As most of you know, it was artist Andy Warhol who once predicted: “In the future, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes.”
That hasn’t quite happened yet, although Facebook and Twitter are pushing us in that direction. But I still consider Warhol’s statement to be prophetic.
And double-edged. The upside is that fame can now ambush almost anyone, at any time. The downside is that maintaining one’s place at the center of attention is becoming increasingly difficult. The public curiosity span is shrinking drastically.
The Eagles nailed it with their song “New Kid in Town,” asking: “Where you been lately? There’s a new kid in town. Everybody loves him. But you’re still around.”
So when I read recently about the most recent antics foisted upon the public by Miley Cyrus and Jason Beiber (more twerking, more trash talking), Andy Warhol came to mind. Could it be that these two pop stars sense that their time in the center ring is fading? Maybe this is their way of letting people know they’re still around, and refusing to go quietly.
True, athletes and politicians and entertainers don’t necessarily vanish when the public gives them the hook. Many continue to have long, successful careers — it’s just that you don’t hear about them in quite the same way.
I got a taste of that on a very local level when I started writing a newspaper column for the News & Advance in Lynchburg, VA. The paper hadn’t had a columnist for two decades, so I was a something of a novelty. Everything I said in print attracted a barrage of letters (the was before e-mail), pro and con. I was getting lots of invitations to speak to groups, or to judge somebody’s food or talent or beauty contest. Everybody seemed to want me around, or want me to shut up.
Because I had no competition, this lasted for a couple of years. Then I noticed that the feedback and the invitations were slacking off, and I realized what had happened. The people who liked what I wrote got tired of patting me on the back. For those who didn’t enjoy what I wrote, I had become like the eccentric relative who always says the wrong thing at family reunions, causing his kin to sigh and say: “Oh, that’s just Uncle Harry. Who cares what he thinks?”
I spent another two decades as the paper’s columnist, and got some wonderful feedback from time to time, but my “It” days were over. It happens to everyone. Actors get fat. Athletes get hurt. Bands get repetitive. Politicians get boring. Columnists get overpublished.
Here’s a brief list of celebrities whom I think have crested the mountain of “It” and are headed down the other side. Consider Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus one and two. Meanwhile, I’d love to hear some of your own nominations:
3. Oprah Winfrey. When she went behind the scenes as a network head, that visceral connection with her adoring audience may have been severed. The only way she can get “It” back now is to run for President. Perhaps she could give everyone who votes for her a car.
4. Rush Limbaugh. When your audience knows what you’re going to say before you say it, it’s not a good thing. His is a terminal case of “eccentric relative syndrome.” Ditto, Glenn Beck.
5. Sarah Palin. She keeps trying to remind us how fortunate we were that she wasn’t elected vice-president. But since that’s not going to happen now, who cares?
6. Al Sharpton. Like Jesse Jackson before him, he always seemed more interested in calling attention to himself than calling attention to whatever injustice he was protesting. After awhile, that gets old — and so has Al.
7. Alex Rodriguez. Some people shoot themselves in the foot. A-Rod apparently shot himself somewhere else.
8. Pat Robertson. I’m not even sure God is listening to Pat any more.
9. Reese Witherspoon. She is aging out of her signature roles and — on several recent occasions — into trouble.
10. Nancy Pelosi. Who?