I am not ashamed to admit that I am a huge fan of Survivor. It isn’t because I delight in watching others drink lumpy sea cucumber and soy sauce smoothies, or enjoy the thought of 12 men and women who haven’t showered in 26 days mud-wrestling, or even because Jeff Probst’s transition from good-natured adventurer to gruff and sarcastic Simon Cowell equivalent has been so amusing. It’s because I’m curious to see how many different types of people are motivated by a paltry $1m USD (not even, after taxes) to play out a 39-day process of pseudo (and highly manufactured) “self-discovery” in front of millions of TV watchers. Young people. Old people. Attractive people. Ugly people (well, maybe fewer now than in seasons past, but comparatively). Americans, Britons, lawyers, doctors, janitors – all kinds of people are willing to endure over a month of Hell for the money they could often make at home in that time anyway – 5-star vacation for the whole family to the South Pacific included. I’ve concluded that it’s all about the fame. (Such as it is.)
One of the ideas I’m working through now is when and how the twenty-first-century (twentieth-century?) obsession with being famous arose, and what factors contributed to its rapid growth. Obviously it isn’t just manifested in the Survivor vein of reality TV – though this is often considered the first wave – but is also evident in the meteoric rise of sites like Facebook, MySpace, linked in, twitter, comment boxes on just about every information site, &c, &c.
In fact, I’m thinking about it seriously enough to consider extending it into a larger project. Some might call it a “dissertation.”
Some questions I’m letting percolate in my brain now:
- How do societies differ in what they characterize as “fame”? How is our (modern, Western) idea of it now different from what it was in the past, and how and when did the modern idea of “fame” come about?
- What conditions need to be in place in order for “fame” to occur? i.e. some way of preserving some part of the self (an idea, a treatise, a video recording, a blog), a captive audience large enough to “appreciate” it (as in, we can all watch a YouTube video if we have an Internet connection, but if you are an illiterate goldsmith in eighteenth-century Ireland, you probably can’t appreciate Plato’s Republic), a gradual decrease in personal privacy barriers …
- What technologies are particularly associated with fostering and/or spreading fame?
- What is the net effect of fame on society? Is it positive or negative?
It’s an idea still very much in an embryonic form. As such, I’d love your input on any or all of the following:
- Are you aware of anyone currently working this field (academically or otherwise)?
- Is there an established “canon” of theory associated with the idea of fame?
- What other directions could I go in with this? What leaps into your mind?
- Is this a topic that I could later expand upon? Is it a topic that is useful and interesting and relevant?
- Any ideas on how I might turn this into a dissertation (that is, a 300-page tome) that a reputable History establishment might want to get behind?
- What other questions should I be asking?
Please post your thoughts below!