Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Famous to 15 people

Walhydra has never really understood the American worship of celebrity, not even when she first came over in 17...um, never mind.

In earlier times, at least, one actually did something of value in order to be celebrated.

Now, it seems, simply catching media attention seems to be enough. Americans will even commit weird crimes in order to “be someone”—until the public’s ADD kicks in again, that is.

Walhydra is therefore intrigued by John Leland’s Op/Ed piece in this past Sunday’s New York Times, “Where All the Beautiful People Are Ho-Hum.”

Observing the spotlight shift from creatures like Tom Cruise onto creatures like Lazydork and Lonelygirl15, Leland remarks that, “In the YouTube era, everyone will be famous to 15 people.”

Walhydra suspects there are at least that many people who know about her, possibly not for flattering reasons. Yet she realizes Leland is writing about something a bit different.

“On some deep level, fame is more people paying attention to you than you can reciprocate,” says Clay Shirky of New York University. “That hasn’t changed. But now you have that fundamental imbalance filtered through a new technology with new expectations, including interactivity and egalitarianism.”

An interesting formula: Fame is more people paying attention to you than you can reciprocate.

“That happens pretty much any evening at the reference desk, about 10 minutes before closing,” Walhydra realizes. “Does that make me famous?”

She reads on.

“People like Lonelygirl have discovered a truth about celebrity, which is that celebrity is a narrative form, not a status,” says Neal Gabler, a senior fellow at the Norman Lear Center at the University of Southern California. “They understand that if you create a narrative, you create a celebrity. You don’t need movie studios or television.”

Celebrity is a narrative form, not a status.

That is definitely an interesting insight. Walhydra has been talking about herself for ages, and the story keeps getting more...inventive...as she works to hang onto her audience.

But she’s never posted a video of herself dancing with her shirt off, and she doesn’t intend to. Some decorum must be observed.

Leland continues: “But as a narrative, celebrity doesn’t demand that its stories be well-crafted or complex — just that they grab someone’s attention for a minute, said Ken Goffman, better known as R.U. Sirius....”

And he quotes P. David Marshall of Northeastern University: “We’re moving from a representation culture, where celebrities or stars represented us, to a presentation culture, where we can present ourselves.”

Now Walhydra is beginning to wonder. This is all just about attention, not worth.

Modest Virgo egotist that she is, Walhydra knows she loves attention and commendation but doesn’t want to seem to notice it.

It’s part of that “dark Lutheran” thing she and Senior Witch tease each other about: Lutherans—at least the Swiss-German-American ones—are supposed to do things with spotless efficiency and then not claim credit.

So what happens when no one mentions that they noticed?

As Samantha of Bewitched used to say, “We-ell...?”

Leland concludes with words from Leo Braudy of the University of Southern California: “Fame originally meant after you’re dead. ‘Undying fame’ is the phrase in Indo-European traditions. In a world with little media, that was considered an accomplishment, that people would talk about you when you’re gone.”

Walhydra nods. “That’s part of why I agreed to incarnate again, to find out what they were saying about me. Problem is, I don’t remember who I was last time.”

She ponders the fame thing.

In one of those rare moments of genuine self-liking, she remembers that, dark Lutheranism aside, what really satisfies her is doing well things she values doing.

And she probably knows at least 15 other people who have that same desire for themselves and for each other.

That’s not fame, but it’s something to celebrate.