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It is hell being a celebrity in Kenya

OPINION
By Cosmas Butunyi | April 28th 2020

Living in the public eye is a lot of work. The cost of being a celebrity is steep, with privacy heavily mortgaged. It is amazing how one could comfortably live, aware of intense, constantly prying eyes.

It is akin to constantly walking on eggshells, taking extra care not to run into trouble. It is always looking over the shoulder all the time, just to be sure who is seeing you. It is second-guessing your choices and decisions, and imaginong what the blogs and trolls of social media could be say ing about you. It is totally losing touch with feelings, because of the stream of hurtful words.

In many days gone by, it took a stroke of luck, smarts or infamy to make it into the hallowed hall of fame. There were few narrow roads to attaining status, of course, besides being born in the right lineage. Just like the greatness Shakespeare famously spoke about, some are born, others achieve it and yet others have it thrust upon them.

Ascending to a position of political leadership was one such avenue, guaranteed to bestow status earning respect and admiration. It helped that in those days, elective positions were few yet not that competitive because even fewer people were interested. Stories are told of how communities sometimes had to send delegations to plead with individuals to represent them. Acceding to these requests made the leaders instant celebrities of sorts.

Also, in those days of old, huge accent was placed on academics. It was everything. The only way to have a ‘good life’ was by acing examinations and landing a great job (read career in law, medicine or engineering). Good grades in national primary and secondary school examinations were not as commonplace. Making it for the few slots in national secondary schools and a few more provincial schools was a huge feat. Securing a place in public university was a big deal and getting accepted into the prestigious courses was exhilarating, similar to breaking an Olympic record, straight ticket to celebrity status.

The other way celebrities were minted in the past was through the bizarre. Remember that man whose claim to fame was a botched attempt at milking an elephant?

Ultimately, becoming a celebrity was, and is, about courting attention. Only that previously, this was a huge task in itself. It took a lot to make it to the news, which was the only way to get the nation talking.

Not anymore. The barriers to entry into celebrity status have been insanely lowered by the proliferation of technology. Becoming a celebrity, like many other things, has been greatly democratized. Indeed, dreams are not just valid, it does not take much to breath life into them. Just a gadget connected to the internet is all it takes to address the world and get it to take notice. It does not matter what moves from the gadget to the wild wide world — some scandalous images and videos or rarely seen talent.

Like everything else, there are those who try too hard to attain fame, but like the puppy that chases its tail, it evades them. For these, desperate attempts at popularity seeking even have them buying social media followers.

Then there are also those who, for whatever reason, find themselves famous overnight, bumping into their photos turned into memes and videos in snack-able GIFs on every WhatsApp group.

In this part of the world, people have been known to metamorphose into celebrities, for all sorts of odd reasons. For instance, being spotted passing time on a voting queue while snacking on a maize and beans mixture. So great sensations do these individuals become that they even make to the list of national honours.

However, when it finally happens and the celebrity status is in the bag, the thing to remember is that it is not an easy road. Some never-do-wells, in their true evil nature, seem to get a kick from making others suffer. Who is easier to target than the celebrity, who seems to be doing better – in reality or thanks to the filters of social media?

Playing to the gallery is the fastest way to burst a hernia. The secret of life is that it is not possible to please everyone all the time; do you. After all, fame is not just for its own sake; properly harnessed, it does pick the tab.

[email protected]| @butunyi

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