Andy Warhol once said, ‘In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.’
I’m a writer, an aspiring writer at that. And fame is therefore something I have to admit drives part of what I do. It’s not necessarily that I want to be a millionaire, but a little recognition would be nice. I mean hey, if a magical genie were to suddenly pop up in front of me and offer to make me as successful, world-famous and well-loved as JK Rowling, with a swirl of a wand and a cry of “familianus!’ I’d be insane to stop the spell. However, recently I found myself contemplating the question, to the behest of my ego, ‘Why do I, just one of 7.5 billions people on Earth, deserve fifteen minutes of worldwide fame? And if I do, is it possible I can achieve it in my lifetime?
First, I have to question what it means to be”world-famous”? Okay, people can be famous in small circles, and multiple people can be famous at the same time but we’re talking “world-famous” here, so let’s go to the extreme and define it as every other person’s undivided attention on Earth. Let’s also say for the sake of keeping things simple, regardless of how you feel about Justin Bieber or Kim Kardashian, that every person on Earth deserves my undivided attention equally. Wowee, now there’s fuel for my ego! If all the 7.5 billion people on Earth were to stand in a queue, regardless of age, to receive fifteen minutes of being “world-famous” in order, and with no overlap, it would require 105 billion minutes for everyone’s fame to be dished out, which is one billion seven hundred fifty-million hours, or 72,916,666.6667 days.
However, according to WHO the average life expectancy at birth is currently 71.4 years worldwide. 71,4 years is a little over 26,000 days.
Using this example, the chance that I will receive my fifteen minutes of fame is dependent on the order I stand in the line. In other words, a lot of people are going to miss out, I’m likely to perish before I receive my turn, and I have a far better chance of winning free dentistry.
Obviously, if “world-famous” is measured in this way, not everyone can indulge in fifteen minutes of it. Indeed, if every one of the 7.5 billion population of Earth were to live to the age of 71.4, then it would still not be possible for every single person to achieve even a second of it.
It’s safe to say that for the average person a second of worldwide fame is an irregularity. Of course, the world isn’t fair. And there will always be people with more seconds of precious recognition under their belts than anyone else, whether you feel it deserved or undeserved. But then why do some of us still yearn for it? Sure, we are social animals. Social acceptance means we have more of a chance of finding friendship, and love, amongst other things. But perhaps we are still stuck in an old way of thinking. Somewhere in side the primordial part of ourselves perhaps we still yearn to seek the acceptance of the new interconnected tribe we find ourselves in — the global village. The problem is, if one starts seeing the world as one’s village, how can any one ever seek to gain complete respect?And yet, how many times do you hear about a famous singer or artist getting frustrated because someone doesn’t recognise them? No wonder so many ultra-famous people sometimes “snap”. Complete fame is an illusion, a magical carrot we can never catch, let alone eat.
Fame, in any case, isn’t measurable. Some people are famous but not respected. Others might even be infamous, having everyone’s attention but for all the wrong reasons! To me, fame is not the be all and end all virtue. Yet, sometimes it can be easy to forget this. While TV chat shows and magazines inform us of how celebrities deal with being world-famous, it seems wise for some of us at least, to spend a little more time contemplating how to deal with not being famous.
Fame can be defined in many ways: it is attention, recognition, respect? The way society defines it, a lot of people can be famous without actually doing much good for the world. But I don’t think that many could argue that when people strive for fame what they are really striving for is happiness. Perhaps then, by questioning the people we are told deserve to be “famous”, we can can give a little more attention to the more anonymous people truly changing the world for the better.
There are plenty of people who have achieved great things in the universe and have never been famous: have you heard of Cleisthenes, the father of democracy; Rabban Sauma, the Marco Polo of the East; or The Dahomey Amazons, a real life all-female Amazon warrior army? You don’t need fame to do extraordinary things.
And, surely in some cases a little anonymity is not such a bad thing. Can Alicia Keys walk through the streets of New York without people singing her song? How often has Sylvester Stallone had someone yell out “Adrian!” at him.
What I try telling myself at least, as a writer without a magical spell to have the world my way, is that perhaps happiness isn’t always found through fame. Perhaps, I need to accept that “fame” is not all red carpets and bright lights. The place you go to to get a burger, maybe you’re famous there. Maybe you’re famous at your school. Better still, maybe you’re recognised and respected.
Perhaps, Andy Warhol might have been more exact in saying that in the future everyone will want fifteen minutes of being “world-famous”. You can still have your fifteen minutes of fame by expressing yourself, and forgetting about the numbers. Because fame is not black and white, nor countable, nor something you necessarily have or don’t have. More and more the world doesn’t stand still to give a few select people their undivided attention. More and more fame is becoming something that does overlap. Put a video on YouTube and it might be seen by a thousand people from Peru to Berlin, or start a blog and write a post about ‘How [Not] To Be Famous, it’s not 7.5 billion, but it’s still worldwide attention isn’t it? In any case, what I’m personally learning as I strive to make my name known in the world, is that expressing yourself, is more important than just fame, because fame in many ways, is just as absurd as the measure of it is subjective.