Andy Warhol was famous for two things: painting pictures of Marilyn Monroe in such outrageous colors that he managed to make her look ugly, and predicting that “In the future, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes.” Warhol himself has clocked much more than his requisite 15 minutes. But then he was famous for getting away with the outrageous. As much conman as artist, he was able to convince art critics that pictures of Campbell’s soup cans were art, and then get the public to pay high prices for those pictures.
Today, Youtube, Facebook, and Twitter have become the vehicles for 15-minute fame. If you can come up with the digital equivalent of pictures of Campbell’s soup cans, you can record it on Youtube, have a facebook account where everyone who has decided you are famous can go to learn about you, and you can get a following on Twitter.
Youtube has even extended Warhol’s prediction to include animals. Log onto Youtube and the first thing you see are videos of cute kittens doing cute kitten things. These show up so often they might as well have a “Cute Kitten doing Cute Kitten Things of the week.” None of these kittens seem to have names, so their fame is anonymous.
One name that is popping up on the computer screen, at least at my house, is “Charlie.” He’s a young British teen who’s only claim to fame seems to be that he has a smile that absolutely entrances my daughters. And, they tell me, an adorable accent and gorgeous Justin Bieber hair (who, by the way, he delights in ridiculing). “Charlie” racks up thousands of hits on Youtube talking at breakneck speed about his favorite show on the “teli” (British talk for TV) and dying his hair red while my daughters watch. They giggle and scream in a manner once reserved only for rock stars.
Lady Gaga, who jumpstarted her 15 minutes by dressing weirder than Elton John or David Bowie would have ever dreamed, has the highest following of anyone on Twitter.
And that’s the charm of digital fame. No longer measured by time, fame is now measured by the number of hits your homepage gets. Put up some advertising and you can even get paid for every high school kids’ dream, being popular.
Let’s face it, some of the most famous people today, don’t actually do anything—other than be famous. They are famous for being famous. Almost everyone recognizes Lady Gaga, but does anyone actually listen to her music? Paris Hilton? She can barely put a comprehensible sentence together on talk shows. Snookie from Jersey Shore? This girl is famous for her in-your-face total and complete lack of taste. (You may find lady Gaga in bad taste. But at least she has taste.)
Andy (Warhol; remember him? Fame is so fleeting) was right about one thing, today (his future) anyone can be famous. But he was wrong about another. Digital fame, the fame of Youtube and Facebook and Twitter lasts more than 15 minutes. Like the Energizer Bunny (a famous toy) digital fame goes on for ever. The most famous people today become famous not for their batting average or winning an Oscar or writing a bestseller or even how many divorces they’ve had — and fade into obscurity when they no longer have the energy for another divorce.
Today, fame comes from viral videos. They’re called viral videos because they spread like a virus and they often feel like a . . . well, a virus. Some of these viral videos are less than 15 seconds long. Yet, they may exist in the virtual world for ever. Future digital archeologists will pour over these videos and try to puzzle out exactly what we were thinking. (Or weren’t.)
We might wonder what these people do in real life. Sometimes I wonder if they have a real life. It’s entirely possible that they don’t actually exist, except on our computer screens. The special effects in movies have reached the point where it’s impossible to tell what was filmed and what was created in a studio. If they can digitally remaster Star Wars and insert Jabba the Hutt why can’t they remaster reality and insert Lady Gaga? Have you actually met anyone who has been to a Lady Gaga concert? Does anyone actually know Snookie personally? Next time you watch Paris Hilton on a talk show and you ask yourself, “Is this gal for real?” Ask yourself if she’s real.