I just reread our coverage of the Heroes Convention that came to Charlotte last weekend, and I finally took in the fact that Stan Lee charged $100 an autograph – and people stood in line for two hours to pay it.
At 92, after amassing an estate that this website estimates at $50 million, he’s still charging people $100 for the curlicues of his seven-letter signature. Possibly he provides extra value by writing “To my pal, Kevin” at the top from time to time.
Now, I’m aware of the arguments defending this process. To wit:
1) He has achieved a great deal and ought to cash in on fame. I would argue he does cash in constantly – Marvel reportedly pays him $1 million a year for life whether he does anything or not – and there should be instances where he shares a moment with fans out of simple kindness.
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2) America is based on unrestricted capitalism, and we have to pay what the seller can demand. In a country where CEOs make more than 130 times an average worker’s salary, I find it hard to cheer for this idea. I would also quote the axiom spoken by many wise people, my mom included: “Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.”
3) Athletes, entertainers and other celebrities charge for autographs, so why shouldn’t he? Didn’t this “all the other kids do it” argument stop making sense about fifth grade?
4) Some of the people buying his signature will sell it on eBay or elsewhere, possibly for a profit. Yes, that’s so. Probably not the fan in David Perlmutt’s article, who wants to pass his signed Avengers comic book to his children, or the 8-year-old who made himself up to look like Lee and drew a sketch of Iron Man for Lee to sign.
I thought about my own days as a 9-year-old baseball fan, standing outside the visitors’ dressing room at Connie Mack Stadium in Philadelphia and trying to get a signature from Willie Mays or Willie McCovey. I didn’t want to sell them or even trade them with friends. They were a reminder that I’d had a brush with greatness, that someone I looked up to had taken a few seconds to acknowledge my existence and had rendered me infinitesimally more important. None of them asked if I had five bucks.
When multimillionaires charge $100 for 10 seconds of time, what do they teach kids? That everything has a price, often an exorbitant one. That even the famous and powerful, who can most afford to be gracious and generous, are as grasping as Scrooge. That life is a matter of take and take.
The more I think about this blog, the less comfortable I am with my headline. I suppose I’ll let it stand, though it shows a lot of disrespect – for pigs.