As we move through the season of the exaltation of the gods (i.e. famous people) I’ve been giving a lot of thought to fame, what it is and how it works. As we live in the wake of the Grammy’s and on the eve of the Oscars the collective attention of our society seems to be on “stars.” Stars can be a billion miles away from us and yet we can still feel their presence. That’s how it works with celebrities. That’s how fame works.
Here’s my working definition of fame: Notoriety or acclaim accruing to a person from beyond their neighborhood. It runs the gamut from small towns to HollyWood. American Idol positions itself as what Simon Cowell regularly referred to as a “singing contest.” In reality, it is a fame machine. Somebody, rather, a whole range of “nobody’s” will be famous before the season is over. It’s a guarantee. American Idol isn’t about the music. It’s about the fame. The music is merely the means to the end.
Have you ever seen someone on American Idol from your town or who was your friend or who was a friend of your friend of your friend. Chances are you eagerly let other people know about it. Why? Because somehow, that person’s fame accrued to you. It gave you a heightened sense of importance just to be connected to them. It gave others a heightened sense of importance because they knew you and they would readily tell others they had a friend of a friend who was on American Idol or who auditioned, etc. (This is how we get the six degrees of connection to Kevin Bacon).
This is how fame works. Fame works through a fascinating combination of distance and nearness. Importance and distance create a sense of awe (i.e. the stage). The stage creates a simulated transcendence. Images and details of day to day life create a sense of familiarity (i.e. the tabloids). Tabloids create a simulated nearness. They facilitate a type of voyeurism. But if I know the famous person and you know me and your friend knows you. . . . . . somehow and in some strange way, I become famous and you do too. I learned this most profoundly when I went to the Grammy Awards a couple of years back. More on that to come. . . . .