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Is fame worth it?

Last night the news showed paparazzi literally crawling all over Britney Spears' automobile on a public street. The car appeared to be stopped at an intersection and was encircled by the horde, all of them snapping pictures and impeding traffic. It looked as though one or two even crawled onto the hood of the car to get a shot of her through the windshield. They were all after that one, unique shot that would make them a lot of money.

The scene resembled a colony of ants at a picnic, swarming over some tidbit, all trying to claim as much for themselves as possible. I can only imagine what it must feel like, to be in a car, or wherever, and be trapped by an army of disorderly strangers, each clamoring for a photo and not giving an inch of the personal space that isn't theirs.

I wonder how those roving photographers feel about what they are doing, and how they justify some of their aggressive behavior. I think I know what they would say, if asked. They would no doubt maintain they are only doing what people pay for, and that's certainly true. In fact, if we want to make an assumption, the same people who clamor for all those tabloid photographs are the same ones who support "stardom." They love to watch, read and talk about celebrities, and that's the crowd that makes it worthwhile to be a star. I never thought about it before, in quite that way, but I assume the fans who make "stardom" possible are the very people who make it difficult to be one.

If that's what fame is about, why would anyone want to be famous? OK, not everyone does, certainly not the folks who take a good look at how the famous have to live. Being rich without being famous is probably a little different, because you can spend your money in public, just like everyone else.

Achieving extreme fame, on the other hand, must be like putting yourself on the stock exchange, where everyone in the public who has an interest thinks he or she has bought some shares. Fame is isolation. If it brings riches with it, you can at least live in pretty comfortable isolation, but you still can't wander into Starbucks or the drug store without causing a sensation.

I don't think being followed by the paparazzi would be much fun. I know for sure that I wouldn't want them crawling all over my car, or crowding my doorstep morning, noon and night. It makes me recall poor Diana, Princess of Wales. She was dogged by this sort of thing relentlessly, then died in a frenzy of persistent photo seekers. I really thought something might be done about so much mobbing, chasing and harassing after that debacle, but what can you really do?

It's too bad Britney and other big stars can't just stop in the middle of the road, like Forrest Gump after he's run back and forth across the country, and say, "I'm pretty tired. ... I think I'll go home now," or, "I don't think I want to be famous anymore." It wouldn't work, of course, because that alone would be reason for the paparazzi to want more pictures, and to do that much more pestering. There would be too many people who wanted to know where they went, with whom, and what they were doing.

The more I think about it, the more I believe fame is a lonely one-way street. For many it's a duck-and-hide game until they are finally out of the limelight due to age and a lack of suitable roles, and are no longer blips on the screen. Then, when his or her death is announced, there's always someone who remarks, "You're kidding. I thought he/she died a long time ago!"

What a life.

Judy La Salle's e-mail address is