Andrew Ferguson illuminates a few of my pet obsessions at once, in a piece about the “Lady Di level mourning” that accompanied the death of Christopher Hitchens:
Such excess obscures the most obvious conclusion we can draw from Hitchens’s politics, which is that he was a crank.
But surely mere talent and amiability weren’t enough to indemnify him so thoroughly among the journalistic class that memorialized him so excessively. No, that required fame, the ultimate inoculation.
And then I remembered the [Richard] Dreyfuss story. Hitchens might not have been famous back then, but he wanted to be, and he worked hard at it, and in the end, as he knew, he could reap fame’s rewards from a class of people for whom mere fame is the ultimate intoxication—far more impressive than learning or talent or rigorous argument. The scurrilous opinions might bring him fame, but the fame would guarantee that the opinions wouldn’t matter.
One day, I really will write a book called Famous People You’ve Never Heard Of, to try to puzzle out my Grand Unified Fame Theory, specifically how precisely once famous people stop being famous, while lesser beings never seem to go the hell away.
(I’m finally reading The Frenzy of Renown: Fame and Its History btw. It’s a bit like reading The Seven Story Mountain or similarly large, sweeping Important Book: each sentence at first seems fraught with almost more grace and meaning than it, and you, can handle. Then halfway through, you start to wonder: wait, is that really the right word for X? Doesn’t he mean to say Y? Is this book really great or just a lot of very good? A tricky reading experience to explain. Perhaps it comes from doing to “close” a reading?)
And about Hitches:
Always remember that a British accent, like blonde hair, covers a multitude of sins.