My 15 minutes of fame...

My 15 minutes of fame...

Celebrity Culture

My 15 minutes of fame...

Everybody wants to be known for something, however trivial. Andy Warhol said it best when he talked about everybody wanting his own 15 minutes of fame. Whether it is Lady Gaga’s neon wigs or the half-truths people say on FB, it is all about wanting to be watched and talked about by people, writes Lakshmi Palecanda. 

At an airport in Denver, a United Airlines gate agent was attempting to rebook a long line of travellers whose flight had been cancelled. Suddenly, an angry passenger pushed his way to the desk and slapped his ticket down on it. “I HAVE to be on this flight, and it HAS to be FIRST CLASS.”

The agent replied. “I’m sorry, sir. I’ll be happy to help you, but I’ll have to help these folks first. I’m sure we can work something out.”

The passenger was unimpressed. He asked loudly so that the passengers behind him could hear, “Do you have any idea who I am?”

Without any hesitation, the agent smiled and grabbed her public address microphone.
“Your attention please,” she began, her voice bellowing through the terminal. “We have a passenger here at the gate WHO DOES NOT KNOW WHO HE IS. If anyone can help him find his identity, please come to gate 17.”

With the passengers behind him in line laughing hysterically, the man had to back down.
But, what was the man doing wrong?

More recently, actress Reese Witherspoon pulled this same stunt when she shouted at the police officers who were arresting her husband for drunken driving. “Do you know my name?” she asked, only to be told by the cop in-charge, “No, I don’t need to know your name.”

Another person just trying to use her celebrity status... the way we all do!We all like to be famous or notorious, don’t we? Oh, come on, we do. Or, let me put it this way, we don’t like to be obscure or anonymous. We like to be someone, at least to some people. It is better to live like a tiger for a day than a dog for a year or more, yada, yada, yada...

We respect people who do something that stands out, be it good or bad. For example, we all know that, in Ramayana, Manthara was Queen Kaikeyi’s maid. Now tell me Queen Kaushalya’s maid’s name, quick. Don’t know, do you? In fact, you are great if you even remember King Dasaratha’s third queen’s name — she didn’t do anything really significant, other than give birth to twins Lakshmana and Shatrugna.

Or, for that matter, think of the Kaurava family line-up: it starts with Duryodhana, then comes Dushyasana, then... Who is the third Kaurava? Well, for those of you who didn’t know, it was Dusaha. Poor schmuck, he is not famous, or nowhere as notorious as his elder brothers. I had to Google his name!

I can imagine one of the side events during the infamous Draupadi vastraharan. Picture this: Vikarna is standing up to his brothers and speaking for Draupadi. Gandhari, the mother of the Kauravas, leans over to Sanjaya, minister and family friend, and whispers, “Sounds like one of ours. Not bad! Which one is he?”

To which Sanjaya replies, “Let me take a look at his copper nameplate: it says Vi...karna and he is number 15 or 16... It doesn’t matter anyway, he is going to get shot down by numero uno, Duryodhana.”

Gandhari nods knowingly. “Yeah, that one I know.” So, what is the difference between fame and celebrity status? True fame is long-lived, and is achieved only with a lot of talent, effort, perseverance and time, but celebrity-dom is available to all. You may have just a modicum of talent or looks, or even just a smidgen combo of the two, and yet make it into the spotlight.

In fact, there are people who are famous for no other reason than being famous. The names which spring instantly to mind are Paris Hilton, Kim Kardashian and our very own Rakhi Sawant. Such people are known as famesque or celebutantes.

Looking up human history, we can see that it became easier to become a celebrity only after mass media became part of our culture. Earlier, the only heroes around were the local heroes, but once print media, radio, and TV began to pervade our lives, those who did popular things became household names, and hence celebrities.

This phenomenon was understood and used by celebrated United States pop icon, Andy Warhol, who is often misquoted as having said, “In the future, everybody will be famous for 15 minutes.”  Hence the cliché, ‘15 minutes of fame’. In some cases, it is even 15 minutes of shame.

In reality, photographer Nat Finkelstein claims that it was his own line that Warhol used. In a 1965 outdoor photo-shoot with Warhol, some bystanders tried to push their way into the pictures. Warhol commented that everybody wanted to be famous, and Finkelstein replied, “Yeah, for 15 minutes, Andy.”

Whatever be the origin of this clichéd phrase, isn’t it true? Haven’t we all pointed triumphantly to a suspicious shadow in a photograph of a crowd and said, “That’s me. I was there”? The urge to be lit, even if only by the passing glow of someone else’s limelight, or to shine, even if only in reflected light, is primeval.

These days, celebrity status is created by mass hysteria surrounding mass media. If you know somebody who lives with somebody who went on a reality show and shared the stage with a has-been celebrity, then immediately you have a third-degree celebrity status. Second-degree celebrity-ness can be achieved by constantly forwarding other people’s posts on Facebook — the idea and words are somebody else’s, but you get to pass it off under your name and get credit for your good taste.

When will I be famous?

If you want to go for the whole enchilada, and earn your own 15 minutes of fame/shame, you need to market yourself. You can sell your ideas, thoughts and pictures, however exquisite or trivial and tasteless, aggressively on different social networking modes and sites, and you are made. At any given point in time, there will be a few who think the way you do, and like the way you express yourself.

You will have yourself a following and be a celebrity. If Dusaha, the Kaurava #3, had his own following on FB, Twitter and the blogosphere, most of us would know him, wouldn’t we?

Or, you could go on a TV reality show and create a big splash. The very first TV reality show was ‘The Real World’, which had seven strangers picked to live in a house, and aired on MTV in the US. This led to the explosion of reality TV including game shows and talent shows where any member of public can audition and be selected to appear on TV. While these shows are a wonderful showcase for anyone with talent, those without can also get on easily, if only to serve as cannon-fodder.

Even better, you can sit back and criticise anything and everything on the innumerable sites and blogs available. You can also write books and get them self-published through E-publishing, Print-On-Demand, or Vanity Publishing. For instance, in today’s world, Queen Kaushalya’s maid could have written a tell-all book a la Lady Diana’s butler, Paul Burrell, on the Ayodhya palace goings-on, and hit the bestsellers list!

As for other ways, you can become a member of a club and then get elected to office there. Even becoming a member of your apartment building’s administration committee, where you can play petty politics, can do it for some.

But, why do we seek to have this short-lived fame/notoriety?
The first and foremost reason is that we love attention. To be pointed to, to be schmoozed, mobbed, photographed, autographed (if there is such a word at all), talked to, talked about, written about, wined and dined (preferably on someone else’s credit card), and welcomed wherever we go, makes us feel good. At heart, we are social animals, and feeling accepted has to be the greatest feeling on earth.

Fame & fortune

Attention also brings money-making opportunities with it, hence the other cliché, ‘seeking fame and fortune’. Celebrities can and do parlay their 15 minutes into prospects for income. Even small-time celebrities get to meet and make connections with the moneyed crowd who can help them make a buck or two. As a big-time celebrity, Paris Hilton isn’t doing too shabbily in this regard; with her media exposure, she began marketing fragrances that earned $1.5 billion, and a fashion line that earns over $10 million a year.

Celebrities also get a lot of free stuff. Freebies such as clothing particularly, as well as jewelry and appliances may come the way of small-time celebs, while in the US, red carpet walkers are said to receive about $100,000 in free goods and services. At the Golden Globe Awards, presenters Johnny Depp and Jake Gyllenhaal got two round-trip tickets each to Fiji, as well as accommodations at a five-star resort, valued at around $15,000, from Air Pacific. Celeb babies even get freebies in the form of diapers, clothes and stroller paraphernalia.

And then, if you are ‘Somebody’, then you get to meet other ‘Somebodies’. Yes, it is a lot easier to make connections if you are well-known, than if you are a nameless little nobody. And those ‘Somebodies’ know other/bigger ‘Somebodies’, and if you want something done, you just mention it to your ‘Big’ friend, and he makes some phone calls and those calls make other calls and voila... pretty soon, your work is done without you having to run around like a demented chicken with its head cut off! Moreover, if you are famous, the so-called ordinary people will want to make connections with you. You would actually know people who can get you plumbers, electricians and tailors at will, and at a moment’s notice! That would be my version of Heaven.

You also get plenty of boasting rights, what with famous-name-dropping right and left, and dining out on stories regarding all the celebs you know. In effect, the more celebrities you know, the more of one you become. A perfect win-win situation!

Celebrity-dom makes it easier to make a difference in the world. To give them their due, some celebrities do want to change the world for the better. They parlay their fame not only to make money, but also to draw the world’s attention to the wrongs that are going on in different parts of the globe.

Famous actor, source of envy to men and heartthrob to females, George Clooney, uses his celeb status to work on behalf of Sudan, among many other causes. Angelina Jolie, famous actress, source of envy to women everywhere, and a thing of beauty, uses her status as a superstar to generate media coverage about the plight of refugees and the conditions they live under. Back home, our stars are becoming faces of movements like Swach Bharath and ‘Cast Your Vote’ campaigns.

But there is a seriously bad side to being a celebrity. Fame attracts attention, as everyone loves to bask in its reflected glory. Unfortunately, it is this very reason that causes celebrities to crash and burn. Famous people smile and pose their ways through life wondering if the circle of friends surrounding them is real or just attracted to their status. Their family lives never succeed, in most part, because they can never separate themselves from their public persona.

And there are always people who are waiting for you to fail. When you do so, they make so much more of the failure than it really is, and try to destroy your self-esteem.

Celebrity also brings out flatterers who make us forget who we really are, and give us an inflated opinion of ourselves. You also have a name and image to keep up, to keep on ‘feeling special’.

When all is said and done, it is important to remember that it is wonderful being average. We don’t have a pedestal to fall off, we don’t have a status to protect, we aren’t afraid of celebrity stalkers or flatterers. We are still special to our parents, beloved to our spouses, awesome to our kids, and irreplaceable to our families and colleagues.

We can and will do great things in our lives, only chances are that a lot fewer people will know about them. But they will know about them, and they will care about them, and we will forever be celebrities in our own homes.

Here is a little story that demonstrates the advantages of being a Nobody.A professor gave a final exam to a large class with hundreds of students. After the time was up, all students but one gave their exam papers back.

The professor told the one who ignored his orders to hand the paper over or he would get only half credit. The student continued to write, while ignoring the professor. After 5 more minutes, the professor told him to hand over the paper or he would get just 25 per cent credit. Once again, the student kept writing. Finally, the professor said that he was leaving the hall and the student would get zero on the paper.

At that point, the student walked up to the professor with his paper. “Do you know my name?” he asked. The professor said, “No.”

“Are you absolutely sure?” asked the student, looking very hard at him. Exasperated, the professor shouted, “I have no idea who you are.”

The student’s face brightened. “Good,” he replied. He proceeded to stuff his paper into the middle of the other papers and ran out.Aaahhh! The advantages of being unknown!

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