Your 15 Minutes Are Here
In these days of reality shows, viral videos and blink-and-you-miss-them household names (remember the golden-voiced homeless man?), everyone loves to quote Andy Warhol's prescient 1968 prediction: "In the future, everyone will be world famous for 15 minutes."
It's inarguable that celebrity culture has changed dramatically since the turn of the last century, not to mention the technology through which we experience it. But at a time when anyone can create a Web persona, upload a video, or look at stars like Kelly Clarkson, Kim Kardashian or Justin Bieber and see a clear path to that level of fame, one has to wonder: Has the Web made it easier to become famous, or more difficult for people who are actually talented to stand out from the noise?
There was a time not too long ago when famous personalities were referred to as "entertainers." That simple designation indicated years, if not decades, of training with the sole purpose of appearing before an audience and doing something to take people's minds off the stresses of everyday life. Jerry Lewis is an actor/comedian/singer/producer/writer/director who first appeared onstage when he was 5 years old; Sammy Davis Jr. was a singer/dancer/actor/master impersonator who began honing his talents in vaudeville at age 3. For a more modern take on the craft, George Clooney spent 16 years doing everything from "Murder, She Wrote" guest appearances to a talking-baby sitcom before he was ready for his close-up; Brad Pitt similarly gave a decade of his life struggling through long-forgotten commercials and TV series.
Nowadays, some would say technology has made things much easier. Young actors like Sorrelle McGill and Erica Rhodes can exhaustively chronicle every audition and indie film in their quest to become the next Sandra Bullock — achieving some level of recognition before Hollywood bequeaths it to them. A comedian like Rob Delaney (@robdelaney) or a model like Melissa Stetten (@MelissaStetten) can become far more famous for tweets than standup concerts and centerfolds. And lest we forget: Kim Kardashian, one of the most famous women in the world, rose to prominence in 2007 because of a sex tape. These and other avenues for attaining fame have existed for less time than that of Clooney's entire pre-celebrity career.
But is the democratization of fame a good thing? It would seem that only a certain number of people can be famous at the same time, so does it follow that this generation's Frank Sinatra may be on the outside looking in, because we're all too busy rocking out to Keyboard Cat?
The answer to BOTH of the above questions, of course, is yes. If anyone can post a video or tweet and become famous, the power has been taken away from huge studios, jaded entertainment mavens and nepotism-wielding gatekeepers. But if we're too distracted by junk, fluff and look-at-me theatrics, truly talented "entertainers" will indeed suffer. Ultimately, we fans still decide the winners and losers through our choices of what to watch and which products to purchase.
More so than ever, we the audience are empowered to choose who entertains us. So the question isn't if this is a good thing, but something more personal: Will you use your power to make it one?