18 March 2016

Star struck

I've been pondering the mysteries of being a fan this week. I've never really understood the whole celebrity culture. In the main, I'm guessing because we didn't have a TV or a whole lot of choices for movies when I was going through the teenage crush stage. But last Friday night, at nearly 50 years old, I got a taste of what it means to be a teenage-like fan.

Alan Alda, of MASH fame, was in town. He was here for the World Science Festival (#WSFBrisbane), a program to bring science and scientists to the people. A great initiative, and one that he is obviously very passionate about. We attended a play reading that he had written, called 'Dear Albert'. It was a fascinating insight into a scientist I've never paid much attention to. Sure, Einstein's theories have had life-changing impacts, but I don't understand them; I've never needed to understand them; so I've never really taken an interest in Albert, the man—the rather flawed and very human man.

After the play, we were told (Daniel coerced the usher) that we might be able to meet Alan Alda at the stage door. When we got to the stage door foyer, he was sitting with Brian Greene, a scientist. (Prof Greene is another scientist I don't understand. Eleven dimensions! I'm not sure that the fourth isn't just a man-made construct.) I'm sure they were having a quiet chat and enjoying being away from the crowds. There was no-one else there! Thank you, Brisbane, for being too polite to barge in. I know we weren't the only fans in town.

For about five minutes we chatted, he graciously signed our MASH DVD box and one of his autobiographies, and then we left. What did we chat about? I can't tell you.  What I can tell you is that it was probably not articulate or intelligent. It represented neither my abilities nor personality. I remember aiming for 'polite' when I asked for his autograph. I suspect I may have missed the mark and hit sycophantic. He would never have guessed that I spent five years as a professional communicator, that I have a science degree, or that I have a Masters in wordsmithing. So many intelligent things I could have said, but didn't.

I've always held that all people, are not just created equal, but are equal, regardless of their current 'status', simply by virtue of them being people. I have high regard for many individuals, but never felt that anyone warranted special attention based simply on their celebrity status. But meeting Alan Alda was not a literary, but a literal, adrenalin rush—I was shaking when we walked away. Ridiculous! I met a man, I shook his hand, I uttered a few idiotic phrases, and I felt like a giddy teenager.

On a more logical level, I have an even higher regard for the man than I did before the WSF. I listened to his speech to the National Press Club after meeting him. For nearly six years, I tried (often in vain) to teach scientists how to 'write good'; how to communicate scientific principles and findings with integrity, but in a way that Joe Public could understand and relate to what they had to say. It often felt like an uphill battle, and I was just working with a small group of specialists in one company. I am thrilled to know there is a whole university school that teaches them before they hit the real world. This week I have purposefully avoided watching MASH. It feels almost like a betrayal to all that Alan Alda has achieved in the past 30 years to relegate him back to 'merely' being Hawkeye. (I'm sure I'll get over it.)

Logic aside, my brush with fandom has bemused me.  There are no benefits, short-term or long-term, to meeting Alan Alda, but a week later, the memory still brings a smile to my face, and I have an understanding of why we call it 'star struck'.