Quantifying fame in the age of You Tube, Facebook and Klout.
September 6, 2011
At a restaurant the other day I overheard a woman paraphrase the famous (pun intended) Andy Warhol quote, “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” She was referring to a video her son recently posted on You Tube. She told her rapt friends it had “hundreds of views!” For her, and likely her boy, that meant fame.
But is that what Andy Warhol meant? Yes and no. Remember, he was looking at fame through the lens of mass media. Warhol and his Factory defined popular culture, essentially creating it. Before him fame through art (be it painting, literature, photography or films) was the providence of a precious few, those who earned it via talents and/or exquisite connections. After him, fame could mean anything from getting a bad haircut to getting arrested.
I’m not going to belabor the obvious. The Internet and social media have made getting famous a whole lot easier for the rest of us. Andy was a prophet.
In a world where everyone and their teenaged sons are famous for a few minutes, what exactly does “fame” mean? Is there a certain number of views, likes and followers that deliver one into fame? Surely, it’s more than several hundred. But gaining even one hundred thousand friends can’t equal the popularity of most reality TV stars. And, in turn, can one honestly compare a Real Housewife with, say, Audrey Hepburn or Jack Nickolson?
My point: The beanstalk to fame grows ever higher… until one finally reaches the V-V-VIP lounge, where George Clooney plays ping-pong with Justin Bieber and Megan Fox does Merrill Streep’s hair. Oh yeah, and they’re naked and spray painted gold!
Joe the Plumber (remember him?) or some opera-singing five-year old can’t possibly belong there. Or do they? After all, aren’t those the knuckleheads Andy Warhol was talking about? And wasn’t Justin Bieber just a kid on You Tube? Silly stuff I know.
Here’s a more interesting question: If everyone is famous (even for just 15 minutes) then how can fame even exist? By definition don’t we need way more un-famous people in order to appreciate the famous ones? Remember your Dr. Seuss: When all the Sneetches finally got stars on their bellies the stars lost all their meaning.
Back in the day my old man said his 15 minutes came when the Wall Street Journal rendered his portrait in iconic black dots. That trumped merely just getting his picture in the paper, which, by the way, used to be the quintessential determiner of fame.
I recently read a blog post talking about “access” as being the new standard for wealth. In other words, one doesn’t need to own things in order to be considered wealthy -just have access to them.
So what’s the new yardstick for measuring fame?
For those of us still on the ground floor, here’s an interesting article on gaining Klout.