Fame is defined as the condition of being known or talked about by many people, esp. on account of notable achievements. As an entertainment publicist in Atlanta, I am constantly bombarded with inquiries from people who want to be “FAMOUS”. Very rarely do the inquiries for fame come with the combination of talent. I can’t remember the last time someone wanted to hire me to help them shed light on their talent or gift. No, most of the calls I receive are generic bribes under the guise of a professional inquiry. “If I pay you, can you get me on TV?”
Over the last ten years reality TV has removed the if- then factor from the definition, creating overnight sensations stemming from every background and cultural environment imaginable. “FAME” is the four-letter word that everyone wants, and today exposure instead of “notable achievements” guarantees it’s yours.
While visiting Katie Couric’s talk show, legendary rock musician Jon Bon Jovi spoke of wanting his children to pursue something they felt passionate about. When Couric pressed Bon Jovi about his children wanting to be famous, his response was that fame was never his goal. For Bon Jovi and many of his talented peers, following the path to be an amazing singer or guitarist or drummer was the goal, and fame was simply the result, albeit and added bonus of reaching that goal. “I wasn’t seeking fame. We wanted to work hard at something and be really good at it. Fame just happened to come along with that,” he explained. Bon Jovi concluded by saying he wanted to encourage his children to work hard and be good at something they felt passionate about as opposed to aspiring to be famous. This explanation speaks volumes to the state of celebrity in 2013. The idea of being popular has been substituted for the idea of fame, and our culture is celebrating popularity that lacks substance. The value has been siphoned from “fame” and we’ve been left with hyped up versions of the popular kid in high school who everybody looked up to but nobody knew why.
Reality TV is the number one supplier to the new value of fame that rewards shocking behavior and a lack of moral boundary as a shortcut to success, instead of good old fashioned hard work and creative talent. Images of a middle-aged ex-hip hop hype man slobbering over twenty women young enough to be his daughter all in the name of love, spurned a generation to believe they could acquire fame sans the blood, sweat and tears that most stars subject themselves to sacrificing. However years before Flava Flav was loosed on prime time television, day-time talk shows were gaining viewers based on extreme drama, violent fights, and outrageous paternity results. Women across the country hiked up their skirts and practiced throwing a left hook in hopes of getting their fifteen minutes of fame and possibly translate it to an half an hour. Years later we bypassed acting workshops and theatre productions and brought the same sense of immediate fame to music. Aspiring artists competed on an eight week television show to bypass the years of artist development, private showcases and demo submissions their idols underwent to receive their Grammy’s and sold out ticket sales. Did the public accept these overnight “reality” music and television stars? Yes, but with an expensive price tag attached.
Gone are the days where struggle bred creativity which lead to artistic expression and eventually produced something so special and so unique that it was worth our adoration, our money and inevitably our respect. Today’s reality television stars, socialites and even idol winners have our attention, but more times than not, they don’t receive the public’s respect.
If you have any question about the public’s respect it’s easy to gauge. It’s the public’s respect that translates to money spent on concert tickets. Money spent at the box office and even money spent on endorsed products. It’s the public’s respect that allows an artist to have a twenty year musical career or an even longer one in movies. It’s the public’s respect that remains loyal long after the hype and popularity have faded.
Arguably there could be outliers in the theory that the fame that consists of hard work leading to attaining “notable achievements” creates a more valuable definition of fame than the watered down popular version we see today that is simply a result of exposure. There are examples of reality stars using their fifteen minutes of ill-gotten exposure to catapult themselves into a celebrity-yielding career they are well-suited to take on responsibly, but those examples are few and far between. More often than not our public is bombarded with images of men and women, young and old from every background, culture and race looking to get a check and receive the adulation of the public, looking to receive fame but giving nothing in return.
Whether the definition of fame has adjusted with time, or our basic human need to be validated and accepted is quenched with the promise of national recognition is debatable. What is not debatable is that there are no exceptions to the rule that hard work, perseverance and talent when combined with the right opportunity deliver in huge dividends. The rewards include far more than a sparse minute of popularity or even the ability to supplement one’s income in a quickly closing window of opportunity. While a cheaper version of that formula is available, it will not deliver the exact same results. Can you pay to be on television? Yes. A well-connected publicist, ambitious agent or conscientious manager can arrange for just about anyone with the right amount of available income for a retainer fee to have fifteen minutes of fame. However if you’re looking for the type of fame that Jon Bon Jovi and his colleagues enjoy you may be disappointed. If you are looking for the type of fame that leads to being respected, revered or considered an icon or legend? Unfortunately that type of fame still comes the old fashioned way, on account of notable achievement.