15 Minutes of Fame

July 28, 2010

I’m noticing that as my peer group ages, particularly if diminishing time includes reproduction, it trends toward organized religion. People state various reasons for the return — renewed faith, trauma, fear of death — but I believe the overarching reason is tucked in the subconscious and can only be defined as an overwhelming desire for fame, an eternal recognition by the masses that yes, they are SOMEONE SPECIAL.

People don’t like to use the word famous as it relates to their desired legacy. They prefer to be “remembered” yet for most, finite remembrance by a universally insignificant amount of people (nuclear family for most, extended for a few), is almost tragic.

We don’t know what the afterlife — if there is such a thing — will bring, but fame is a possibility. Let’s say you’re 60 and decide you’ve got about 20 years left to “make a mark.” Let’s say that so far your only “mark” is a one-sentence quote in an archived local paper. Wouldn’t the very idea of having an unlimited amount of time to become “known” among many be very compelling? What if even after all that time, your legacy was whittled down to a paragraph? Would you still do it?

The First Book of Kings discusses the life and conquests of Israel’s most influential kings including Solomon, who is known for being “richer and wiser than any other king” one “the whole world wanted to come and listen to.” I suppose he was sort of like Oprah. Even though he was considered a “great,” when he dies only a small paragraph is devoted to his life. The same goes for the other kings mentioned in this section including those rarely recognized, such as Zimri.

This pattern continues today. The 2010 TIME 100 list of  the people who have most affected our world includes some household names — Barack Obama, Sarah Palin, Ben Stiller (he is listed as a “hero”), Oprah, Lady Gaga, Conan O’Brien and Prince — but how long will their fame last? Certainly longer than Louise Brooks and Gustav Mahler, but not by much. If they’re lucky, their lives will collapse to a paragraph in a mass-produced high school history book. But everyone wants a paragraph and many will look to a fantastical afterlife to get it.

Many times people say they don’t want to be famous. They’d rather “influence” others. I believe many do, but influence is often a smokescreen for fame. Influence in its true sense, which I see as an altruistic means to help others, isn’t flashy, not even when it touches fame.

How many of these people could you talk about (intelligently) for more than five minutes?

Zaha Hadid, Elizabeth Warren, Douglas Schwartzentruber and Larry Kwak, Michael Pollan, Atul Gawande, Jaron Lanier, Victor Pinchuk, Lee Kuan Yew, Deborah Gist, Kathleen Merrigan, Steve Jobs, Tim White, Lisa Jackson, Elon Musk, Edna Foa, Jaime Lerner, Paul Volcker, Amy Smith, Matt Berg, Amartya Sen, Michael Sherraden, Sanjit ‘Bunker’ Roy, Tim Westergren, David Boies and Theodore Olson and Sonia Sotomayor.

These people happen to be the 25 “thinkers” on the 2010 TIME 100 list, which gives them more exposure than most other 21st Century “thinkers.” But they’re still not household names because influence isn’t sexy, fame is.

Perhaps if we let go of fame and focused on influence purely as a means to improve the lives of others, the number of people returning to church as a means to get one last shot at fame, would vastly diminish. If you’re goal really is to influence, there’s no need to cling to eternity. If you’re goal is fame, and you’re not Lady Gaga, hold on tight and don’t miss Sunday mass.

FYI. This video explains how they made the TIME 100 list.

Note: I will be publishing again this Friday, July 30. To keep on track I need to get through the Second Book of Kings this week. Next week I’ll be back on the Monday/Wednesday track.

Stopping Point: Second Book of Kings


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One Response to “15 Minutes of Fame”

  1. Ellenita said

    Ivy, I really love to read your blogs, but I must disagree with you about one person –

    gustav Mahler is a great composer and will be remembered for decades

    I wrote quite a little note saying how much I enjoy your blogs. I just have to disagree with one statement:
    Gustav Mahler will be remembered for decades if not centuries!!!! Lov,

    Ellenita

    Keep this goin. Love,
    ellenita

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