"In the future, everyone will be world-famous for fifteen minutes.”
Little did Mr. Warhol know how prophetic his words would be, and more importantly that he would be turning in his grave about how pathetic our definition of celebrity has come to be. Celebrity as defined in the Oxford English dictionary is: a famous person. The state of being well known. So while one can argue that the definition of celebrity has not changed, the respectability and synonyms that used to be associated with it have changed rather dramatically; namely, hero, luminary, notable, and personage. One used to associate celebrity with the heroes of science, theatrical luminaries, big names in sports, a notable of the concert stage or even a personage in the field of philosophy. And I seem to remember that talent also seemed to be an implicit part of the requisite. Clearly, these associations no longer apply or have been broadened pretty dramatically, to the point where they become completely meaningless, in my mind, when they include today’s’ reality TV stars. I admit that I feel ashamed and embarrassed to live in a society that not only lauds the likes of Charlie, Sheen, Tia Tequila and Omarosa but also consider them celebrities. If anyone among my reader population has been worried about 2012 being the end of the world, fear not because the apocalypse has been upon us for roughly a decade now, in the form of reality TV.
The sad truth of our more modern and civilised world seems to be that anyone who is willing to stand in front of a camera and rant or embarrass themselves in some way has become entitled to their 15 minutes by simply uploading it onto YouTube. The content and substance seem to mean nothing anymore, in fact a quick search of the most popular videos of the day will reveal that the most inane, asinine and meaningless ones are the most popular, by far. Anyone who has something useful or meaningful to contribute is lost in a sea of mediocrity and mirth. This sad realisation becomes even more depressing when one begins to realize that these mostly transient and meaningless bits of content are also being praised for the talent that produced them. While the digital world seems to be hastening this deterioration of cerebral pursuits, it is hard to ignore the fact that even among the ranks of the more bona fide luminaries today, there is a lot left to be desired both in terms of their lack of respectability and their contributions to society. The allure and mystique of the movie star and the stoic character of world leaders and politicians seem to be fading faster than we can type 140 characters.
As much as I love the ability for real-time updates and sharing that services like Twitter and Facebook have ushered in, I also believe that personal boundaries are still absolutely necessary. In fact, they are needed now more than ever before. So while I enjoy hearing about my friends’ latest escapades in a weekly or monthly dose, I equally have zero interest in knowing about the personal weekend antics of my Congressman from the 15th district of New York. 20% of politicians, who use Twitter, update their streams with personal information. Transparency in politics is great, but I am pretty sure this is not what America’s forefathers had in mind. Granted there is much greater access to personal information today. The glare of the media spotlight is much stronger and the newsmen might be less disciplined than they used to be. Still, people have the ability to control and limit what they do and say both in public, and in response to vapid accusations, salacious rumors and torrid gossip in the press. Take Denzel Washington, for example. I applaud his decision to keep his private life private. Being such a huge star, if he can obsessively limit the amount of personal information that trickles into a morbidly curious world, then I have to believe so too can others to a greater degree than they tend do today. Sadly, discretion no longer seems to be the better part of valour, today.
Another concern is our increasing tolerance for what is deemed acceptable and responsible in our society. The level to which our standards have diminished to an alarming degree is obvious when we laugh, sigh and simply turn the page at Madonna’s latest hobby, that of adopting (buying) children from different parts of the world. Or when we seem perfectly content to move on with a minor slap on A-Rod’s wrist for what amounts to cheating by taking steroids, albeit earlier in his career. And that it took the reckless and criminal endangerment of a child, in the Balloon boy saga, to finally create some semblance of public outcry. The lengths people are willing to go to gain their 15 minutes of fame is a sad testament to the state of our society today. Even crashing the White House’s first State Dinner seems only to be shocking because it might have endangered the President and Indian Prime Minister (who is no. 1 on most terrorist’s hit lists). And perhaps this is in part because the lines have become blurred between reality, and politics. For one it seems that good, bad or ugly the type of publicity does not seem to matter; reality TV aspirants just want their payday and politicians their name in the headlines. From Sarah Palin’s mudslinging family feud, to Governor Mark Sanford’s tell-all affair, or Tom Delay’s turn as a contestant on Dancing with the Stars, to a stand-up comic being elected to the US Senate from Minnesota. One wonders when these two worlds will collide or worse yet that they already have and we are just too jaded to have noticed. In fact, I just heard that two former Real World contestants, Sean Duffy from Real World Boston and Kevin Powell from Real World New York show, are considering runs for Congress. As I ponder this, I realise that my initial shock and outrage has begun to fade, and acceptance fills this space. I cannot help but wonder if they might actually do a better job than our politicians in either party have been able to do.