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What is Fame?:Famous For Being Famous

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In his book entitled The Image: A guide to Pseudo-Events in America, Daniel Boorstin takes us through a historical evolution of the concept of celebrity, and its role in social and cultural production. He notes the traditional definition of celebrity in the Oxford English Dictionary as, “the condition of being much talked about”, i.e., a state of being, but laments that the notion of celebrity has now shifted away from its traditional conception to signify a personal trait which can be used to identify oneself, i.e., one who is “a person of celebrity”. In contemporary society, only rarely does fame have anything to do with skill or any other intrinsic quality that would signal greatness in an individual, it is mainly about acquiring and maintaining the interest and attention of the public. By this definition, anyone can be a celebrity if they are lucky (or clever) enough to be in the right place at the right time, or if they are smart enough to use the media to their advantage in attracting public attention. Fame, then, is a function of media coverage, initiated by the machinery of information production and dissemination that manufactures a celebrity whose only real quality is his or her well-knownness. The only real requisite for fame is the ability to “get into the news and stay there” long enough to be able to garner a sense of familiarity with the public. Thus, what interests us about other people is no longer how skilled they are or what achievements they have, but the degree to which they can entertain us. Perhaps being famous for absolutely nothing shouldn’t be quite so desirable. The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills recently fell victim to yet another tragedy – the suicide of Russell Armstrong, husband of Taylor Armstrong. News reports on the cause of his suicide speculate that the financial pressure of maintaining the lavish lifestyle necessary for public appearances, particularly for the show, were what drove Armstrong to hang himself. With over $1.5 million in debt, indeed, the cost of fame was far too high for this couple. While Armstrong’s death is tragic no doubt, it only makes one wonder why superficial fame such as his is so coveted, if it takes such a heavy toll on the individuals life.

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