Two weeks ago, my TiVo did me the favor of recording Mariah Carey hocking her wares on the Home Shopping Network.
TiVo is a marvelous invention, and one of its great attributes is it studies what you watch and records shows for you that it thinks you would like. Sometimes this is flattering, and sometimes it records Mariah Carey selling stuff on HSN. (Please don't ask me to explain what I normally watch that would lead a computer to guess I'd want to see a pop star sell women's jewelry, because I don't know. Swear.)
Clips of Carey selling her stuff have become a minor YouTube hit -- because she acts like a nut while doing it -- but I had the pleasure of watching it via TiVo. And it was glorious.
The question I kept asking myself then -- and one I still have not gotten the answer to -- is, "Why is she doing this?" Carey has sold a kajillion records (check my math) and is married to Nick Cannon, who has somewhere around 27 jobs in show business. Between the two, I'm assuming, they are worth the gross national product of Angola.
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Now, assuming they haven't done something silly -- like waste a billion dollars on potted plants -- I do not think they need the money. They might want the money, which is a different conversation.
In fact, a desire to have more money is the only reason I can come up with why you'd sell your soul on Home Shopping Network, $19.95 at a time.
There was a time when being a pop star was a cool profession. Or, at the very least, it was a profession in which you tried to be cool. Big hair, garish costumes, Las Vegas karate acts, Donald Duck outfits, cross-dressing, lip synching, fireworks and duets with Cher? Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes and yes.
All of those might seem uncool in print, but at the time, they were perfectly acceptable pop star moments. Appearing on a cable network selling jewelry is not on the list. It never will be. Ever.
I saw Fred Thompson -- former senator from Tennessee, former star of "Die Hard 2: Die Harder" and, oh yeah, 2008 presidential candidate -- on a TV commercial selling life insurance! I know he lost the election, but certainly there were more distinguished job opportunities. I don't remember Adlai Stevenson as a shady spokesperson for an insurance company.
I'm also guessing Thompson -- much like Carey -- doesn't need the dough. He's a former senator. All politicians retire with more money in the bank than when they start. And he has "Law & Order" money.
Is it ego? Is it greed? Or is it an unquenching desire to say "yes" to anything that will keep you in the spotlight? I think it is the latter: a desperate attempt at fame, even if the fame you get is way, way lower than what you already had.
You see this all the time, especially with radio stars. Pick your favorite talk radio show host, then go to his or her website. Every popular radio talker (except Howard Stern) has a whole section dedicated to selling you a T-shirt or coffee mug or office chair or welcome mat or bobblehead doll with that talker's name on it.
It's like a disease ... it's a fame disease. It's ego gone wild, and the only cost is a little bit of soul.
At some point, it's not worth it to keep taking from your "fans." Just because you can get money from the weak and the desperate, doesn't mean you should. These people support you by buying your CDs and listening to your radio show and voting for you in primaries -- they don't owe you anything else, even if they are willing to give it to you.
My TiVo, for instance, never asks me for anything. It just gives and is appreciative of the attention I pay it. It would be a great pop star.