Famous for 15 Minutes:
As technology advances, I often think of Andy Warhol. His oft quoted “In the future everyone will be famous for 15 minutes,” has, more or less, arrived although perhaps it needs an adjustment: “Today, anyone can be famous for 15 minutes.”
Fame Breeds Devotion
When Warhol died in 1987, reality television was still a few years away. Although game shows and docudramas deserve some credit – as does Madonna’s 1991 Truth or Dare, in which her then beau – Warren Beatty – commented to her doctor (who asked aloud if Madonna wanted privacy during a throat exam) that “she doesn’t want to live off-camera.” But the official start of the reality era is generally credited to the first season of Real World, which premiered in 1992.
The closest thing we had to reality TV when Warhol was alive were the real life antics of criminals such as Robert Chambers, the preppie killer, covered relentlessly via the evening news and in tabloid news programs such as A Current Affair. Women fell in love with Chambers – and proposed marriage to him – after seeing his face repeatedly on television and in print. Too many, he was clearly too handsome to have murdered Jennifer Levin.
Cut to 2014 and we have “hot mugshot guy.” Once again an image of a man representing the current standards of virility trumps any criminal charges and he became an overnight sensation. But unless he (and his publicist) can determine a way to sustain his 15 minutes, he’ll have even less of a career than Levi Johnston.
Today, fame ignites instantly via social media, but it is fleeting as the next object of interest comes along. The concept of “this year’s blonde” is quaint, in comparison. Now our “blondes” burn for a hot minute.
Fame is Diluted
In 1987, cable television was in a small fraction of households and programming was dominated by CBS, NBC and ABC with rumblings from the recently launched Fox Network. In other words, there were still very few opportunities for fame-seekers to be broadcast.
Today, hundreds of cable channels ensure that the most obscure of topics – long tail programming, if you will – can find their audience. (Honey Boo Boo, anyone?) And with an audience comes adoration and with adoration comes fame.
Anyone plucked out of obscurity and put in front of a camera and broadcast on TV and movies or print and the Internet can be made a star simply because viewing an image of someone (as opposed to seeing them in person) makes them immediately more alluring. There is an alchemy at work that ensures that seeing someone reflected back to us via a still or a moving image triggers something in our brain that signals to us that if someone’s image was worth capturing, it must be worth noticing. It probably goes back to cave drawings. Or at least the Mona Lisa. Ultimately, we fixate on images and fill in the blanks with fantasy details. That’s why people fall in love with people they have never met, whether a Match.com profile photo or a broadcast image.
Up next: A Star is Made…