The Scale of Fame

There’s an interesting / frivolous / mocky article in a recent New York Magazine by Rex Sorgatz, in which he talks about “microfame.” You know, the kind that feasts and flourishes on the internet. Tila Tequila is just about the biggest example, or anyone whose YouTube video has been deemed a “phenomenon.” someone famous for something quite minuscule, and whose fame (both rise and fall) outstrips the amount of time spent preparing for said fame.

Sorgaz’s article lists eight steps to microfame. They’re pretty clever, and if you’re interested in that kind of thing, it would be worth a short experiment to see what happens if you follow Sorgaz’s programme.

But there’s a problem: There has always been microfame. There’s just more of it now, because there’s more infomation, and the pace of culture has increased — owing to the circulation of information — such that the turnover is greater, but the phenomenon is not new. To name a few off-line examples:

1. Jennifer Carol Wilbanks. aka “The Runaway Bride.” remember her?
2. Joey Buttafuco (and Amy Fisher)
3. John Wayne Bobbit.

And so on and so on. Frankly, if you troll newspaper archives dating back to the 19th century, you find case after case of this kind of accidental, fleeting, and — and here’s the kicker — at the time important fame. It’s fascinating, actually.

Sorgatz also argues that microfame is often (or at least occasionally) intentional, as in the spectacular case of Tila Tequila, who seems famous just for being famous, although she is certainly not a pioneer in that regard, either, she just figured out how to leverage myspace into a full-fledged career.

Microfame isn’t new, its just faster. So does the speed of culture matter? Is fast a distinct quality? Or, is it like Joseph Stalin said “Quantity has a quality all its own.”

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