One of the more deflating corners of the internet is a website called Cameo, which brokers personalized videos recorded by celebrities. You can, should you wish, commission a birthday wish or greeting for a friend or family member from stars including the comedian Kathy Griffin ($499), the Motley Crue front man Tommy Lee ($250), the former Real Housewife Brandi Glanville ($100), and the actress (and second wife of the current president) Marla Maples ($93). Each video takes an average of 30 seconds to record, Cameo’s website explains, which can mean a lucrative payday for a tiny amount of work.
The site itself isn’t depressing—what could better embody American entrepreneurship than monetizing the desire civilians have to be closer to stars? Rather, it’s the nakedness of the way in which celebrity value is assessed. Terrell Owens: $350. Soulja Boy: $100. Perez Hilton: $25.25. To misquote Mark 8:36, for what shall it profit a celebrity if he should gain a new revenue stream but lose his dignity? Not to mention: Who exactly gets to decide if—and why—a stint on Vanderpump Rules makes someone twice as valuable as a role on Real Housewives of Potomac?
In America, people like to think of fame only as an upward trajectory, not a crest and fall. The dream works that way. The ultimate goal is Making It, and once you Make It, you don’t look back. And yet here’s Cameo.com contradicting the weird paradox of fame: It has its own kind of currency, but it’s usually an intangible sort of net worth, not a practical one. You might be famous enough that people sneak photos of you browsing the magazines at an airport Hudson News, but behind on a mortgage payment or seven. And to admit financial failure is to somehow break a contract with fans by bringing yourself back down to earth, by dulling some of the sheen of stardom.