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"Dynamic Fame"

I jotted down a few ideas at the request of an author doing a book called Dynamic Fame (I guess that’s his term for this reality-internet celebrity we have foisted upon us) ... they're not fully formed (oh, what is, really??) but it's a good jumping off point for discussion.

------ Forwarded Message
From: Julia Allison <julia@juliaallison.com>
Date: Tue, 25 Sep 2007
To: Author of Book
Subject: Internet Fame!

On Dynamic Fame

First, let's define Famous.  Famous, adj "known by many people."  So how is being known by many people helpful?

Well, it must be.  Otherwise, why the hell does vh1 & E! exist?!

If there were no evolutionary benefit to fame, no one would chase it – or certainly not as doggedly as they do now.  To be well-known gives many people (perhaps most people?) pleasure, and generally things that give us pleasure have their roots in something that at one point helped us.  There could be no other reason for the proliferation and (exponentially accelerating) mass obsession with fame.

Ultimately, I think it has something to do with the fact that people will DO things for you if you're famous or well-known. It's a type of power. So let's say, back in the day, you were famous amongst your little tribe, well, people would be more likely to bring you back nuts & berries & shit.  They’d be more likely to give you the better cave, the better cave women, the better spot in the hunting pack, whatever (I hate these stupid “back in the cave days” examples, but still, I can’t think of anything better).  Thus, fame was a type of currency very early on.

In any case, how does this relate to web fame? Well ...

Fame is funny. If you REALLY think about it, it doesn't MATTER whether you're famous throughout the entire world, like Brad Pitt, or all of America, like Mandy Moore, or famous just at your college, or famous in your chosen career (maybe you’re the most famous electrician in Des Moines!)  In any of these cases, you're going to accrue the benefits of fame – the adulation, the sense of false familiarity, the reassurance that people you don’t know personally will treat you well and help you out when you need something.

As long as you're surrounded by people who think you're famous, it doesn't matter where they are.  So the web, in a sense, has created billions of heretofore nonexistent opportunities for people to become famous in their own niches - whereas before they were limited to real world communities.

One more thing - the internet also leads many people to believe they are famous and, as such, begin acting in fame-addled ways.  As anyone who is familiar with E! or the celebrity newsweeklies, such as my employer, Star, fame often goes hand-in-hand with rampant and unrestrained egotism.  Rosie O'Donnell explains the phenomenon perfectly in her new book, Celebrity Detox:

“It is a shift that happens in the head and that very few celebrities will ever really speak about. … One begins to believe in the specialness, and a dangerous sense of entitlement takes over. … When celebrity addiction starts, you become impatient with, and even angry at necessary obstacles. You think could run a red light or two. And then you do.”

Therefore, due to the internet, a huge (and growing) number of people have acquired what a good friend of mine termed “situational narcissism.”

In terms of whether online tools like Facebook were valuable in creating dynamic fame, I’d say of course, in certain ways they were invaluable.  Namely, they facilitated dynamic fame amongst smallish cyber-groups that would never have formed otherwise.  But it’s important to note that while they were accessories to the crime, but they were not the genesis.  The genesis was the internet in and of itself, the internet as a medium with which to display and familiarize personalities.  Prior to the internet, your options for achieving fame were as follows: acting, athletics, politics, royalty or sure, you could get a little attention by killing a few people in a dramatic way.  Other than that, you were probably doomed to the dim twilight that knows neither MySpace nor YouTube.

Now, on the other hand, you need merely a T-1 line and a digital camera and three days from now, you could sit opposite Matt Lauer on the Today Show as 10 million people watch you give the director’s commentary on your poorly lit, badly edited 3 minute viral video.

Welcome to Dynamic Fame!  The anarchy which, at its most delusional, believes itself to be a meritocracy.