Thursday, October 4, 2007

15 Minutes of Anonymity

There's a saying that goes something along the lines of... everybody gets 15 minutes of fame... or something like that. The culture that we live in is obsessed with fame. People want to be famous, and if they can't be famous... they want to work for the famous. In a recent poll, more people wanted to be a celebrity's assistant than something important, like being the president or the CEO of a fortune 500 company or something.

You really can't blame them. Celebrities make a lot of money, and people almost worship them like gods. Who doesn't like being loved and adored? Of course, for those of us who are Christians, God is who we should want people to love and adore, not ourselves. But even for the Christian, it's natural to want to be liked.

A lot of people do stupid and dangerous things because they think that it will make them famous. Look at the Fear Factor phenomenon. People that get into fights or do stupid, dangerous stunts in front of video cameras in hopes that their YouTube video might go viral.

But what happens to these people? Do they really experience a complete change of life? Do they get mobbed for autographs in the grocery store? Probably not.

With the popularity of reality TV, just about anybody can get on television. Or lots of people at least. But very few of them are remembered by the masses. If you watch American Idol, do you remember Zachary Travis (without Googling)? He was a boy that completely looked like a girl... he now has a web site up at They have a guest book up there that gets about 1 post a month. Or perhaps you are a Survivor fan. Without googling, can you even tell me what season Carl Bilancione was from? He was from Survivor Africa... which wasn't the most popular season by far, but I've seen every episode of Survivor at least once and I had to look up Survivor seasons on Wikipedia to find that name. I haven't seen every season of the Amazing Race, but I don't really remember Megan and Heidi... and they were on the very popular season that Rob and Amber placed second in.

So if your average reality TV fan can watch every episode that you appear in and not remember you after a couple of years, what becomes of someone who loses their finger creating a YouTube video that they hope will go viral. Well, a year from now, nobody will know who they are, and they will be without a finger.

I have my own experience with television. One summer in college, I worked as a movie extra. I worked in Higher Learning, Stuart Smalley, Reform School Girls, True Crime, and Little Giants. I carried the American flag during the televised Olympic Torch Relay Kickoff in Los Angeles for the Atlanta games. I appeared in several commercials and did a couple of interviews for the Armed Forces Network in Europe about terrorism. Most recently, I appeared in a local American Idol style singing contest.

As a movie extra and flag bearer, I blended into the background and nobody ever notice me, although I could pick out myself. People did recognize me after I did the commercials, and would come up to me and say "hey, I saw you on TV last night!" However, the military community in Italy is pretty small, and more than 90% of the people on the base would know who I was even without the commercials... especially since I taught the anti-terrorism class every week, that all new people were required to attend upon arrival. My picture was also up in the security building because I was the Force Protection Officer and was part of the chain of command. So it wasn't exactly appearing in a commercial and having some random stranger recognize you the next day.

My last television appearance, singing on a local television show, actually surprised me because nobody recognized me. I wasn't on a public access show that nobody watched, I was on a television program that they advertised for months beforehand while they were soliciting for people to audition. I was the very first person to sing on this show. The judges said my name on the air. I sang an entire verse of a song on the air. I'm sure that many people watched the show, but when I went out the next day, it was just like the day before... I still lived a life of complete anonymity. I didn't go on the show to try to be famous (I wanted the prize of a car and cash), so in a way I was glad that nobody knew about my television performance.

In the grand scheme of things, very few people are remembered for very long in history. Would you recognize Mark Dinning if he was walking down the street? Do you know what song he sang? He sang the popular 1960 song "Teen Angel". Many people remember the Beatles, Chubby Checker, and Elvis Presley, but many other people who had hit songs of the time have been fading from memory. 47 years from now, do you think anybody is even going to remember Paris Hilton? Probably not.

If you go back even farther in time, even fewer people are memorable. We remember Bach, Beethoven, and Queen Elizabeth, but many other people who made music or sang during that time are forgotten. Even farther, we remember Plato, Nero, and Julius Caesar, but who remembers the Roman Emperor Vespasian? Going farther back, how many Egyptian Pharoahs can you name? What did Sekhemkhet do? And I have heard the name of the Pharoah Djoser before, but only from the movie Ghostbusters.

As Solomon would say, it's all vanity. Being famous might be fun, but it's not worth losing a finger over. Besides, there are way too many people that get famous and it ends up being their downfall. River Phoenix? Dana Plato? And more recently, Britney Spears... although she hasn't died of a drug overdose or killed herself or anything, I know I wouldn't trade my kids for anything.

Besides, the more famous you are, the more people say bad things about you. It doesn't matter who you are, people even criticize Mother Theresa. Even this little ol' blog, with maybe two readers, already has someone talking smack about it.

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