Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Best New Way To Become Famous

There's an old joke that goes something like this:

A man stops another man on the street and says "Excuse me, sir, can you tell me how I might get to Carnegie Hall?" The second man says, in response, "Show a little nipple."

That's funny because it's relevant. Also, I'm not exactly sure what "Carnegie Hall" is. I think it's where Boss Tweed used to have his supporters beaten until they stuffed all the Chicago ballot boxes with fake beyond-the-grave votes for JFK.

The point of this rambling is that the musical group "Sparks," which made the classic Music That You Can Dance To:

Also made a song called "How Can I Get To Carnegie Hall," which isn't on Youtube in any format I'd care to reproduce here. Plus they made a song called The Rhythm Thief:

So those are all good songs.

And, um, they serve a larger point -- I have to claim they serve a larger point because I got a little offtrack there and don't want you to think that the mention of Carnegie Hall automatically made me think of Sparks, and that I then went and listened to their songs and watched those videos for a while and forgot what I was writing about here, even though that's exactly what happened. Since I don't want you to know that, I'll stick with my claim that Sparks' songs serve a larger point, and that point is that it's no longer necessary to be talented to be famous, and also that it's getting progressively harder to become famous, because all of the things that can be done to be famous are getting taken up, and pretty soon doing those things won't make you famous anymore, and you'll have to go back to the drawing board, so to speak -- and I'm speaking metaphorically, because "going back to the drawing board" is already taken up as a way to become famous: Andy Azula had his moment in the sun as "that one guy who draws those things for UPS on the white board."

Andy springboarded from a job as the director of the UPS Campaign to the star of it by being good at doodling, and then doodling on national TV commercials. (He had help doing it; a professional illustrator re-drew things between scenes.)

So if you're having trouble becoming famous and keep finding your ideas taken up, going back to the drawing board won't help; someone already got famous for that and you can't do it again -- as proven by the failed "Drawing Board" campaign Bud Light tried:

Everybody hated those, right? Just like everybody will soon hate Betty White, who is becoming famous again-- showing that one way to become famous, in the 21st century, is to have been famous in the last century. Betty White's resurgence into fame began with her appearance in one of the dumber Super Bowl ads on record:

And continued into an SNL appearance and probably a bunch of other stuff, but I don't watch things that feature Betty White in them, so I'm not sure just how famous she is right now: Famous enough to be on SNL, but not so famous that we have to see upskirt photos of her on celebrity gossip sites, is her level based on my complete lack of research.

Betty White had a second route to fame: Funny old lady doing unoldladylike things, a route to fame that was presaged, if not pre-empted, by that old lady rapper in The Wedding Singer:

Who kind of looked like Betty White, didn't she?

That's funny because all old ladies look the same.

That lady, whose name I forgot by the time I clicked on the video to copy it, turned her brief rapping (and dirty talk) in that movie into an almost-career, but she got her brief fame out of it, and in doing so, nearly closed the door that Betty White has now slammed shut on that route to fame.

Betty White may not be desperate enough to hang onto her fame this time to go to the lengths that some people try as they strive to capture public attention: We haven't yet been subjected to seeing Betty White's nipples, but you can't rule it out, because exposing parts of your body is, for some reason, a surefire fame-grabber -- so surefire that such nonluminaries as Demi Lovato have latched on to it in recent days:

I'm not entirely sure who Demi Lovato is. If you're keeping track of things I'm not entirely sure of, then the list is up to:
1. What Carnegie Hall is, 2. Who Demi Lovato is, 3. What it is, exactly, that I even do for a living anymore.

While I don't exactly know who Demi Lovato is or why anyone should care about her butt "accidentally" slipping out of her bikini in front of a bunch of paparazzi, the fact is that I do know who Demi Lovato is, generally speaking -- because of her butt "accidentally" slipping out of its bikini covering -- so Demi Lovato managed to get famous because of that, and as ways to get famous go, it's much more acceptable, I assume, than the far-more-hardcore way to get fame that exists further down the spectrum -- that being "making a sex tape."

In the past, making sex tapes, or at least making sex tapes that other people would eventually get to see, was reserved for people who were already famous, and by that I mean "Only Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee," the couple who inaugurated our era of "Fame Through Sex Tapes," only Pam & Tommy weren't seeking fame through their sex tape; they were plenty famous already for being on Baywatch, and being in a band. Making a sex tape seemed, at the time, to be simply an offshoot of who they were, and not a way to become famous.

But the fact that their sex tape became such a big hit led to other people using sex tapes to become famous -- and using sex tapes to become famous has become so popular and so automatic that (a) it's been reduced to a science, and (b) it no longer makes people famous.

(By now, you've gathered that my "research" for this post has consisted of nothing more than going back and re-reading The Superficial, and also you've gathered that "The Superficial" counts as "science" in my book.)

(My book is "The Big Book Of Things That Count As Other Things," and includes an entry labeled "Dessert Foods That Count As Main Courses")

The days of Paris Hilton rising to fame via a sex tape, and Kim Kardashian rising to fame via a sex tape, and other people rising to fame via a sex tape:

are over. We, as the sex-tape-consuming public, no longer allow people to become famous just by having a sex tape, any more than we allow them to become more famous by having a sex tape. Tila Tequila, Kendra, and that woman from that housewives show: you're all out of luck. If you want to become famous (or more famous), you'll either have to expose your problems on national TV, like fat people and the members of "The Hills" do, or you'll have to float away in a balloon.

That's actually the latest trick attempted by people who want to be famous: Floating away in a balloon. Nearly 30 years after Lawnchair Larry first grabbed some pre-internet fame, and 113 years after Salomon Andree tried to find fame and fortune by slowly dying on a balloon trip to the North Pole, people are still thinking that "floating away in a balloon" will bring fame -- and sometimes it will, as both Balloon Dad and Jonathan Trappe can tell you.

Trappe is the man who recently crossed the English Channel
in a chair tied to some balloons,

both of them special -- that's the chair and the balloons, not Trappe, who got written up on websites and the back column of Sports Illustrated for his efforts -- thereby proving that fame cannot be reached, anymore, by dangling from a balloon, because the truly famous do not get relegated to the last thing someone reads in Sports Illustrated.

(Actually, the final column is the first thing I read in Sports Illustrated. Then I skip to Peter King's Things I Think I Think, because I like to get aggravated by how dumb that title is. King: If you think you think them, then you do think them. Also, King: quit talking about texting athletes. When did texting replace interviewing? I don't like to talk on the phone because I have important things to do [like blogging], but isn't a reporter's job to talk on the phone?)

Floating off in a balloon, making a sex tape, being one of four sexually-charged old ladies on a dimly-remembered sitcom: All out as ways to become famous. But we, as Americans, want to become famous. We need to become famous. It's in our blood: Fame is our royalty. I know that I said ranking things was our royalty, but fame is also our royalty, and ever since we kicked out British royalty, we've been trying to recreate the experience of having people who are better/richer/getting more action than us by making people famous, sometimes for no reason whatsoever, and sometimes for great reasons, but for whatever reason we've elevated people to fame, we've continued to do so, and we need famous people exactly as much as we need ways for we, ourselves, to get famous.

"In the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes," Andy Warhol famously said, and in doing so, Andy cemented his own fame, fame built on taking other famous things and showing them to us: his reprints of Elvis and Marilyn Monroe and Campbell's Soup Cans were nothing more than a mirror held up to society and reflected back at us -- making Andy famous for realizing that he could do that, and making his quote almost ironic (although the word ironic really has no meaning anymore, thanks to twentysomethings' continued misuse of it), and also self-contradictory, an oxymoron: If everyone is famous, is anyone famous?

That depends on what the meaning of the word famous is; fame, like celebrity and related words, is a slippery notion. Someone can be a celebrity without having done anything to be celebrated. Someone can be famous but not in a good way: John Wayne Gacy is famous but nobody wants to become famous that way (nobody except maybe some of the Real Desperate Housewives, who would probably do anything to become famous, so start checking under the basement floors of those tacky NJ mansionettes.)

Famous to me is when everybody knows who you are and at least a little about why they know who you are: That measure of fame makes the whole world into a Cheers restaurant for those who are admitted to the evergrowing/no-longer-really-elite club that is fame -- a club that is expanding exponentially, as the digital age increases the speed with which people can become famous and the speed with which we can then discard their fame. Joe The Plumber was famous, for a bit, and then tossed aside. (Mostly.) Sarah Palin was famous, and still is, so fame doesn't choose political sides (although it helps, in becoming or staying famous, if you've got breasts.)(But breasts can't do all the work, as Carrie Prejean would be the first to tell you.)

Nor can talent be enough to carry one to fame anymore -- the best leading indicator of fame, American Idol -- proof, in television show form, that I'm right when I say Americans are programmed to want fame and need ways to make themselves and others famous -- American Idol shows that talent can't carry the day in making one famous, as recent years have led to controversy over the finalists deemed more talented missing the cut while less worthies go on to become American Idols, in name only, really, as nobody idolizes them and they're not even really idols in name only, because nobody knows their names.

Talent's not enough, and looks aren't enough, and ballooning across bodies of water aren't enough, so what, then, will ensure that Americans can become famous and briefly, or not so briefly, enjoy the adulation and admiration of our less-famous-peers? Having kids? Lots of kids? That might have worked once -- but not any longer, not now that everyone, seemingly, has tons of kids: Look how hard Kate Gosselin has to work to stay in the public eye. Just a few years ago, simply having a lot of kids was enough to get her a TV show and a book deal. Now, in this era of heightened fame, she's got to sing and dance for her supper, literally.

Sporting achievements, once a guarantee of a certain level of fame, don't cut it any longer, either. Name a gold medalist from the latest Winter Olympics: I bet you can't. Name a World Cup Soccer player... one who's not from your country, and who's not Wayne Rooney. Name the New Orleans' Saints kicker who got the Saints into the Super Bowl, and who then pulled off the daring onside kick that helped them win it.

The answers to those questions are:

1. Who cares about the Olympics?
2. Winston Reid, the Kiwi who scored New Zealand's first-ever goal in World Cup history, and
3. Garrett Hartley:

But are any of them really famous? I say not, and I say that because it furthers my point, that athletic achievements can't do it alone. Take Brett Favre: He's won a Super Bowl, been named MVP of the NFL 3 times, has never missed a start in 18 years and had the best season of his career last year... and Brett Favre has to keep his name in the news by constantly pretending to retire.

Or take Michael Jordan, the single greatest athlete ever to play any game. Not playing basketball anymore, Jordan has tried a variety of things to keep his name on people's lips and his image in their minds: he tried baseball, he ran a basketball camp, he unretired, he got divorced, he became a GM, he advertised underwear, and when all of that still kept him at a fame level that was actually lower than Jonah Hill's, he did this:

Is that what we have to do to become famous? Mimic mass-murdering genocidal dictators? If so, count me out. I'm not going to Pol Pot myself just to get a TV series on the Disney channel, which itself used to be enough to make one famous (Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, Shia LeBeouf, Jamie Lynn Spears, and Miley Cyrus...) but now can't carry the weight of lifting people above the heads and shoulders of the madding crowds.

What's left, then? You readers know that I try never to leave you hanging -- that I try not to pose a question that has no answer, and that I try not to give you an answer that was not preceded by a question. I'm like a matchmaking service for questions and answers, and I've got, as you'd expect, the answer to the question I've posed. I've got

The Best New Way To Become Famous.

And that way is:

Do nothing.

Just ... do... nothing.

It's brilliant. You're just absorbing and thinking about it and you're starting to see that, but I'll explain it.

The world, right now, is full of people who are doing something to become famous. They are writing books, or starring in movies, or writing books about starring in movies. Everyone has a blog, everyone has a Twitter account, everyone has an arqebus...

... what's that? You don't arquebus? How can you not? Well, maybe because I haven't actually invented arquebusing yet, but I will.

An arquebus, as you probably already know, is a medieval firearm that consisted of a tube with a hole in one end and a seal at the other. I'm planning on creating the next big wave of social media networking, Arquebus, a site where users will be able to log on to post one comment and one comment only, and then can never comment again. You'll be able to read their comments, but cannot reply in any way. It's going to be hot, for about six months, until people figure out there's no way to see naked people on it and abandon it.

Everyone's got a way to become famous: Youtube elevates people and sneezing pandas and then throws them back down into the pit. We all videotape our kids and post them on the Internet in hopes that some fame will spatter on to them, and us:

I'm no better than you are.

We're all out there, is the point, slaving away at becoming famous, and in doing so, we are continuously upping the ante for fame -- making it harder and harder to stay above the ever-rising tide of fame.

Do you want to live in a world where people have to cut off their own limbs to become famous? Once, getting your arm bit off by a shark while surfing would get you on the news. Now, a guy has to saw off his own arm -- as two people have done -- to get a reporter to stick a microphone in his face.

That's not the kind of world I want to bequeath to my kids -- two of whom, I'll note, were shown in that video up there, and don't you think they're cute enough to be on TV? If so, get in touch with me.

The kind of world I want to leave to my kids is one where people can become famous more easily, and to do that, we're going to all have to try a little less hard to become famous. We're going to have to stop doing what we're doing and start doing what we're not doing. We have to stop trying to get ourselves onto reality TV shows and stop lighting basketballs on fire before all of our teens are permanently eyebrowless. We have to stop letting old men try out for American Idol because they have a cute song, and stop being those old men trying out for American Idol. We have to turn off any TV show that has "Next Top" or similar words in the title, which should be easy because we've used every occupation that can be used for those shows.

And then we have to sit back.

And relax.

And maybe do our jobs (you do that; I'm really not sure what it is I actually do for a living anymore.)

And raise our kids.

And clean our kitchen floors.

And read one of the few books in print that were written by people who wanted to write as opposed to reading one of the 173,000,000,000 written by someone who wants to become famous.

Or watch a movie meeting those same criteria.

It'll take a little while, but eventually, you'll see: People Magazine and CNN HLN USDA and the gossip blogs will realize that they're running out of upskirt photos and drunk-driving citations to talk about, that Tea Parties and top models are getting boring, and they'll start looking for someone else to focus on.

That's when they'll notice us -- sitting, parenting, reading, or just living -- and they'll realize, hey, here's a trend. They'll start interviewing people who are actively not seeking fame -- and make that person famous. For not seeking fame.

It'll be the reverse Andy Warhol: Instead of becoming famous by showing people what it's like to become famous, we'll all go through the looking glass and become famous by refusing to become famous. And our fame will only rise if we stick to our guns. The first time Joy Behar comes calling, trying to interview me to see what it's like to become famous for not becoming famous, I'm not going to take her call. I'm not going to post on my Twitter account how I didn't take her call. And I'm not going to write a book about not posting on my Twitter how I didn't take her call.

That'll only increase my fame: As others get on the news or in the papers (if there are still papers) for not being famous, my stock will rise as I continue to stubbornly resist being famous -- and I'll refuse more phone calls and refuse more interviews and not write more books. I'll be like a famous, real-life version of Todd Snider's band in Talkin' Seattle Grunge Rock Blues:

and it'll just keep rising.

You can come with me -- there's enough fame to go around -- by refusing to become famous, too, which will, in all likelihood, increase our fame. The more of us there are, the more famous we will be for not being famous. A whole group of shadowy people who don't want to be famous might be the most famous group of all -- we'll be like Scientologists if Scientologists were all secretly Illuminati-Masons.

The best part is, it requires less effort to become famous than to get a hotel refund; you may have to book your hotel through a website and then do nothing to get a refund, but under my system, you don't even have to do that to become famous. You'll become famous through no effort at all, kind of like how George W. Bush became president, only you won't wreck American society through your efforts. And once there, you'll enjoy all the perks that go with fame: recognition, endorsements, the chance to guest-host Regis & Kelly, all of it. But you won't have to do that; you'll be able to live your life, famously, without having to go through all the junky parts of fame that famous people are complaining about -- the loss of privacy and invasions of rights and constant recognition and harassment by fans that they complain about right up until they don't have it anymore, at which point they start talking about their sex lives or going nude in movies to become famous again.)

You won't have to go through all that, and neither will I. We'll be famous, and nobody will know what our underwear looks like.

And eventually, we will rewrite that old joke so it goes a little more like this:

A man stops another man on the street and says "Excuse me, sir, can you tell me how I might get to Carnegie Hall?" The second man says, in response: "Really? Jennifer Aniston's going to go nude in a movie?"

Well, I mean -- we may be famous, but we'd still want to see that, right?

You bet we would.

Recap: A year ago or so, I was also thinking about becoming famous - -and back then I opined on The Next Best Way To Become Famous (And The Celebrities To Try This On.)

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