A cousin of mine played the young  Woody Allen in the movie Annie Hall.  My son-in-law recently encountered Kanye West in a men’s clothing store.  My son ran into Shaquille O’Neal in a Los Angeles restaurant.  Sometime prior to that he had watched Harrison Ford exercise in a gym located right  outside his office window.  One of my daughters rode up an elevator alone with Richard Gere.  Carolyn McCarthy began her first run for Congress with a gathering in our home.  Another daughter, a party planner, attended to Oprah Winfrey and Mitt Romney when they arrived at the hotel where she works.  My wife has met and taken pictures with Hillary Clinton, Daryl Strawberry and the late Tony Curtis.

You get the idea.  It’s all about “star power”, meeting “famous” people and the singular sensation we experience at such moments.  Why?  Because we are, often despite ourselves, celebrity hounds who are thrilled when we spot or, better yet, encounter one of these uncommon folk.  That we in America lavish so much attention on them, pay homage at every turn, is beyond dispute.  They exist for us to consume.  Indeed, creating celebrities is itself a substantial industry here, supported by newspapers, fan magazines, television, movies and elaborate public relations operations..  And by a public that accepts the notion that a favored few, often the objects of our hopes and fantasies are entitled to almost unlimited attention and endless celebration.

That explains why people relish celebrity sightings and are most eager to share their good fortune with others, who eagerly insist upon details.  What’s this excitement all about?

To be in close proximity to someone so familiar and famous represents a rare and unique moment, a serendipitous opportunity.  It allows individuals to view themselves for the moment as less ordinary, as if some of the glamour and unquestioned “star” luster had rubbed off on them.  Call it “gilt by association”.  On the other hand, a leveling phenomenon may also be in play.  To be in such close proximity creates the illusion that you’re both on an equal footing, quite distinct from the usual relationship in which celebrities occupy commanding positions in elaborately orchestrated settings.  This is reinforced when celebrities are sighted in normal surroundings, or dressed plainly and are engaged in commonplace activities – shopping, eating, hailing a taxi.  This all contributes to a sense of authenticity.  These folks, at that moment, appear down to earth; they’re not  posing or playing to the crowd – they seem real.

Having had such encounters puts us at an advantage, obligates us to tell others what we’ve witnessed.  Will they be interested?   You betcha.

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