In a Word ... Fame

Pity the high-profile person who may cross that certain threshold of public attention

The 17th century poet John Milton typically described fame as “the spur that the clear spirit doth raise (That last infirmity of noble mind) To scorn delights and live laborious days;...”

The “noble mind” referred to was, of course, his own; prime narcissist that he was and who saw his mission in life as no less than “to justify the ways of God to men”. There was a certain justice then that his greatest imaginative creation was Satan in the mammoth poem Paradise Lost.

Fame, in this era of social media, has to be a lived version of hell. Pity the high-profile person, whether in public life, entertainment or sport, who may cross that certain threshold of public attention. They – where very many people are concerned – lose all right to privacy, to any casual anonymity in a public place and become slaves to every Tom, Dick and Harriet seeking a selfie, an autograph or both.

And the famous cannot refuse, as to do so would damage their reputation which they, naturally, want to hold on to as “nice guy/gal”. So, they are doubly enslaved, by the public and by themselves. No riches can compensate. What they may gain in income, they lose in quality of life. They lose freedom.


It can be worse, of course. If you are a politician some feel they have a right to abuse you publicly – as an expression of their freedom of speech – film this and publish it on social media. And, as we know, this can be extended to the home regardless of the privacy rights of a family whose “crime” is to be associated with a public figure.

It seems inevitable that all this will lead to the avoidance of, and withdrawal of, talented people from our public life. Few would be prepared to endure that?

It was once a source of pride in Ireland that we made a show of not being impressed by the famous, so allowing the well-known a wider berth, whether as illustration of a so-what attitude or a genuine courtesy. It is no longer so. Now, we are so seduced by celebrity we feel we have a right to ride roughshod over the freedoms of anyone in the public eye.

We can be better than this.

Fame, from Roman goddess Fama, personification of rumour in Roman mythology.

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is a contributor to The Irish Times