‘Fame Isn’t So Famous Anymore’ (2013)

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This horse died well before I was born; but when I was growing up, who hadn’t heard of Seabiscuit?

Some of those Famous Celebrities I mentioned in this 2013 essay have already been totally forgotten. Given today’s insatiable hunger for celebrities, how can that be?

Fame Isn’t So Famous Anymore

The heroes of whom Homer sang, who lived some 3,000 years ago, are still famous today–albeit not as famous as they were when I was 12 years old and couldn’t get enough of their stories. Think anyone’s gonna remember Miley Cyrus three millenia from now?

6 comments on “‘Fame Isn’t So Famous Anymore’ (2013)

  1. Fame has become cheapened, but it is, after all, a creation of media. Before drawings began to appear in the newspapers, which I believe happened in the mid 19th century, the average person probably wouldn’t have recognized the president of the United State is he was walking down main street. Fame, in that era, was quite different from fame in our era. Every development which makes it simpler to to convey information has the effect of making fame more accessible, to a greater number of people.

    Before musical recordings, a person might know of a composer from reading about them in a book, or perhaps if a local orchestra or band played one of their songs. Then came gramophones and the various technologies which made it possible to distribute recorded music, and you could go to a store and order a recorded version of a certain composer’s song. Then came radio, which allowed people to hear a much broader array of music, and also allowed the composer (assuming that it was a contemporary composer) to be interviewed on the radio. Then came talking motion pictures and then television, which made fame all that much easier to achieve. Nowadays, it would be entirely feasible for someone to take a video of themselves and post in on YouTube in a matter of minutes, without leaving the comfort of an armchair.

    Notice that I used the word fame, because fame can be for good things, or for bad things. Dillinger was famous, but also notorious. Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t realize that fame is cheap. If someone committed a terrible crime they would be famous, but does someone deserve to be admired, simply because they are famous? In my humble opinion, this is where matters began to break down.

    The law of supply and demand reigns supreme in virtually every aspect of life. When there is demand, it becomes profitable to be in the business of fulfilling that demand. When there is an overabundance of supply, the price reduces and the quality of new production may be forced to be reduced, because the lowered price no longer supports the cost of high quality production.

    For example, when television came into the mainstream, after WW II, there was demand, because people wanted something to watch on their new TV sets. Because TV transmissions are relatively short range, there were a lot of stations serving communities and they needed something to transmit. Much programming came from networks, but there were local content requirements. The networks faced the same problem, hours to fill. So they came up with all sorts of programming, from expensive to produce dramas and sitcoms to inexpensive to produce talk shows, which aired during periods of lower viewership. They would interview quite an array of people on these shows, which meant that fame could come to otherwise obscure figures. I recall Tom Snyder interviewing a porn actress on his midnight TV show, which strikes me as a perfect example of how fame was changed by mass media. This was a person that would not be admired by the majority of people (at that time), but they were given the same access to publicity as a Nobel Prize winner.

    Andy Warhol famously said that in the future, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes. I don’t know how he acquired this insight, but it was prescient. Fame has become diluted, because there is so much of it available, The law of supply and demand demands that fame will be cheapened as the supply rises and, because there are so many people competing for fame, the potential audience is split up between micro interest groups. In the meantime, persons seeking fame have to resort to ever greater antics in order to increase their share of the potential audience. More than once, I have seen competent, talented, musicians resort to bizarre fashions and making strange comments in interviews as a way to gain an audience, then later step back from these publicity stunts to let their artistry shine through.

    But there’s a problem with this; people imitate the famous and celebritize them. The term celebrity has roots that are somewhat murky, but a person whom is a “cause for celebration” probably says it as well as any other definition. So, as I see it, the problem lies in the fact that people tend to assign the status of celebrity to everyone that has achieved fame. Just because someone is famous, doesn’t mean that their opinions are worth anything. To a lot of people, fame == wealth == celebrity. it’s a common fallacy. The fact is, the famous among us are just as fallible as the rest of us.

    I once spotted a very famous actor in an out-of-the-way store. The actor in question was known to live nearby and it was plausible that he would be there. I noticed this person, then recognized them at the same instant he realized he had been spotted. His face fell, and it was obvious that he just wanted to go about his business. I gave him a quick smile and a nod of the head and turned in another direction, while he retreated up the aisle. That got me to thinking about what a burden fame really is. Being recognized by strangers everywhere you go would not be a fun experience. Frankly, it sounds like living hell, to me.

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