Sunday, July 19, 2009

You Are Not Going To Be Famous

Take a look at this short lecture (only about 10 minutes) that Jim Hanas delivered as a part of the "useless lecture series" that he helps curate.

According to Hanas, the point of his address was to debunk what he calls "America's Big Lie," the one perhaps best epitomized by Andy Warhol's famous remark about each of us getting our 15 minutes of fame. The stats that Hanas uses are surprisingly effective for disabusing we Un-Famous Masses of our illusions about someday rising above the hoi polloi. Particularly shocking was the 51%, that's FIFTY-ONE PERCENT, of 18-25 year olds who claim that to be famous is one of their generation's greatest goals. Hanas attributes this phenomenon to "the explosion of fame itself" and, although he doesn't mention it specifically, I'm sure that at least one big fuel source for that explosion is reality TV, which makes fame seem so very achievable. (I mean, just look at VH1's Tiffany Pollard, a.k.a. "New York." How hard can it be?) But as it turns out, there are only 4,536 famous people today-- and that's even using a generous definition of "fame." So the odds that any one of us might join their ranks is, as Hanas points out, less likely than odds that we will be put to death by a legal form of execution.

Obviously, reality TV is not the only culprit here. MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter surely share part of the blame, allowing us to broadcast the most mundane of our activities and thoughts, reinforcing the myth that we really are that interesting. And, alas, if I'm being completely forthright, I would have to include blogs as well. Hanas' lecture forced me to ask myself, regrettably and uncomfortably: why DO I feel the need to have a "counter" on this page? Is it perhaps because, somewhere deep in the recesses of my consciousness, I may think that each new click (almost 30 grand now!) somehow validates that I am not alone in the world? that people know me? that they may even care what I think?

[I pause to reflect on the profound irony of my publicly airing these reservations about my own fame-drive. And then I continue.]

As someone who has an insatiable fascination with and genuine appreciation for many of these fame-craze culprits (Facebook, reality TV, blogs), I'm ambivalent about how much they are to be condemned. There are a lot of benefits to the increasingly large and increasingly accessible "social network," not the least of which is the expansion of our community-building skills and vocabulary. But, of course, participation in and access to multiple communities cannot be an end-in-itself. Perhaps this is a problem of confusing quantity and quality. Whatever "fame" is, and I'm not sure it's all that easy to define, at least one characteristic must be that more people know you than you know. And as we all know, there's a very fine line between famous and infamous.

When I was young and our family would go on road trips, I remember regularly passing water-towers in various small towns, which almost always had been marked-up by some kid who climbed up it late one night with a spray-paint can and made him- or herself "famous." If I read the graffitti aloud from the backseat, my mother would always remark: Fools' names, like fools' faces, are always seen in public places. (Isn't it weird how those rhyme-y adages stick with you after so many years?) Anyway, I suppose the moral there was that fame for fame's sake isn't a goal worth pursuing... and I suppose that Hanas' lecture has prompted me to be a bit more vigilant about making sure that things like this blog don't end up being spray-paint on some Hicktown water-tower.


anotherpanacea said...

Was he at Memphis when you were there?

DOCTOR J said...

I think our time may have overlapped, but I didn't know him.

emma b said...

your mother's rhyme may be the best argument in favor of fame culture there is. I vote for public places!