Friday, February 08, 2019

Famous for Fifteen Seconds

As everyone knows, Andy Warhol once remarked that one day, everyone would be famous for fifteen minutes.  He severely overestimated fame's span in the internet age.  It's more like fifteen seconds now.  As I'm sure I've noted before, there seem to be more and more celebrities and generally famous people in the media these days.  Indeed, hardly a day goes by when the media confronts me with a 'story' about some alleged celebrity that I've never heard of before. 'Who are these people?' I increasingly hear myself asking.  Now, I'm well aware that, in part, this is a function of the ageing process.  As we get older, we start to lose touch with things, like 'celebrity culture', which are primarily the preserve of the young.  No matter how much I might like to claim that I'm still 'Down with the kids', listening to Radio One when I'm in the car really isn't the best way to stay in touch with 'youth culture', (most of the DJs are well over thirty).  Granted, some of my contemporaries do seem to be more up o whose these new celebrities are than I am, but that seems to be because they read the tabloids and celebrity magazines: sources I try to avoid.  Another reason, however, is that there are so many more routes to 'fame' these days, making it much more difficult to keep up with who's who in the celebrity world.  When I was a kid, people generally had to have actually 'done' something to be famous: invented something, cured something, written something, brought about peace somewhere, given acclaimed acting performances on stage or screen, had a string of number one hits, even.  Basically, getting to be famous was quite difficult and required some real effort. 

Nowadays, of course, there are so many more avenues to celebrity: 'reality' TV, TV 'talent' shows, the internet.  Especially the internet.  The web has made it possible for just about anyone to get access to an audience.  You Tube, in particular, has allowed anyone to become a 'TV star' of sorts.  When I was young, getting onto TV was considered the 'Holy Grail', a virtually unobtainable prize for anyone outside of the TV industry or regular channels of fame.  Now, staying off of TV seems to be more of a challenge, so prevalent 'reality' shoes, news vox pops and just ordinary people filming stuff on their phones to upload to You Tube and social media have become.  Perhaps most importantly, we currently live in an increasingly fragmented media landscape.  Back in the day, the limited routes to fame reflected the fact that media outlets themselves were limited: in the UK there were only three TV channels, two of them owned by the BBC, who also dominated radio broadcasting.  Outside of TV, people got most of their news, including celebrity news, from the newspapers.  All of which meant two things: to get exposure you had to 'crack' one or more of these outlets and, more importantly, if you could do that, your fame would be widespread.  If you could become famous in the UK or US, you would probably become world famous.  At the very least you could rely upon being famous in the English speaking world.  Everyone got their news and entertainment from the same sources, so everybody would know you if you get reported by those sources.

The fact is that, back in the day, everyone knew who, say, The Beatles or Elvis Presley were, regardless of age, background or location.  Whereas today, with our plethora of media outlets, ranging from the web to on digital TV and on demand steaming services, fame has become far more specialised.  More niche.  You can have hundreds of thousands of You Tube followers, for example, but be unknown to anybody who doesn't use You Tube, or who isn't interested in your specialist subject area.  Likewise, you could star in a TV series on a digital subscription channel with a cult following, yet be barely know to those who don't subscribe.  This fragmentation effectively lowers the threshold for fame and celebrity, in that you need far fewer dedicated fans to be famous in your niche than old-style celebrities needed.  Now, it's true that it has always been the case that there have been those considered 'stars' of particular film genres with cult followings, yet virtually unknown outside of that genre, (David Warbeck might be a star to me, but if you don't watch seventies Italian exploitation films, you'd be unlikely to recognise him, for instance), but we're getting to the stage now where all entertainment is 'cult'.  Non traditional TV, which not only doesn't use linear schedules but also delivers its content via laptops, tablets and smart  phones, seems able to bypass the need for the mass audiences of yore to financially sustain itself, instead tailoring itself more to niche viewers willing to pay subscriptions to see the sort of content they desire.  Which, in turn, means that everyone can be famous for fifteen seconds, even if it is only to a dedicated minority audience.



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