There a lot of famous people right now. There are more avenues than ever that can shove you right in the face of the public’s consciousness. You can run a successful YouTube account. You can rescue several women from kidnappers. You can be a fake real housewife. There are tons of options, many of which never existed before.
On the other hand, being famous seems like more of a chore than it’s ever been. You have to make a constant push to keep yourself in the public eye. It’s not like it used to be. As far as I can tell, fame in the 1950’s seemed like a pretty cushy gig. You got to be rich. People didn’t talk about your ties to organized crime. You hung out with the other eleven famous people. Life was good.
These days you can’t rest on the laurels of a song about the moon being like a pizza, or whatever used to earn people national renown. With the proliferation of media, fame seems like a ceaseless struggle to create enough work to remain relevant (not necessarily a bad thing) and then the endless effort to promote that work.
Increased levels of social and traditional media, which bring us news, entertainment, connectivity, and manufactured controversy, probably couldn’t have made, let’s say Elvis’s life a whole lot better. Elvis was hitting home runs every time up. He appropriated another culture’s music in a marketable (see: white) way without being torn to shreds by a million blogs. Elvis went on the Ed Sullivan show, and the tv networks wouldn’t show his hips, but that was fine because EVERY SINGLE PERSON IN AMERICA allegedly watched him from the belly-button up and swooned. I don’t think we even have an Elvis now.
We were so removed from our icons. If you wanted to tell Frank Sinatra you thought he was a piece of garbage, you had to find him in person or write him a letter. Then someone who was not Frank Sinatra would read your letter and come to your home to beat you up. That’s how things worked. Not anymore! Thanks to Twitter, Instagram, Vine, and various other social networks, detractors now get to voice their opinions directly to your ears and eyeballs from across the globe. It seems like a downgrade.
So far I’ve made a fairly strong case for fame being awful and difficult, which sounds petty and stupid coming from an unfamous person. Almost as stupid and petty as complaints about fame sound like coming from famous people. My contention, though, is that non-fame is better than it’s ever been.
Though the splintering of mainstream media means that the public’s full attention rarely comes to rest in one place for very long, it does provide room for more perspectives to be expressed than was previously possible. We have roughly one cable channel for each human on earth. Beyond that, the internet provides a limitless palette for sharing thoughts and ideas and art. A lot of those ideas are awful, but many are wonderful. Artists, and art patrons dense underbrush of noise and indifference to carve out creative spaces in which to dwell. This isn’t a new idea. Patton Oswalt spoke eloquently about this subject at the Just For Laughs festival in Montreal last year. But he had already gained the kind of renown that will likely prevent him from ever reaping the benefits of anonymity again.
Projects don’t have to have the broad appeal they once did in order to succeed. Excellent work done over YouTube or Tumblr or Soundcloud can be noticed, absorbed, and rewarded by the communities who will appreciate it the best. Sometimes it translates to broader, traditional media success. Sometimes it doesn’t. Regardless, there’s a forum for people to find each other without waiting for the okay from a radio station or television network or live venue booker. One result is a lot of people who think everything they do is brilliant and worth seeing. That’s pretty terrible. But it’s far outweighed by a lot of brilliant people doing things worth seeing that we’d otherwise never find.
There are venues for people to create, collaborate on, and fund their own projects for personal satisfaction or professional gain. A movie that may appeal to seven people scattered across the globe can reach all seven of those people. And if you have something you want to see, you can find it out there in the world or make it yourself. (I guess that statement applies double for porn, but still.) More of the perks of fame (creative freedom, ability to profit from art) are available to more people with less hassle than has ever been possible. Writers, performers, and visual artists can be seen by the right audience, entirely bypassing being seen by the “right people.” Also, we have sandwiches made with donuts available nation-wide.
All things considered, it is a great time to be not famous.