Writer, editor, stumbler after Jesus

Obscurity, celebrity, and guilty pleasures

I’m thankful that I cut my professional teeth in obscurity, where last week’s issue of the weekly newspaper quickly disappeared, and there were no fly-on-the-wall cameras to capture my stumbles. Like the time as a teenage reporter with zero understanding of the church world I asked a Roman Catholic priest if he was married.

Or this awkward exchange on the phone, one day:

Me: “Hello Mr. Field, this is Andy Butcher from the Guardian.”

Him: “It’s Stan…”

Me: “Oh, all right then, hello Stan…”

Him: “No, Stanfield.”

Then there was the occasion on which I tried to show what I thought was a little style in a review of a local amateur operatic groupsuch reviews really being about getting in as many names of the cast as possible, so they’d each buy a few copies of the paper to give to friends, rather than showing critical flair.

Anyway, I meant to say that one of the performers clucked or scolded well in their role as a fussy housekeeper, but actually said they cuckoldedwhich must have confused anyone who saw the show and had no memory of adultery being part of the storyline…

Fortunately, I was always more drawn to print journalism than broadcast news. Not just because I had a great face for radio, as they say, but perhaps due to the recognition that any professional missteps on air were going to be played out rather more publicly. Such was the case recently for new television reporter A.J. Clemente, canned after his expletive-laden debut on Dakota NBC affiliate KFYR-TV. According to last reports, he was subsequently tending bar.

While I have some sympathy for media newcomers in the Internet age when “what happens in Vegas stays on Facebook,” it does, at the same time, have a measure of symmetry about it. That’s because not many people seem to be prepared to pay their dues these days. So many want or presume instant acclaima prospect encouraged by all those TV reality shows and competitions.

This overnight sensation expectation somewhat contradicts the Ten Thousand Hour Rule presented by Malcolm Gladwell in his book The Outliers. That’s the amount of practice and perfecting time it takes, he says, for someone to become expert at something—a period which presumably includes a fair number of bloopers. On a forty-hour week that’s going to take five years; rather less than an immediate impact.

Then again, judging by much of what passes for celebrity these days, many people are happy to be famous for something, anything, rather than nothing. That has to explain the success of many of those “fail” YouTube videos.

I confess there’s no tonic for a down-in-the-dumps day quite like watching other people humiliating and hurting themselves. As a guilty pleasure, “fail” compilations prompt two main responses in me: amazement that the human body is so resilient when it meets hard surfaces and pointy things, and gratitude that there were no camera phones around when I was green, rather than grey.

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