Feature Presentation

Megan Angelo

People hate lines. Our hearts sink when we see the queue at a restaurant seeping through the doorway to the outside. Vacationers buy books that advise them on how to beat the crowds at various locations; Disney World does their part by offering the Fast Pass system, which allows people to electronically reserve a turn on some rides. We have devoted time and technology to the task of reducing our time spent shuffling, staring, and sighing. It is precisely this aversion to waiting in line that makes the social fascination with the red carpet is so baffling; logic dictates that the only thing that could be more intolerable than waiting in line is looking at people waiting in line.

But that logic is refuted year after year; we can’t get enough of that line. To us, the red carpet is a landing strip for glamour and impossible fame. Its objective content, however, is actually mundane: hundreds of people dressed in formalwear inching along the path to the entrance of an event. Surely, it’s one line in which most of us will never have to wait. And yet we are so intrigued by it that we watch it on TV; E! Entertainment Television and the Style channel begin their coverage of stars arriving at the Academy Awards two hours before the ceremony commences. Plenty of people tune in – enough, at least, to ensure that the red carpet remains a television tradition.

But it’s absurd to think that a single person would tune in to see a collection of plumbers or car salesmen draped in fine couture amble towards the doorway. Undoubtedly, the number of viewers that the red carpet draws every year represents the extremity of our fixation on celebrity. After all, it shows that even though we fall in love with them onscreen or onstage, we’re captivated by their every move – we’ll even watch them walk.

The fixation can be legitimized to a certain point. Stars have the best in designer clothing, so some focus on the fashion of celebrities. They generally have much more money than the average person, and so many follow the expenditures of their favorite celebrities with awe. Stars are also notorious for committing actions that are hard to miss: they throw lavish parties and explosive fits, and the rest of us take notice. But there’s a point, undeniably, when our interest morphs into obsession.

The herald of the coming of this point will, in fact, arrive this Monday. MTV, the network that will truly try anything once, will air the premiere episode of “I Want a Famous Face,” a series that documents the stories of young people who long to be surgically altered to look like celebrities. The show, which signals the decline of both the quality of television and the sound judgment of the human race, follows men and women who aspire to be mistaken for Pamela Anderson, Brad Pitt, and Britney Spears, for example.

Why do these people want this so badly? Vanity is the obvious answer, but not a satisfying one. The desire has deeper implications. The person who is willing – desperate, in fact – to have their bones broken and their skin pulled to look a certain way sincerely believes that this radical makeover will change his or her life for the better.

In fact, the person visualizes exactly what these changes will entail. A commercial for the show depicts a teenage girl staring into the mirror and reflecting absently on her longing for a silhouette like Pamela Anderson’s: “It would be cool to know that every guy is fantasizing about me.”

All of the subjects of the documentary seem to view the drastic procedure as a shortcut to perfection and the only path to real happiness – though none of them are able to adequately verbalize why they are set on this method.

Really, we all know why. Imagining trading places with one of the luminous members of the entertainment elite is literally a universal experience. But most of us recognize that our idols were once just like us, and it may be their upwardly mobile success stories that keep us so enthralled. What the men and women going under the knife don’t know is that they are actually relinquishing something fantastic and wonderful. Never again can they toy with that tiny possibility that all of us secretly dwell on once in a while: I could be famous someday. For the A-list has no use for a legion of copycats. It craves trademarks: Cindy Crawford’s beauty mark, Dustin Hoffman’s nose, and, yes, Jennifer Lopez’s butt. Post-surgery, all of the subjects of the show will have, ironically, lost their chance to capture the spotlight.

It’s true; they probably wouldn’t have been famous anyway, and now they’re beautiful by superstar standards. But those of us who still bear our trademarks (probably the things we loathe most about ourselves) have it better. Strangely enough, it’s a moment from the Academy Awards red-carpet extravaganza that drives this point home most convincingly. One of the biggest winners of the night was Charlize Theron, who took home the Oscar for best actress. During her moment at the podium, Theron displayed envy-inspiring radiance. Her facial attributes are delicate and even, the kind that could be easily constructed by a plastic surgeon. But the sparkle in her eyes and the color in her cheeks were products of the moment in which she realized she had truly achieved her dream. It was also a moment that proved that perfect teeth can be constructed, but a smile cannot be assembled. Skin can be perfected, but a glow cannot be manufactured. Features can be replicated, but a face – and the experiences it denotes – cannot be replicated.