Article first published as The Disease of Unwarranted Fame on Blogcritics.
The public anticipation over the possible Heidi Montag sex tape got me to thinking about how fame is acquired in recent years.
It used to be that the spotlight was garnered from doing something monumental. One could become known for scientific discoveries, political clout, or academy award nominations. There were those who attained notoriety for the most extreme in human wretchedness as well ; the peculiar circus that followed Leopold and Loeb would be an example. Back in the day, there was a reason (or multitude of them) why an individual may grace the cover of the New York Post.
Today, however is a different time. We live in the age of instant celebrity. It is fast and fleeting and often undeserved. Like a Max Headroom plotline, fame can indeed be bought and sold. All one has to do is come from the right family and attend the right nightclubs, and he or she can indeed become a star, even if only for a nanosecond. The ultimate fame-maker amongst young women nowadays seems to be the sex tape. Once a marker of shady character, the display of one's sexual acrobatics has become a stepping stone to stardom.
The wealthy have always been creatures of intrigue. Names like Rothschild and Getty were known amongst common folk, their tales of fortunes won giving the average person something to aim for. The superior genius displayed by Einstein and Curie were celebrated curiosities. There was a sense of entitlement to be sure, but behaving truly awfully could destroy public image and a career forever.
In our age a politician may work tirelessly to pass meaningful legislation, but you won't know his name until he is caught with his pants down in the presence of someone not his partner. An athlete may be superior to his peers but invisible in comparison with his mates caught in scandal. The actor with the most DUI or assault convictions can garner more attention than those with enviable talents.
Fame has become a commodity that is bought and sold with little-to-no experience required. All one needs to do to be famous is have a few of the right friends and behave in the most reprehensible way possible.
And who can blame them? When you can make millions of dollars per annum drinking and sleeping with whomever you want, there is no incentive to be the better person. When you know that you don't have the talent of Leonardo DiCaprio, but someone offers you a chance to hang at the same nightclubs, many would jump at the opportunity. Most people want affirmation, and like eternal children, some have discovered that the only way to have a shot at the big time is to sell their souls to the highest bidder.
There will become a time, hopefully soon, that folks will become irritated by the spectacle. Everyday people will stop enjoying the train wreck and tune their attentions to things not on VH1 or TMZ. The body politic will become focused on those who make them feel joy in humanity's gifts as opposed to its seediest underlay. We will become sick of schadenfreude and embrace those who make us enlightened.
I dare to hope for the demise of the undeserving celebrity because I believe that we will culturally rebound. We are in an instant age, and with that comes the promise that trends will shift. Just like the era of selfishness was ushered in, it shall be shown the door. To think otherwise is to view humanity with permanent disdain and to give up on our beauty.
"While I breathe, I hope. " - Latin Proverb