Monday, June 13, 2011

Fame: Sarah and the Seven Dwarves

In the wake of Weiner and on the tide of Palin e-mails and Facebook posts, we swim in a world where fame is so uncoupled from achievement that a Republican presidential debate could well be titled “Sarah and the Seven Dwarves,” with a non-candidate’s image hovering over the politicians vying for attention.

Seventy years ago, Americans were riveted by a book ironically titled “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men” showing in words and pictures the desperate poverty of invisible victims of the Great Depression.

Now, social media have erased the problem of being unseen and unheard but created a new one--a poverty of mind threatening to starve out understanding of public issues with a glut of personal nonsense that one critic describes as “a massively multiplayer online role-playing game, but with higher real-world stakes. It is grounded in the first principles of game theory...You have to give to get; you have to get to give. Managing these ratios--deciding how much of your attention to expend to win attention to yourself, say--is the lion’s share of the Twitter action.”

The Fame Game has gone long past 20th century clich├ęs—-Daniel Boorstin’s definition of celebrity as “being well-known for well-knowness” and Andy Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame for everybody--into a realm of irrationality never foreseen.

Back then, traditional media were a fame factory retooling from manufacturing publicity saints that last for years, even decades, into spewing out disposable celebrities to be used briefly and thrown away like Kleenex. ”Freedom of the press,” A. J. Liebling noted, “is limited to those who own one.”

Now we are all publishers and self-publicists, and the premium for rising above the crowd is not intellect, ideas or actual achievement (pace Herman Cain) but shameless self-promotion in a 24/7 swirl in which “Twitter handsomely rewards those with a capacity for risk and an aptitude for the social sciences,” but, as Weiner learned, can destroy reputations as easily it inflates them.

Attention Deficit Disorder is now a normal condition on both sides of the celebrity divide, for those consuming it as well as those desperately seeking it.

Update: Apologies to Grumpy, Happy, Sleepy, Bashful, Sneezy, Dopey and Doc. They were a colorful lot compared to the seven Republicans in CNN’s debate who spent two hours bashing everything Obama, demonizing government and refusing to say an unkind word about one another.

Their facts were often wrong but the message was clear: Each wants to be president but they all refrain from criticizing one another while each hopes to become the Prince who awakens Snow White (America) from her bad dream. Even Ron Paul, always cast as Grumpy, concludes that he would be happy to have any one of them in his Administration.

Nobody gaffed badly, and the audience went home happy, as is only right and fair for a Disney show.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"Nobody gaffed badly, and the audience went home happy, as is only right and fair for a Disney show."

That one should re-animate old Walt . . .