Monday, 18 February 2013

The Basics: The Flavours of Fame

We live in the age of fame.

It's all over the place, it's being treated like it's a solid commodity, like gold, or pork bellies, and there's a generation of children who when asked what they want to be when they grow up just say: "Famous."

However, fame is a not all that concrete. It's more like a no-name gelatine desert with too much water in the mix, it's mushy, it's wobbly, it can fall apart at any minute, and it comes in many flavours. All those flavours can seem sweet at the start, but some have a bitter aftertaste, and a lot can go totally sour very early.

So let's look at some of these flavours....

1. HYSTERICAL FAME: This kind of fame hits when you're very young. It's super intense, causing floods of money, hype, and the adoration of millions of young girls. But there's a catch. Adoration can turn to revulsion as quickly as flipping a switch. And since the people who have this sort of fame tend to be very young and at the mercy of managers, agents, parents, media executives, and accountants, they usually end up broke and working at a dry cleaners, only appearing as a curiosity on some sort of "where are they now" special on deep cable.

2. MEDIA FAME: This kind of fame occurs when you're the darling of other famous people. If you have this sort of fame you may find yourself in the middle of a great schism between the amount of attention/adoration you get in the media, and your ability to generate revenue from the audience.

George Clooney is the classic example of this. To be considered a commercially viable movie star you have to show an ability to get people in the general audience to pay money to see you in movies to the tune of at least $100 million.

Now if you go only by the coverage Clooney gets in the media you would assume that his movies rake in the big money.

Not so.

Clooney's actual box office record is pretty weak, showing that over the past ten years he's been unable to crack the $100 million target without a large group of big name actors backing him up, like in the Ocean's 11 movies. Even then, they got so expensive to make, due to cast salaries, they became economically untenable.

Now Clooney's the lucky one in that Hollywood keeps tossing him big roles in big movies. Sometimes you can be media famous, and while it goes great at first, with TV/movie deals, big money book deals, and the adoration of the critics and award voters, it's a double edged sword. When you have that sort of fame, and are subject to fawning coverage almost every day, the audience can get sick of the sight of you without seeing anything you've done, and the well of money and adoration eventually runs dry.

3. TYPE FAME: This is where someone becomes famous for doing a specific type of thing. Like playing a certain kind of character, or performing a certain style of music.

Mary Pickford, America's Canadian born sweetheart, became rich and famous playing the young ingenue. The problem was that the audience actively refused to accept her playing any other role. Even when she was in her 30s, the audience would only accept her playing young girls. It was insane and it ultimately destroyed her career because she wasn't allowed to break from that "type."

The flip-side of this is when a performer decides that he or she achieved some state of perfection doing a certain type of thing a certain way, or in conjunction with a specific image. Then they start to do everything to polish or promote that image even though it's long past its "Best Before" date and the audience might like to see them do something different.

4. QUALITY FAME: This kind of fame where the audience associates the performer with a certain quality of entertainment. This is for good or ill. Some performers get associated with good movies, music, or TV shows, and some get associated with bad movies, music and TV shows, making this both the best and worst flavour of fame you can get.

5. CULT FAME: Imagine you're a performer, and your performance in a certain project has won you the love and loyalty of a niche audience. Now this can take your career in two ways. One way it can pigeonhole you in the type of role that won you your cult in the first place, which is not good. The other way, which is better, is that your niche audience will follow you into more mainstream projects, giving you some a certain number of guaranteed bums on seats no matter what you do.

6. TRASH FAME: This is the sort of fame one associates with either scandal, reality TV, or both. It's similar in flavour to Media Fame, because the sweetness lingers within the media world long after it's turned bitter to the wider world. This can't last long because inevitably people will ask: "Why is this person famous?" and then expect an answer.


  1. On the topic of Jennifer LAwrence, who I totally do not have a crush on, I've noticed that whiel she seems to have a bit of "hysterical fame" right now due to HUNGER GAMES. She seems to be working to build up some acting credentials outside of action/adventure.
    Which she already had due to WINTER'S BONE.

    Some have pointed to a variety of roles she is playing such as

    I wonder if the way either the "Hysterical Fame" or the "Type Fame" is to build up yourself as versatile enough that you can break from what you most commonly play with a fair amount

  2. I think that "hysterical" fame over her Hunger Games won't hurt her because 2 Oscar noms by 22 is giving her a certain amount of "quality" fame. People are learning that she will do a good job, whatever the role, which is a good thing for her career.