I was toiling in line when I had my epiphany. WWE wrestler Batista was signing autographs at a massive car show, and by signing autographs, I mean doing everything he could not to sign autographs. He showed up about an hour late, as the line snaked around a massive hangar. It would take forever to make it to the front. He uncomfortably grasped hands and spewed platitudes, before doing that thing so synonymous with fame and fandom: putting pen to paper (or shirt or action figure or breast). He was miserable, and, from a range that would take binoculars to see him up close, so was I.
Why did I want this lumbering oaf to sign something for me? Did I need a talisman, proof that I met somebody famous in an inauthentic and controlled environment? I decided then that autographs were just about the worst way to commemorate meeting a celebrity, awkward and trite for both us and them. There are a number of reasons why valuing stunted sloppy penmanship as a grail is silly:
You’re essentially asking for a receipt.
If you’re so untrustworthy that your friends and family doubt you when you say you brushed paths with success, there’s character issues deeper than a squiggly-lined marker. And showing people your autograph is only slightly more interesting than baby pictures and Instagrammed desserts.
Stars don’t care about you.
At a staged autograph signing, celebrities are endorsing a product or company, or promoting themselves as a brand. Those who flock to lines are herded sheep, corporate targets for brand extension. If they seem affable or in any way grateful to write their name for you, it’s a charade. They’re actors, acting interested (though not surprisingly, Batista couldn’t act enthused, he can’t act at all http://youtu.be/yw6REYlvQx0).
Autographs are easily forgable.
You can buy pretty good looking fake autographs online, that are only discernible from the real versions by collectors. When you show your cousin Devon, chances are he can’t call you out on your fake Tom Hanks playbill from memory. If the line between forgery and authentic is so slim, it renders a true autograph pretty much meaningless.
There’s little to no resale value.
In my wrestling phase, I bought a signed 8×10 of WWE superstar Christian, certified authentic, for eight bucks. Look on eBay; unless it’s a megastar or some kind of weird card misprint, most autographs sell for dirt cheap. One of my favorite time-wasters is to go into the autographs section and search for the lowest-priced ones, where I see forgotten athletes and entertainers be assigned a value for their name. Sorry, former MLBer Marty Cordoba, your signature is worth $1.51. Shipped.
It devalues the personal experience.
Why would we want to make meeting someone famous transactional? That’s what it is; you say your stupid sentence that’s been brewing in your mind for hours, famous person gives a courteous but unconvincing chuckle or parse-lipped smile, you hand him your thing, he drools Sharpie on to the surface, then it gets buried in your closet or at the bottom of the shelf. It would be so much better if you came out of it with a picture or a memorable story. If you run into Gerard Butler on the subway, tell him about that time you watched “300″ and then questioned your heterosexuality. Ruin Mariah Carey’s breakfast by reminding her she’s going home to Nick Cannon. That’s a much better story to tell people than saying some jock wrote a word for me. Yeah, a whole one, spelled his name right and everything.
Autographs are selfish.
Selfishness is looking out for self-interest at the expense of others. We’ve all seen the autograph hounds, greasy adults who outmuscle kids to get to the hot rookie at training camp, who make sure the signature isn’t made out to anyone specific. It’s detestable and petty; kids who have an inherent star-struck glee getting dejected over missing out on a grail because some guy in a 3XL jersey stepped in front of little Jimmy to make chump change. Additionally, you’re leeching the livelihood out of celebrities, one interrupted dinner at a time. There’s no symbiosis to attracting an aggressive horde everywhere you go, especially when it isn’t true fans but slimy dirtballs.
With hours to go, in the midst of a revelation that would change my fandom forever, I decided to do it. I ducked out of line, walked out of the hangar and into the sunshine, a transcendent moment, bathing in the warmth of incandescent rays. I was finally free. Batista left right after I did; his “hand was sore,” said the promoter. I never would have made it to the front. Thousands left unhappy; I wasn’t one of them. Autographs suck.