Written by Kieran Murphy
Monday, 21 February 2011
My opening salvo here is now pretty much regarded universally as self-evident; being famous is no longer the exclusive domain of the clever, intelligent and the talented. For the current "Generation Y", being famous is a genuine aspiration. Accordingly, being simply successful or well-regarded, becoming a professional singer/dancer is one thing, but taking whatever steps necessary to ensure maximum exposure through traditional and social media can ensure a celebrity shelf-life of minutes, even hours.
In an effort to track down a YouTube clip of the US radio-friendly soft-rockers Journey and their radio-friendly soft rock hit "Don't Stop Believin", I came across a curious clip of a tone-deaf American teenager aping the opening piano part of the song on a Scrabble box on his coffee table singing badly along to the version prominently featured in a recent episode of the vapid, vaccuuous TV-show "Glee". I watched for what seemed like an eternity and must have been at least several seconds trying to understand the motivation for such a performance, let alone the self-indulgent need to post it online. I have to remember that, first of all, he's a teenager so perhaps his perception of how ill-advised his posting is obscurred by a starry-eyed and therefore myopic view of the world. After all, YouTube gave Justin Bieber his start, why can't "The Scrabble Box Kid" be the next global sensation?
"Sir, Disney are on line 2 and they want to discuss cross-promotional opportunities…"
A growing number of us have come of age in an era where Andy Warhol’s famous maxim that, in principle, "in the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes" is less about the subtextual irony of the statement and more about it’s globally inclusive, and therefore non-discerning, nature. Perhaps the overwhelming belief for a great many of Generation Y’ers is that celebrity/fame/notoriety has all but been bequethed to them by their forebears and they aren’t about to relinquish it over a simple matter of worthiness. To illustrate my point, I recall being slightly bemused reading my high school yearbook, noting that many of my fellow classmates who had written their yearbook quote about their future included a deep longing to be famous, in spite of any obvious talent or aptitude for the vocations usually associated with the famous. Being famous, was going to be their vocation.
Seeking fame and approval in equal measures, with access to social media and the potential to reach an audience of millions, the under-25′s group are more predisposed than ever to believe themselves worthy of fame and the supposed accompanying fortune. At a unique turning point in western culture, the ‘cult of personality’ has morphed into ‘the cult of celebrity’ where one can seemingly be famous simply for being famous. Once again, this lofty position is usually reserved for the priveleged and wealthy and not necessarily for groundbreakers, outliers and free-thinkers. I honestly - hand-on-heart - could not tell you anything at all about Kim Kardashian, but she's famous, so there she is in magazines and tabloids doing whatever it is that attracts attention. Do we stop to question why?
This has a lot to do with the changing nature of celebrity. Once upon a time, groomed movie stars, tv show hosts and popular singers held court in the upper echelons of popular celebrity almost exclusively. The figureheads of an industry whose very foundations were built upon attracting as much attention as possible. Newsworthy? Scandalous? It all feeds the same machine. Now, those shining lights share that lofty parapet with reality television stars, society mavens and pretty much anyone with an amusing schtick uploaded to YouTube. It is, sadly, hard to imagine in the modern age that it would be possible for more people to recognise Aung San Suu Kyi than Paris Hilton. It is, it must be said, unlikely. This is purely because Paris has gone to great lengths to ensure that her celebrity is the most remarkable thing about her. Suu Kyi has merely spent the past 20 years under house arrest in Burma/Myanmar for pro-democratic political dissent, but who really wants to hear about the genuinely remarkable anymore?
As the brother of two former ‘reality’ tv show contestants who rose to national attention and helped several entertainment conglomerates make a lot of money whilst it was mutually beneficial, I have been able to observe this curious sociological machine at work. In fact, when strangers generally discover my identity, the question most frequently asked of me is, "…so when are you going on TV?".
I'd like to answer that question with a question, if I may, Greg - my question is; what is actually wrong with obscurity and anonymity?