

Yo, Gus, one correction first: The blog post is by Tim Ferriss. Tim Ferris is a science writer associated with Carl Sagan. Ironically (or not) for a post on fame, I also thought at first it was the latter and wondered when he had started writing non-science books.

Second, I never have been attracted to fame. While I like being respected by people I admire, the thought of being noticed by people I don't know holds no attraction, and given how many crazies and criminals there are in the world, the downsides he mentioned seem bleedingly obvious, really. Now, if I could be rich, secretly rich, that's an entirely different kettle of fish (or pot of chowder). Sign me up!

Gus Van Horn said...


Thanks for catching the spelling error.

I'm with you on fame and wealth, and the latter reminds me that I found a similar list about wealth some time back. I'd swear I blogged it, but none of my searches succeeded in finding it.