What price will you pay for your heart’s desire?
Would you walk a mile in my shoes?
We all draw different hands in life. It’s easy to envy some people, and feel superior to others, based on your level of opportunity and perceived status. More of that depends on mere chance than we’d like to believe.
We want to believe that we’d do the right thing, cope with that challenge, rise up against that evil tyrant. That’s why we devour movies in which characters challenge oppression, follow their principles and stand shoulder to shoulder with their fellows. Sure, other people lack moral backbone. But I’d give the last seat in the lifeboat to the pregnant woman, the last crust of bread to the starving child. Wouldn’t you?
Well, it depends. And that doesn’t make for thrilling viewing.
Remember Hans Christian Andersen’s original story of the red shoes? The little girl put on the pretty red shoes and forgot her duty to the church and her adoptive mother. She was cursed to dance without end, and eventually asked the executioner to chop off her feet. The shoes danced away on their own. (Original fairy tales are often rather gory.)
Kate Bush sings a softer version, in which she envies a dancer her prowess. The dancer tells her to remove them, and she too could dance like a princess.
“But the moment I put them on, I knew I had done something wrong”
She realises, too late, that she has taken on the dancer’s curse. Now it is her turn to dance away, envied and admired by all, but unable to escape. She is trapped by her own desire and actions, and the only way out is to condemn someone else.
Perhaps to begin with, she swears she would not let another person suffer as she does. But eventually, weary and ground down, she would dream of nothing else.
Would any of us do differently?
The price of fame
As writers, artists, creators, we toil away and dream of success. We look at the shining stars, the Rowlings and Gaimans, the Downey Jrs and Lawrences, the Beyoncés and Biebers. We want a taste of limousines and red carpets, money, fame, privilege. It sounds great, from the viewpoint of impoverished obscurity.
If the mask slips, and a star is revealed as a struggling human resorting to drugs or alcohol, who cannot smile and twirl on command, we tut. Fancy that, forgetting the fans and failing to do their job. How hard can it be? I’d never behave like that.
This is the age of celebrity as never before. Ordinary mortals are thrust into positions of extraordinary scrutiny and rewarded beyond their wildest dreams. The only catch is, they must continue the dance, no matter what. Even at the cost of the very artist that gave them life, the shoes dance on.
Put on your red shoes and dance the blues
Michael Jackson’s last tour would have netted millions. But it is a drop in the ocean compared to his after death earnings. According to Forbes’ list of the top earning dead celebrities in 2016, MJ earned $825m, the largest total of anyone dead or alive. Even Elvis earned $27m and sold over one million (mainly physical) albums. That is some feat, 40 years after his death. There are some very happy lawyers and managers out there.
The art becomes a machine, and the entire entourage is focussed on their own agenda. Keep the gravy train rolling. To achieve it, the machine must keep churning out product. Something new, but also something the same. This is no place for brave creative experiments. A few turn their back and walk away, like Sade or Rick Astley. Others live and die in their silk-lined prisons.
Do you still want it? Public battles with demons both internal and external is standard tabloid fodder. Do you still want it? The isolation from reality and broken relationships replaced with fawning employees are well documented.
Do you still want it? The obsession with physical appearance, every pound and line and grey hair displayed to the world’s media, reduces humans to meat for consumption. Do you still want it? We imagine fame buys freedom, but actually it gilds the cage and puts diamonds on the handcuffs.
The red shoes are a trap
These shoes of fame are lined with cruel blades that ravage your flesh every waking moment, but especially when you dance for the audience. You look good and it’s killing you. That gorgeous red is your own blood, trailing behind you with each exquisite, exhausted pirouette. That smile is a grimace of fear and pain without end. Even death is no escape.