The list of people we all ‘know’ isn’t that long, yes, it probably thousands – politicians, actors, singers, historical figures, sports stars – but in a country like the UK, it is still a remarkably small fraction of the populace.
Of course, there are ‘spheres’ – people interested in politics know more politicians, sports fans have more sporting heroes – we here in Cornwall have our local ‘Cornish’ celebrities.
However, if we remembered every celebrity, we would soon run out of space in the public ‘memory’, so we have to be selective.
The media know this – they constantly face choices of which story to follow, and the decisions will often be arbitrary; two minor celebrities did two things today, and we only have 45 seconds of time to fill in our variety news programme – which shall we choose?
This decision process is simple – the editor will pick the celebrity who has more recent ‘hits’ in the news.
Why? Because they know that the audience is more likely to recognise the name – and they know that if the audience hear that name twice it reinforces the memory.
This simple logic creates a very interesting system in which the rise to fame becomes ‘autocatalytic’ – a self-perpetuating, accelerating process. All you need to do is pass some ‘critical point’ of news coverage and you may be in for a ride!
However, we can only hold so many names in the list, so anyone who is out of the news for a time drops off the radar pretty fast, even if they did once enjoy high exposure.
If you are like me, you’ll be thinking of exceptions – folks who just stay famous regardless – do they buck this logic? I don’t think so.
Such people most likely still get exposure, even if its not them in the news – perhaps we see their CD on our shelf, or we talk about their ‘field’ (Thatcherism, Darwinism, Keynesian economics,), and this may be accentuated if their field gets in the news – as has recently been the case for Keynes.
So what value does this theory have?
I think it explains:
- why so many great deeds don’t lead to fame
- why often only one person from a high achieving team is ‘selected’ for fame
- why there’s no such thing as bad publicity
- local fame does not easily turn to national fame
It also suggests that if you want to be famous, you should:
- a series of newsworthy events in succession is probably better than a single highly newsworthy achievement
- if you are in a group/team/band, you need to be the leader or public face of the group
- you should associate yourself with a newsworthy field, ideally become the posterboy/girl for the field, always dragged out when the field is in the news
And if you want to stay famous once you are you should keep in the public eye:
- associate yourself with newsworthy events
- differentiate yourself from other celebrities in your ‘space’ or
- gang together with other celebrities to create newsworthy events
- become the posterboy/girl for a newsworthy field/subject, the one dragged out when the field is in the news
Aside: There seems to be another way to maintain fame:- create mystique, the image of privilege, of some higher plain of existence away from the mundanity of everyday life. People say they like down-to-earth celebrities – that’s because they are very rare – you have to be ‘proper’ famous to stay famous without this tactic!
Of course, this all assumes you want to be famous! You can equally use the theory to keep a low profile 😉
Good luck either way!