Wick Communications

Alton meets his fans, reluctantly

In journalism on 22 Sep 2011 at 4:06 pm

OK, I admit this is a bit of a stretch, but I’ll bring it around to newspapering in a minute. Do you know that guy in the picture? I used to watch him all the time on the Food Network. I appreciate that he isn’t simply a cook. He teaches you something about the food you eat. His is a different kind of food programming, erudite and learned. He also seems to have a sense of humor on television.

So I was surprised by this. Never seen anything quite like it.

I know where he’s coming from. Those who follow celebrity television can be exhausting, I’m sure. I have no doubt that annoying fans bug him everywhere he goes. I’m sure they interrupt family functions, stop him at inopportune times and just generally pester him all hours of the day. That said, Alton Brown’s “Fanifesto” is perhaps the most self-absorbed, snarky, anti-fan rant I’ve ever read from a celebrity who owes his considerable compensation to the people he finds so annoying.

It is more than 1,200 words, for crying out loud. It includes these gems:

  • If you purposely take a picture of my family I will go freakin’ ballistic. …
  • When I’m on book tour, I try to keep physical contact to a minimum.
  • Concerning photos: I love making memories as much as the next guy but we’re having to put the kibosh on phone pictures because they’re slow, ponderous and most people (not you of course) don’t know how to use them.

OK, so Alton’s kind of an ass. Shocking, right? What does that have to do with us?

You will encounter celebrities from time to time in the course of your work as a journalist. Such encounters can be fun, others a bit intimidating. You may not have met a TV personality with as much juice as Alton Brown, but, as you can tell from his whine-a-festo, you would likely be the fourth or fifth reporter he’s had to deal with that day. Don’t expect the charming chap you see on your Sony Trinitron.

Say you draw the assignment to cover Brown’s book signing. I can tell you precisely how it would go. There will likely be a lot of chairs around a lectern in a bookstore. Things will probably start a little late. He will probably talk to the throng for 30 minutes or so then those who have purchased books will be asked to queue up for the signing.

So what are you going to write?

I bet you one of his desserts that the way he acts toward his fans and their reaction to him is more interesting than anything he says from the lectern, which will vary only slightly from what he said at the last bookstore. Take a cue from Brown’s TV show, and tell readers something interesting, something they didn’t know about the celebrity. And, by the way, don’t you think you would be better equipped to write an interesting story about Alton Brown now that you’ve seen in black and white the way the man himself envisions his fans?

If you draw an assignment like this, do some research first. How did he get his start. Does he have a family? Was he a jock in high school? Did he grow up in a small town? And pay attention to what happens around celebrities. Often that is more telling that what they actually tell.

— Clay

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