With evermore people clamoring for fame (and achieving it) what does fame even mean?

November 8, 2012

“I told you so.”

At a restaurant the other day I overheard a woman paraphrase the famous Andy Warhol quote, “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” She was referring to a video of her teen-aged son on You Tube. She bragged to her friends it had “hundreds of views!” For her, that meant fame.

But is this 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 via art (painting, literature, photography or films) was the providence of a precious few, those who earned it by talent and/or exquisite connections. After Warhol, 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.

And yet.

In a world where everyone and their teenaged sons are famous for a few minutes, what exactly does “fame” even mean? Are there a certain number of views, likes and followers that deliver fame? Even one hundred thousand friends on Facebook can’t equal the popularity of many reality TV stars. And, in turn, can one honestly compare a Real Housewife with, say, Audrey Hepburn or Jack Nickolson?

15 minutes


The fame elevator goes ever higher… with ever more VIP’s clamoring to get to higher and higher floors. Joe the Plumber (remember him?) or some opera-singing five-year old can’t possibly belong there. Or can they? After all, aren’t they the knuckleheads Andy Warhol was talking about? In the beginning Justin Bieber just only kid on You Tube. Silly stuff I know.

Here’s a more interesting question: If everyone is famous (even for only 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?

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.


2 Responses to “With evermore people clamoring for fame (and achieving it) what does fame even mean?”

  1. Tracy said

    In other words, fame is relative, legend is something entirely different. Awareness is one thing, but influence is something else.

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