So Who’s Famous, Really?

Ruth, Babe | Baseball Hall of Fame

My editor, Susan, and I have a running argument over whether “internet celebrities” that I never heard of are truly famous.

I say fame ought to be enduring. If 15 minutes after you leave the stage you’re forgotten even by your nearest and dearest, that wasn’t fame you had. It was just noise.

So, for instance, Babe Ruth died years before I was born–but gee whiz, who never heard of Babe Ruth?

Here’s where Susan got off a shot that hit too close to home.

“Go around here and ask about Babe Ruth,” she said, “and see how many blank looks you get.” I have this terrible feeling that she’s right.

Why should that be? Maybe true fame is getting drowned out by here-today-gone-ten-minutes-later “internet celebrity.” There must be thousands and thousands of fleetingly “famous” characters inhabiting cyberspace.

Which would, I fear, lead to a kind of cultural amnesia–and a very fertile soil for tyrants: because people who can’t hang onto their culture from one minute to the next aren’t very good at hanging onto their freedom, either. That’s why communists always try to erase history. It’s why Democrats (same thing) tear down statues of our country’s founders.

If thousands upon thousands of internet celebrities are “famous” at any given moment, then no one is really and truly famous. We have lost fame. What we’ve gained in its place is… noise.

34 comments on “So Who’s Famous, Really?

  1. Babe Ruth is a candy bar.
    My (silly) definition of being famous used to be, if you can Google their name and they come up as a top search result, they’re famous.😂
    I only said that because 2 years ago, that applied to me. I don’t think I’m famous anymore.

    1. I say true fame has to live on after you stop doing whatever you did that made you famous. Of course, if our pop culture and public “education” reduce people to the most abject ignorance, there won’t be much fame of any kind.

  2. Actually, it is mostly all hog-wash anyway. The really important things to remember are the words in Scripture. If we can recall that, we are doing well.

  3. The whole concept of fame, IMHO, is flawed, David gained fame by slaying Goliath and when people compared Saul to him, in a manner which cast Saul in second place, Saul became jealous of David. That started the series of events which culminated in Saul falling upon his own sword.

    The potential for fame has grown dramatically in the last 200 years. Before newspapers developed the ability to publish drawings, the president of the US could have walked right past most Americans without having been recognized. Now, a picture can be taken and communicated globally in real time. Radio and television have likewise spread fame much more efficiently than was possible in the past. Hitler used radio effectively to build a following and by the ’60s, politicians were seeking advice on how to use the media effectively.

    So Babe Ruth was a hero of an era that saw the beginning of radio as a commonly used product and his fame was certainly enhanced by this fact. He came along only a few years after Ty Cobb, but benefited greatly by having a career that lasted into an era where more people were hearing games over the radio and in an era of talking pictures, which allowed people to hear commentary superimposed over moving images of The Babe. Ty Cobb retired before talking pictures, and while he was very famous, he didn’t have the advantage of the newer media during his playing years.

    Now we have the phenomenon of YouTube stars; people that come to fame because of YouTube channels. I’ve watched this with interest, and have seen several people leverage their way into fame with YouTube. What I have seen emerge as a pattern is the such persons will feel the need to produce new content, and sometimes they quality suffers in the process. There is, for example, a fellow that touts himself as a music critic, but many of his videos are repetitious and frequently based upon questions he poses, which can be answered with a moment’s research effort, but this fellow’s goal is to attract views and he does so by pretending to offer new information and insights, when in fact, he’s merely rehashing established matters in hopes of luring the uninformed into upping his numbers.

    I just finished reading about Paul McCartney, who is a very prolific composer, but not a man whom seeks fame. He rose to fame in the Beatles and after leaving them, moved to an isolated farm in Scotland. Ever since, he has had a great deal of success, but the youngest generation has little idea just who he is.

    The Beatles were an exercise in publicity, and they paid a price for it. By 1966, it was all but impossible for them to continue to perform concerts. I recently saw footage of their 1965 Shea Stadium concert and some young women in attendance literally passed out because of the frenzy.

    But now fame is much different. You can become famous, market materials promoting your YouTube sight and become recognizable on every continent, without ever leaving your home. The problem is; it’s based as much upon image as it is upon substance.

    A few years ago, I did a job interview over a video call. I arranged my office accordingly, presenting an orderly office with just the right sorts of equipment in plain view. 10 degrees out of frame, was a godawful mess of what I was really working on, but my image was one of order. That’s a minor league example of how image can be manipulated.

    It’s all phony. Just because one writes great music or can knock baseballs over the fence, does not mean that person should be idolized. This is a big part of what is wrong with politics these days. Politicians have become media stars in their own right and succeed or fail based upon sound bites, etc.

    1. I’m a great admirer of Plutarch, who wrote a slew of “Lives” of famous Greeks and Romans. He wrote up people whom he thought provided good examples of the various virtues, and who ought to be emulated. He also wrote up a few, like Mark Antony, whom he held up as bad examples: as in “Don’t do this!”
      He did not bother to write the lives of well-known gladiators or flute girls–people who today would surely be internet celebrities.
      Our concept of fame has diverged widely from his. When I was a boy, leaders like Washington and Lincoln and Robert E. Lee were held up to us as persons whom we should try to emulate. Now they’re all villains, because they lived in the 18th and 19th centuries. You remember that story about “I cannot tell a lie; I chopped down the cherry tree.” Stories like that were supposed to encourage us to be better human beings.
      If Plutarch were alive today, he might have trouble filling up his book. He’d run out of heroes before he ran out of parchment.
      I still look up to Washington, King Arthur, Abraham, and St. Paul, and Davy Crockett, too, as the heroes in my mind. And I’m not going to cast them aside.

    2. I think that a big part of this is the way that the definition of fame has changed in the age of media. People are now famous, just for being famous. Look at the Kardashians; whose main claim to fame is being related to a famous lawyer from a notorious trial. They have leveraged fame into more fame.

      I have no problem with the fame of Washington, Lincoln, or Eisenhower. All three are examples of integrity and trustworthiness. They earned their fame and none of these people were seeking adulation. I often think of Harry Truman, who left the presidency and returned to an inconspicuous and modest life.

      We do need examples and I would have to agree, that involves fame. But in our modern era, fame has merged with worship, and that’s not good. If someone is a skilled musician, it is only proper that we would listen respectfully if we were to attend a performance, but when the audience become an emotionally-charged mass of screaming people, something is very wrong.

      The problem, as I see it, comes down to people thinking that their heroes are somehow above them. If a musician provokes screams from their audience, apparently there are people who will assume that the political, economic and social opinions of these people must be somehow enlightened, So we end up with the confusion we have today.

      Having heroes is fine, but worshiping heroes is not.

    3. Congressman David Crockett, for instance, sacrificed his office, which he loved, to defend Indian nations from being dispossessed by Andrew Jackson’s administration. At that time his position was shared by virtually no one. What he did was political suicide. But he did it because it was right.
      Hard to imagine that happening today!

    4. These days, most politicians would go out to the reservation and pose for some photo ops, while investing in whomever would profit from what Jackson had in mind.

  4. Each year for Christmas I am given a daily trivia calendar as a gift which I faithfully read each morning. This year’s daily trivia calendar (by the same company) has questions like, “Who actually got married on “The Bachelor” on its 20th season?” What? I want trivia that is interesting and usable. There are so many questions like this that this Christmas I think I will request the vocab daily calendar.

  5. There was a time, even within my memory — which, granted, stretches back almost eight decades 🙂 — when commencement addresses contained references to Homer, Shakespeare, Milton, Dickens, and other great writers, as well as important historical figures, both national and worldwide. But at some point that stopped, and the commencement addresses referenced only figures from current TV shows, recent movies, and, after a while, comic books (pardon me, I mean “graphic novels”) and video games. That was because students no longer had any knowledge of anything before the previous weekend, and gradually the “educators” didn’t have the knowledge either. And I’m talking about every level of schooling, not just high school but even college — and graduate and professional schools as well.

    When no one knows history, “fame” can only be something of the immediate present. And as we all know, the immediate present doesn’t last very long before it becomes the past.

    1. It always astounds me that people invest so much emotional energy into fictional characters. Characters in movies or TV have never said anything; they don’t really exist. Some screenwriter may have written a line that is attributed to a certain character, but that’s just clever writing, not profound wisdom of the ages.

    2. I was thinking in terms of the obsession some people develop for certain characters. Star Wars is a good example, where fans go to extremes to demonstrate their identification with these characters. Star Trek is another example, where the Klingon language has taken on a life of its own.

      There’s nothing wrong with fiction. Unfortunately, some people forget that fiction is fiction and that’s the problem.

    3. I’ve never known any Trekkies.
      When I was a little boy, I watched Amos & Andy and wanted to grow up to be like Kingfish. This was just a phase.

    4. Actually, the Kingfish connection explains everything. 🙂

      Some of those old shorts were pretty funny and old Kingfish was hilarious. Did you know that the same writers went on to create Leave It To Beaver?

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