Wanting to be famous

Cynical observers of our current culture presume its creatives are foolish to seek 30 seconds of fame. The cynics have labeled the the pattern narcissism, as if seeking fame is deeply dysfunctional and comprised of phenomenal levels of blatant exhibitionism. The critics probably had no choice of diagnoses or interpretations. They could only make what they see as wrong so they could be right. The cynics do not seek fame, have uses for fame or value being famous.

Thomas De Zengotita raises a very different possibility in his book: Mediated. He quotes one of his professors from Columbia who considered every member of any tribe as famous. He suggests that seeking fame goes hand in hand with membership in close-knit gatherings. High school students make these patterns obvious in their cliques.

This possibility got my mind to leap from the intersection of tribal-fame to the space of Marshall McLuhan's prediction that a global village would emerge from all forms of instantaneous electronic information flows. He foretold that we would leave our "print heads" and wedded bliss with all things mechanical behind us. A return to oral/aural/acoustic sensibilities would dominate our apprehension of situations. We make perceive reality and sense differently than we have throughout the Industrial Revolution.

McLuhan had a a lot to say about artists recognizing the shift in perceptual patterns ahead of the curve of consumers, employers and others profiting from the old order. I have no recollection of McLuhan addressing the issue of fame or predicting the explosion of "fame-seeking" we currently experiencing. He did, however, foresee the change in our sensibilities as becoming "cool" in his unusual use of the term. We would participate in what seemed incomplete to us, much like we listen more attentively when we catch the drift of something that interests us. He considered electronic media far more engaging than print, machines and film. We expected we would get used to being entertained and immersed rather than informed by keeping our distance.

I have not succeeded in making a connection between tribal gatherings and fame seeking. However, I do see a robust connection between oral cultures and fame seeking. Perhaps the current abundance of fame seeking ties into our change in media diets from print (like this text) to multimedia (like I'm preparing) rather than emerging from the increasingly pervasive connectedness.

Imagine if we had no archived material. What if everything was transmitted by word of mouth and gestures? We couldn't have a reputation on file that others could look up. We wouldn't be known for abstract accomplishments that had been certified and verified by authorities. To be known as qualified or exceptional in this world would depend on oral transmissions. We would be hounds for fame and successful at getting it. We would relentlessly seek word-of-mouth mention of what we did, what we're good at and how we differ from others that makes us exceptionally valuable to others. Thus the more we spend time immersed in media other than print, the more we will seek and find fame.

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