book reviews

Repost: Justine Bateman’s take on fame… a review of Fame: The Hijacking of Reality

I’m reposting this book review from January 3, 2019 because I recently reposted my “I Was A Teenaged Tina” post about Tina Yothers. Justine Bateman used to work with Tina Yothers, so I figure I should share my review of her book. Enjoy!

A couple of months ago, I was messing around on YouTube and saw a clip featuring actress/author Justine Bateman, talking about her brand new book, Fame: The Hijacking of Reality.  Bateman, who is probably best known for playing Mallory Keaton on the hit 80s sitcom, Family Ties, was once a very hot actress who couldn’t go anywhere without being mobbed by fans and/or the paparazzi.  As the years passed, and Bateman grew older and less prolific, her fame began to dwindle.  She’s now on the other side of having been famous.  Instead of writing a memoir, a genre which Bateman claims to disdain, she decided to write a book about her experiences with having and losing fame.

Justine Bateman talks to Megyn Kelly about fame…  this is the clip I watched before I downloaded her book, which was released in October of 2018.

In 1982, when 16 year old Justine Bateman first started playing Mallory, there were three big networks.  There was no Internet, so people tended to watch a lot more TV.  What they watched was mostly confined to what was on the big three network channels or on cable, which not everyone had in those days.  In the 80s, successful TV shows were not competing with nearly as many shows as they do now.  Consequently, a hit TV show would command millions more viewers than they do today.  

Bateman explains how huge Family Ties was… and as a relic of the 80s myself, I can attest to her account.  Everyone I knew watched the show.  Although there are some hit programs today, they compete with a lot of other choices.  There are now many more channels a person can watch and we also have the Internet.  I used to love TV and could name a lot of the people who were on the shows back in the day.  In 2019, I can no longer name very many TV actors and I don’t watch nearly as many popular programs as I once did.  In fact, I often get into shows after they’ve been on for years already.

Bateman and her brother, Jason, came to California from Rye, New York.  Both found success in television at around the same time.  Jason was on commercials and Little House on the Prairie, which was also a very successful show in those days.  He was also on Silver Spoons and had his own sitcom, It’s Your Move.  He still acts, while Justine is not as visible as she once was.

Imagine what it must have been like for Justine Bateman, who was on an extremely popular show that everyone watched and loved.  She was just a teenager, but she was enormously famous at a time in her life when her psyche would have probably been more affected than it otherwise might have been.  It’s one thing to become famous when you’re an adult and your brain is fully developed.  It’s another to become successful beyond your wildest dreams as a child or an adult.

I grew up in the 1980s and I always loved watching Family Ties.  I was about the same age as Tina Yothers, who played youngest daughter Jennifer Keaton.  I also kind of resembled Tina Yothers at that age.  We both had straight blonde hair and blue eyes and we shared a certain sardonic wit.  Justine Bateman’s character, Mallory, was depicted as kind of dumb, fashion obsessed, and boy crazy.  Bateman was convincing as Mallory, but now that I’ve read her book, I’m reminded that good actors are not necessarily like the characters they play.  

Justine Bateman is definitely not Mallory Keaton, which is evidenced in the somewhat bitter tone of her book and the many swear words within it.  Like me, Justine is a fan of the f-word, and she sprinkles it liberally within her book on fame.  To be honest, I found the constant use of the word “fuck” a little off putting.  I’m not offended by that word at all, but I do find it tiresome when it’s overused, even though “fuck” is a fairly versatile word.  I think Bateman’s book would have been better with another round with an editor, to both jazz up, and clean up, the language a bit, and make Bateman’s points more linear.  She has a tendency to get a bit repetitive with her points and, despite her claim that she interviewed other famous people for this book, it really seems to be more about her experiences than other people’s experiences.

On the other hand, I appreciated Bateman’s frank tone.  I got the sense she was talking to her readers, and she was surprisingly relatable.  Some readers may find Bateman’s problems a little “first world”, but I had empathy for her situation.  The one thing I really got from her book is that fame can be a major mind fuck.  I started to realize how fleeting and shallow it really is, even though many people envy the famous and want to emulate them.  

When you were once famous and couldn’t go shopping or have dinner without being bothered by fans, it can be kind of surreal to not have that recognition anymore.  Bateman writes that she might go to a party and see someone with whom she once shared the “fame predicament”.  At one time, that person might have nodded in recognition when he or she saw her at the party.  Now, the person acts like she’s a distant relative from Ohio.  The once friendly recognition has turned into stifled politeness, with the more “famous” person acting like he or she doesn’t want to catch Bateman’s condition of being less popular than she once was.  Again, while it’s not exactly an earth shattering problem to have and not something regular people can really identify with personally, I can understand on a basic level how that experience might mess with a person’s self-esteem and self-image.

Anyway, I think Justine Bateman’s take on her experiences with fame are interesting, although I do think the book could have been better.  I got a kick out of the photos in the back of the book, though.  They took me back to a simpler time in my life, that really doesn’t seem like it was as long ago as it was.  I think it’s important that readers realize that they won’t really be getting a memoir or a tell all.  This is really kind of a pseudo academic look at fame as Bateman sees it.  If you can live with that, I’d recommend reading her book.  I give it 3.5 stars out of five.

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