Fame is such a mystifying concept. I’d argue that the desire to be famous is an inescapably American construct. This is not to say that only Americans want to be famous. That is far from the truth. It’s probably more accurate to claim that it’s a deep human desire to be known and recognized. But the uniqueness of the American emphasis on “rugged” individualism and romantic notions of rags-to-riches stories has ingrained in our culture, deeper than others, a willingness to in many circumstances to anything to be famous.
I’ve been curious about fame for several years. In fact, back at Johns Hopkins I wrote my masters thesis on Izzy Einstein, a prohibition agent who was creatively busting bars for illegally selling booze at the same time that the idea of the “celebrity” and “movie star” was invented, and became an unlikely prohibition agent celebrity. (Talk about an oxymoron.) I think I became interested in this because I did my research right around the same time that William Hung became an international celebrity for his audition on “American Idol.”
OK first off, I’ve never watched “American Idol” before, but William Hung’s terrible audition video became a major viral video, one of the first that I ever came across.
I may be giving William Hung too much credit (but as a grad student at Berkeley, the guy is clearly no moron), but I think he knew what he was doing. I think he knew that if he was terrible and ultra-nerdy, at a time when something like his audition video wouldn’t just be talked about the next morning but would be forwarded around through email, he’d actually become an American Idol. And that’s exactly what he did. I remember reading that he has performed at half-time shows at basketball games, he’s got music videos on youtube that people watch like mad, and so on and so forth. For being bad, he actually got really famous.
So with the esoteric pondering aside, I’d like to look into this idea a little bit more. Being bad, and still getting really famous…because you know that you’re bad. Most recently we have yet another American Idol audition that had similar explosive interest, “Pants on the Ground.” Another case of being bad, and getting extremely well-known as a result of it. There are versions of this song that you can buy on iTunes. As my grandfather would put it, guys like Pants on the Ground and William Hung need to be hooked up to a constant morphine drip to prevent themselves from laughing so hard at how they are cashing in for their antics.
There’s something nice about this. Being talentless but still making it. However, there’s also something about this that makes me want to puke. In fact, there is a rather substantial list of things that I would absolutely refuse to do, regardless of how “famous” they might make me. And I’ve done some dumb stuff to get recognized. When I was at Georgetown, I used to act in an orientation skit that every incoming freshman saw. I did this for two years. The skit was about introducing issues that they as college kids might encounter: binge drinking, academic dishonesty, etc. In the skit, I played a date rapist. Repeat: date rapist. Which means that there are two academic classes at Georgetown, the class of ’05 and ’06, for whom almost the entire 1,500 kids in each grade, I was first introduced to them as a date rapist. The first month or so in both of those years, drunk freshman would see me and hoot and holler with their friends: “We’re at a party with the rapiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiist!” Not exactly what I had anticipated. However, I’ll admit it. I still loved the recognition and attention. =)
So anyway, below are some of the things I’ve seen lately that I would refuse to do, even if they meant I would get recognized. Some things are just not worth it.
1) The Freecreditreport.com band. These guys are the biggest bunch of losers I’ve ever seen. They have taken the concept of the commercial jingle and have gutted out any soul that possibly existed and pissed all over it. I don’t know any of their names, but if I saw any of them walking down the street, I’d recognize them. Probably the worst part is how at every point in the commercials, the band converges and the three members shoot each other a look of profound satisfaction, with a sense of “Oh yeah, we’re really rocking it right now. Our music is HOT!” No, it’s not. You guys suck, and now you’re publicly know for sucking just because you wanted people to listen to your music.
2) Ice Dancing. Ice dancing is like JV figure skating, which is sort of like saying you’re on the JV chess team. The Olympics are totally rad, but dude. I can’t believe that when I just want to watch some bad ass hockey, or downhill skiing where skiiers fearlessly throw themselves down the side of a mountain at 50 mph, instead I have to tune into ice dancing. So basically, it’s like figure skating but you’re not allowed to do jumps and twists. What. The. Hell. And here’s the kicker. A lot of the partners are actually siblings, yet they act in a really seductive and sexy way in dancing, akin to how people who are not siblings would dance. It’s just creepy. All to get into the Olympics.
3) being a hot dude/chick as an extra in any TV show/movie. This one is pretty bad. It’s like you’re not willing to actually go and pose nude, but you’re willing to stand around hardly clothed in a show or a movie that is made by a substantial studio as an extra. I think girls who want to be actresses in Hollywood have this opportunity much more than guys do, but it’s pretty bad. Like I said, if you want to sell your body out to be famous, at least go all the way and make a name for yourself, rather than stand in the background of a movie shot wearing just a bikini just to (barely) get yourself in the credits.
4) working for FoxNews. Truth is, I’d hate to work for most cable news networks. 24-hour news networks, for the most sake, suck. The desire to be breaking, and in front of the camera to break it, makes for some absolutely horrific journalism.
On the other side of the spectrum, there are several things that would absolutely hilarious to be famous for. I’ll start my brief list with curling. I’d love to be like the young I-know-what-I’m-doing-and-you-old-farts-can’t-teach-me-anything curling guy who really messes with the dignified high-brow curling culture, assuming there is one. Hot-dog eating contests would be another way that would be awesome to be famous. That Japanese dude who puts down like 60 dogs in 10 minutes is the man. And finally, being a competitive show dog handler, for many of the same reasons that I’d like to be in curling. Imagine how sick it would be to show a dog while having a big blue mohawk.
In general though, there are some things that are worth it, and some things that aren’t. And while I can satiate my base American desire for being famous with a blog and by posting all of my thoughts on Twitter, I’ll take anonymity over being Apollo Anton Ohno any day.