The Relentless Desire for Fame
According to some psychologists, an overwhelming desire for fame can stems from a desperate need for attention and often starts at a young age. I have spent my career helping brands and the occasional person increase their fame. But I’ve found that the substance is more important in the long-run than the mere pretence and trappings of fame.
In celebrities people find not only a piece of themselves, but also piece of what they like.
Those we hanker for, or would like to become, are delivered to us with typical rags-to-riches press releases which give us everyday folk a daydream we can live vicariously through.
In this consumer culture, we are striving for lots of stuff. And the accomplished celebrities have all of the stuff you could ever want. Sadly, celebrity consumption serves as an expression of their power, and they supply us with the most accessible vision of what wealth means. Being known for being known is shallow of course but you have to admit it is intriguing how the media feeds them to us from your doctor's waiting room to the local service station.
We are awake about 16 hours a day and digital access now consumes about 70% of it. So it's not surprising that we need high points in this long consumption binge each day to keep us interested.
We create these social monsters who Thump (or did I say Trump) away at our emotions as we cheer them along in the deep digital ditch we are reluctant to climb out of.
We are just as fascinated by the infamous as the famous. By the shooter or the songstress. It seems that technology is changing the face of society more rapidly than ever but the humanities are not keeping pace.
We struggle to understand ourselves and challenge our own convictions as wave after wave of celebrity media rushes at us telling us how we should live our lives. The “why” question seems to elude most of us and the biggest problem facing contemporary society seems to be dogmatism and ignorance. And yet you'd think it would be the reverse with all this knowledge around us.
We are fast becoming technocracies squirting information all over the place and only a handful of critical thinkers questioning the real meaning of it all. I guess philosophy will become sexy again soon and there will be a course correction, but I don't see anything in sight in the short term.
Will Self, a respected British philosopher, quipped recently that “the contemporary media landscape has ably responded to the challenge of bestowing a quarter hour of notoriety on as many as possible”. Beginning with reality TV and now the rise of social media we are seeing the exhilaration of being discovered if only for a moment. It seems we can all come out.
Andy Warhol’s famous quote about “15 minutes of fame” may well reverse itself in that 15 minutes of privacy will be something only a very few special people will get to experience.
There is nothing sadder than a fading celebrity. Where the red carpet no longer unfurls and the flashbulbs are gone. And, of course the media feeds on the way down as much as on the up. Marlon Brando survived a very abusive upbringing, he made something of himself and then lost something of himself. The pursuit of fame is so often a tragic pursuit, it makes life much more punishing than it necessarily needs to be, leaving people open to huge disappointments and a sense ultimately of abandonment.
In the industry I am in, the pursuit of reputation dominates so much of the airwaves where excellence is so often exemplified through the medium of the celebrity. Of course, there have always been famous people around us, but 50 years ago they weren’t endorsing the latest cellphone.
Anonymity is something that we will cherish in future years. It will be valued more highly as people continue to reveal everything about themselves online.
Richard Shickel wrote a book about this which he called Intimate Strangers. He talked about the desire of the fan is to share in the aura of the famous, to be somehow connected. You can feel you have a virtual relationship, even deep feelings perhaps, for people you've never met.
Is this a golden age? I guess we won't know until its over. We certainly can't reverse things. Social media, television, journalism all these things have excesses and there are many idiocies of fame that you can find in them everyday. People aspiring to be famous or infamous. There is no answer other than to step back just a bit in the hope that perhaps we can protect some of our privacy.
It seems we are built to crave heroes and stories but right now there’s all the more reason we have to encourage a solid sense of self which means young people in particular don't feel the pressure delivered by skilled illusionists. Not everyone will win in the x-factor auditions. Coming second is quite okay, singing badly can be beautiful.
Charlie Chaplin although a great celebrity has always had that special appeal for me in terms of his tender imperfection. I think you have to pick your heroes carefully and love them for what they do and who they really are and not so much for what they say.