Study (Mine) Reveals Key to Celebrity: Icy Unavailability

catherine deneuve getty Study (Mine) Reveals Key to Celebrity: Icy UnavailabilityI finally figured out what my problem is. After all these years, I now see what I have been doing wrong. Caution: It’s pretty tragic. Simply put, I am just too folksy and available. Yes: folksy and available!

My epiphany came last week while reading A Time to Be Born, the late Dawn Powell’s searing satire about two gals clawing their way to the top in prewar N.Y.C. Halfway through the book, one of the characters realizes that the key to social success is a certain remoteness, and that “the public does not like its idols to be folksy.” Darn! No wonder I’m not being idolized.

Take last week, for instance: On the night of Monday, April 19, I skipped off to the SCAD (Savannah College Of Art and Design) Etoile awards, where my Jonny was performing the role of emcee. Movie star Michael Douglas was sitting directly behind me, looking composed but sad, as you might when you know that one of your kids is about to become extraordinarily unavailable, courtesy of the prison system. (His troubled lad Cameron got a five-year-plus-parole sentence for drug-dealing the following day.)

Delighted though I was to be in such close proximity to Kirk’s talented and still-good-looking son, I was scanning the horizon for another celeb, Etoile honoree du soir, Catherine Deneuve. My newfound realizations about the perils of folksy availability have only fueled my interest in meeting the fabulously blank cinematic icon. I am happy to report that she exceeded my expectations by being even more glacial and remote than usual. In fact, she never showed up at all. She was stuck in Paris, wreathed in Icelandic ash and Gitanes smoke.

Instead, we had Fergie, the only person on earth other than Richard Simmons who is actually more folksy and available than myself. The likable Duchess of York bopped onto the stage to receive an award for ash-bound David “Shanghai” Tang. Memo to me: Filling in to pick up other people’s awards for them is the ne plus ultra of folksy availability.

Tuesday night found me surrounded by iconic foodies—Batali, Lagasse, Colicchio—at the Foodbank fund-raiser at Chelsea Piers. Nothing says “folksy availability” quite like an iconic chef. Here is a milieu where down-to-earth affability is not just acceptable, it is positively de rigueur.

In this sea of gourmandizing jollity, the less-folksy non-foodie celebs stood out like sore thumbs: Salman Rushdie, U2’s the Edge and Helena Christensen maintained a certain air of unavailability by intermittently withdrawing from the general frivolity throughout the evening. They accomplished this by pulling out their phones and embarking on bouts of scrolling and texting, smiling creepily all the while. (It’s the smiling that works my folksy nerves.)

As somebody who regards the phone as an annoying appliance for conveying bad news and problems—“SD, you need to rewrite the copy on the Prada ad”—I find the contemporary mania for 24-hour phone diddling to be not just deeply naff but also wildly incomprehensible. Why check your emails when it’s never good news? I guess it provides the perpetrator with some kind mystique-enhancing moment of squishy self-involvement. It certainly communicates unfolksy unavailability. Memo to self: In the future, intermittently ignore those around you, pull out your phone and grin mysteriously while fumbling with the buttons.

On Thursday night, my Jonny and I went to support his author-economist brother, David Adler. (He wrote that book Snap Judgment, a spunky and highly readable challenge to the whole Gladwellian belief in spontaneous decision making.) Mr. Adler has produced a behavioral finance documentary called Mind Over Money, which was premiering at the Museum of Finance on Wall Street (it airs this week on PBS Nova).

During the Nova-sponsored post-movie panel discussion, I had little or no idea what anyone was talking about. Then, mercifully, the topic of shopping came up, accompanied by a nugget of truly startling information. Brace yourselves! According to Harvard professor Jennifer Lerner, women are disinclined to shop when they are frightened or angry—hence the plunge in purchases after Wall Street crashes or terrorist attacks—but more inclined to shop when they feel sad.

OMG! The rest of the week is a blur. After hearing this game-changing tidbit, my retailer’s brain skipped off down the rabbit hole and began concocting ever more baroque ways to make customers mournful, preferably without them realizing it. What if we dressed little children à la Oliver Twist and stationed them at the various entrances to Barneys? What if we piped in Andy Williams singing “Autumn Leaves” over and over again? The customers might shop their brains out, but what would be the effect on the salespeople? Maybe they would go all limp and suicidal and be unable to help the weeping-but-shopaholic customers?

Let’s end on a sad note and see if it catapults you, dear reader, into a clothes-buying frenzy. Here goes. True fact: Despite being a total genius—she was Hemingway’s favorite writer—Dawn Powell died uncelebrated and was buried in an unmarked grave on Hart Island. Now go shop!

sdoonan@observer.com