The Concept of Celebrity

Part of the ‘Mike Rowe’ appeal is that you come across as an “Average Joe” yet a “Renaissance Man” – well read, polite, caring about those you work with, self-deprecating, great sense of humor, an appreciation for good music, fine wine & opera yet you are seen sitting around barefoot, drinking beer with a baseball cap on & have an appreciation for the working guy. You are also willing to try things even after stating your reluctance to do so. You are too normal. It makes people think of you as a friend rather than a celebrity – which is unrealistic. How do you stop people from breaking boundaries? – M.H.



Thanks. You’ve said some very nice things about me, and I’m grateful. But I want to go back to the larger concept of celebrity in general. This occurred to me as I read your post.

We desire, before we acquire.

Most everything we own, from material things, (like F150’s) to close friendships, spring from some sort of initial desire. We arrange our lives to make room for the things we want to possess. Usually, that requires us to replace something we no longer desire as much, i.e., a trade-in. We spend our lives rearranging the order of things and making room – out with the old in with the new. It applies to everything – furniture, cars, jewelry, and art, rugs, and yes, people. In all things, we prioritize.

Celebrities know that their appeal is built on desire. People desire to be near them to talk to them, touch them, to form a connection, that connection is made on the big screen, the small screen, the radio, the magazine, and now, here.

The reason I’ve responded to so many questions on this particular topic is because I am still not sold, in a very general sense, that this kind of interaction is a “good” thing. Is it fun? Sure. Interesting? Yeah. But good…?

There’s an interview in Time with the stars of Oceans 13. It’s very insightful, and fun. Clooney makes the point that our concept of celebrity has changed, and proves it by asking “how many kids does Robert Redford have, and what are their names?”

Does he even have kids? Do I even care?

The last generation of celebrities handled themselves differently. Newman and Redford were 50 feet tall, and that’s how we were comfortable connecting with them, in a dark theatre, larger than life. Today, we desire to know more. We desire to know everything. We want access. “Katie’s pregnant? Brittany’s bald? Paris is guilty? Brad? Jennifer? What’s going on?”

This new level of desire, combined with this delivery system and the celebrity’s willingness to feed it, is interesting, because ultimately, it is doomed to failure.

The relationship between a celebrity and a fan is not built on reality. It’s built on perception. The longer that perception is maintained, the longer the relationship will last. That is fact of which I am certain. And yet, there is a collective cry from the masses for more information and more access, and a surprising willingness from our biggest celebrities to provide it.

I’ve come to believe that that dynamic is counter-intuitive, and will destroy the relationship both parties claim to desire. Ironic, no?

Absence makes the heart grow fonder.

Familiarity breeds contempt.

These are time honored truths that have flown out the celebrity window.


16 thoughts on “The Concept of Celebrity

  1. Excellent.

    I wonder how many celebrities have suddenly said “(insert expletive of choice)! I’ve created a monster. I need to quit feeding it and run for my life!”

  2. Dear Mike, I think the reason people are attracted to you is because you never fit into a “celebrity type”, and from the beginning I have always thought of you as an individual. People are not things and cannot be replaced. As for George, Brad and Robert choosing to give back to their communities is their God given right. Those who choose to entertain are also providing a much needed escape for the rest. To try new and intersting ways of communication is never a failure. If the wright brothers had given up we never would have flown. Intuition is inherent in all of us and should always be nurtured. With all of my Love and Respect to you, Shannon Marie Conley.

  3. So then if it is not a good thing…and you know that…why continue to throw yourself into the fire?

    Perhaps it’s for the greater good.

    There are two of you now. And I’m pretty sure you know this.

    Mike Rowe…and’s MIKE ROWE.

    One of them benefits greatly from celebrity. The other, not so much.

    The challenge I think is figuring out how to balance the two for a peaceful and productive co-existence.

    Whether that is “good” or not depends on the day of the week. 🙂

    Best of Luck to Ya Bud!!


  4. Is it possible that fans desire or seek different things from their chosen celebrities? There is the humility of Mother Theresa. Paul McCartney is awesome! A possible Renaissance man?

    I read in M.H.’s question a hope that there can be an admiration of an ideal. Combine a Renaissance man and an Average Joe and get someone worth looking at again and again and again. We do desire the authentic; Captain Phil had that in spades.

    Credibility and complexity are actually important to many despite what The Star says. This complexity isn’t about going bald or adopting babies. That is the stuff of every day life and only proves the celebrity is a normal human, less than we wish.

    Why study the workings of Thomas Jefferson a man of brilliant words and inventions if we only wish to concentrate on Sally Hemings?

    Except in math and science, too much information blurs the image that is being forged.

  5. I think you are a little different than any other celebrity I have ever heard of . I don’t think many let their real self show.

    I think you do. There is something very simple about crawling in mud, poo, and various other smelly things. we all identify with it because we have all done it and it triggers those memories . I don’t expect that’s the real Mike Rowe but it’s one part I identify with.So like it or not you have a lot of online contacts that will go look up past posts of yours just to read what you have to say again.We think you are special and I think you know you are too.

  6. Is it good to desire a celebrity? No, of course not; nor is it even possible. How can you desire someone you don’t know? I think people desire the image and/or the concept of a celebrity. Further, I think most people are able to distinguish between the two, and prefer it that way. After all, why would I desire a relationship with George Clooney the man, vs. George Clooney the celebrity? One uses the bathroom, buys groceries, and pays his taxes *yawn* The other goes to premieres, vacations on yachts and is impeccably well-dressed.

    The concept of celebrity was initially changed for us, not by us. Once upon a time we had to choose between six movies and – if I’m to believe my parents – three channels on TV. Now the influx of choice is such that entertainers must grab our attention by any means possible, if they wish to keep being “The Celebrity.”

    It’s give-and-take. There is no good guy/bad guy here. The celebrity wishes to keep his paycheck and so makes a movie, record, show. We watch, read, listen. In return, the audience wants info.

    And, though I may be grossly incorrect, there is not a celebrity out there who doesn’t want the continued interest; the attention may not always be welcome, but it is part and parcel of the job.

    If that were not the case, then any celebrity wishing anonymity and space, could retire to Middle-of-Nowhere, America and do dinner theater, or teach high school drama.

    That may not be fair, but neither is a twenty million dollar paycheck for three months of work.

  7. I have no doubt, I see no celebrity, here. Absence may make the heart grow fonder while familiarity breeds contempt, true, in some cases. If you truly believe, anything is possible! Love, Shannon. P.S. I’m backin’ it up.

  8. All I know is…if you, Clooney and Pitt were all sitting at a bar together, I’d want to pull up a bar stool next to Mike Rowe and hear some of his fascinating stories. Clooney and Pitt, eh, not so much. 😀

  9. Mr. Mike. That analogy of Newman and Redford…interesting.

    There lies a great pair of bookends. But Mike is the novel in between. Your know that kind of reading described as a page turner? Yeh that would be Rowe.

  10. An interesting answer, by all means. True that familiarity breeds contempt – but only if it is warranted and deserved, like Brangelina or Brittany. Thanks for sharing your thoughts – and stay dirty!

  11. Nice plug for the F-150! Hahah, man, hard at work. Do you find when you’re on your ‘dirty jobs’ people try to coddle you at all because you’re a ‘star’?

  12. It’s interesting how you go from the “we” to the “I” in a group to singular person.

    You generally come across to the public as such a carefree persona, yet this seems to reveal much more insight, no?

    Keep up all the work and thought!


  13. I think you are beyond a celebrity for one simple reason – you choose to work among the ‘common folk’ which makes your status very different from the celebs you mentioned. If you are faking the way you interact with those you are working around, then I think you have all of us fooled, I don’t think you would feel comfortable fooling anyone. I don’t want to sound well mushy but you seem to me to be very down to earth, trust is a very important part of your friendships and family. You have a genuine respect for your family, how many others have their mother’s blog next to their own. No, there is something very different about you that comes out in all that you do, the Dirty Jobs, your commercials and the extra interests you have. I read a lot of what you are doing and can find nothing phoney about any of what you do. On a lighter note, I love the plugs for the jeans with your Mother, they were great. Thank you for giving us all the information you share and for all that you do. Don’t ever stop being you.

  14. I understand your ideals, but the problem with celebrities not being truthful/forthright about themselves and/or their personal lives is the fact that it leaves them wide open to people who want to create their own fantasy worlds around those secretive celebrities. According to at least one person on Facebook, you are secretly married with a daughter. I choose not to believe that you would be so crass as to hide your loved ones like they were some sort of embarrassment to you, yet your reluctance to discuss your personal life leads others to believe.

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