The sheen will fade: the half-life of post-Empire celebrity

Paul Raven @ 04-04-2011

As something of an implicit footnote to Brett Easton Ellis’s diagnosis of post-Empire celebrity, it’s worth remembering that if you’ve relied on the [whatever]sphere to raise you up, then it retains the power to swiftly lower you back down again, and that your fame may not translate from your native medium to all the others as you rush to monetize your moment in the sun. (Your best bet seems to be to attempt to recreate the medium in which you were successful within the confines of your new beachhead.)

Bob Lefsetz has a typically grandstanding analysis of Sheen’s attempts to jump the gap and become a brand/meme independent of the hierarchical Hollywood-and-TV world:

Charlie Sheen made the mistake of thinking the audience was on his side.  This is what happens when you descend from your showbiz perch, step out of the television and enter the realm of the people, you find out we’re all equal.  And that if you don’t give a great presentation, we tear you down from your peak.

[…]

Let this be a lesson.  If you’re one of the privileged, don’t intersect with the public.  Fly private, live behind a gate or a guard, avoid publicity.  Because the throng is there, waiting to pounce on every misstep.

[…]

Don’t equate the initial demand for Charlie Sheen’s live tour with longevity.  It was a stunt, no different from Bobby Riggs playing tennis with Billie Jean King.  To do it again is just creepy.  You made your money, go home.

But someone at Live Nation was only thinking about money.  Connecting fame with theatres.  There was no consideration of show, of value for money, only gross receipts.  That’s how low we’ve sunk.

But the public is not having any of it.

To a certain extent (and to take a very very callous view of things), Sheen was unlucky enough to be upstaged by a media event of quite literally earth-shaking proportions. But even had the earthquake/tsunami/nuclear-crisis combo not rolled in from the outfield and stolen the top slot on the global meme-stack, he’d not have lasted long. A one-trick pony should never try to top the bill.


George Lucas not digitally reanimating dead movie stars after all

Paul Raven @ 07-12-2010

A brief post at Wired‘s Underwire blog seeks to quash rumours that George Lucas has plans to digitally reanimate the dead movie stars of years gone by for use in his productions. Given that the story started at notorious lie-stuffed UK hate-rag The Daily Mail, you’d think it would have been written off as bunk much earlier…

That said, there is a precedent for the Lucas story lurking in the Futurismic archives – back in January, James Cameron was talking about how CGI can be used to restore the vigour of youth to ageing stars, and pointed out that the same technology could permit Tom Cruise to keep making Impossible Mission sequels long after his eventual death. If that’s not a deeply dystopian misuse of technological progress, I don’t know what is.


Attention economics: sub-prime celebrities

Paul Raven @ 06-07-2010

There’s sometimes deep truth in flippant analogies. Well, there is in my world, anyway… and here’s an example, as The Guardian‘s Aditya Chakrabortty compares celebrity to shonky mortgages: if you sell too many of the latter masquerading as the real thing, the whole system ends up collapsing in the wake of the (admittedly huge) short-term gains you make from it.

As for the assertion that fame is sought only by a desperate few wannabes, think again. Extrapolating from surveys, the developmental psychologist Orville Gilbert Brim estimates that 4 million American adults (out of a total of 200 million) describe fame as their most important life goal. The proportions are only slightly lower in Germany and urban China.

[…]

If you define fame as being known by strangers, then newspapers, cinema and especially TV have always driven the spread of celebrity. Yet, until very recently, that attention has customarily been at a gradient: the public used to look up to their stars; now they are minded to look down.

[…]

Think back to Wall Street’s sub-prime crisis. That was a story of lenders so desperate for market share and quick profit that they were chucking big sums at people who didn’t warrant it. The tale is very similar in the celebrity-media industry.

Your TV used to be the equivalent of a rating-agency, exposing you only to AAA-rated talent. Now however, it asks you to keep up with the Kardashians; watch a Hilton or an Osborne muddle through the real world, and, yes, be a guest at Katie Price’s latest wedding. The fundamentals of all these celebs are, frankly, ropey, and yet viewers are invited to invest time and emotional equity in them.

Resonances there with our ongoing discussion about gatekeepers and experts in the world of publishing; gatekeeper failure really can collapse a thriving market.

More pertinently, I think I’ve always viewed social currencies like fame (or its more localised little brother, popularity) in economic terms, even long before I knew what economics actually was*. Chakrabortty’s model would need to factor in some of fame’s more curious properties, though: the way it can in circumstances be gifted to another without any loss of personal worth, for instance, or the way one can collapse one’s own federal reserve completely without any help or interference from others, or any intended expense on your part.

Shorter version: anyone who wants to code a detailed version of Whuffie has a whole lot of work ahead of them. But the human brain, jacked into the cyborg extension of ourselves we call the media, can run those insanely complex calculations without knowing consciously how they work… score one up for the meat. 😉

[ * This is a not-too-subtly coded way of saying that I wasn’t hugely popular at school, and spent a lot of time trying to rationalise why that was. I’d have doubtless been better served by not thinking about it, hence appearing to have been less of a massive nerd, and hence becoming more popular. Ah, hindsight… 🙂 ]