I was reading some news aggregator one morning late last year, probably MSNBC, when there was a tease about “pre-fame Courtney Stodden pictures.” Naturally, I said to myself, “Self, I have no idea what a Courtney Stodden is.” As it turned out, though, I had heard in passing about the event that provided her greatest notoriety. She is the now 17-year-old would-be singer/model who married actor Doug Hutchison, best known for his appearance on the X-Files, who was 50 at the time of their marriage in May 2011.
So Courtney Stodden is “famous”? I don’t THINK so.
Famous is, to steal a phrase from the lyrics from the CHEERS TV theme, “where everybody knows your name.” Or at least most people. The President of the United States, by virtue of his title, is famous. Muhammad Ali is famous. Paul McCartney is famous, although Who Is Paul McCartney was trending on Twitter last week after the Grammys. Tiger Woods was famous before he became infamous. Certainly in the United States, Oprah Winfrey. Elizabeth Taylor (pictured) was surely famous. This has less to do with whether you LIKE a person, and more about if most people can identify them.
Some entertainers go through an arc, where only a handful of people know them, then – if they are lucky – lots of people know them, but if they are around long enough, they may recede in fame. I saw the recent Muppet movie, and I wondered how many people recognized Mickey Rooney, an octogenarian actor, and knew who he was.
Back in 1992, I used to read PEOPLE magazine. 20 years ago, the number of potentially famous people seemed fairly manageable. But with the explosion of cable programming and the deluge of reality television, all sorts of people are vying for my attention. As a result, I know far fewer “celebrities”, percentage-wise, than I once did. This is neither a complaint nor a boast, just a fact.
So Michael Jackson was famous, but not sister Latoya (from The Apprentice). Sylvester Stallone may be fairly famous, but his brother Frank? Not so much.
I’d never seen a picture of Khloe Kardashian (was she REALLY her father’s daughter? don’t care) until 2012. I seriously don’t know/don’t care/can’t keep track of which Kardashian is, or is not married to which sports star. (And if you don’t know what a Kardashian is, don’t worry about it. Really.) This not to say that if you DO care, you oughtn’t to; it’s just that it’s beyond MY understanding.
Of course, repeated exposure will make someone famous, or at least noteworthy, whether you want to care or not. I remember taking the JEOPARDY! test back in 1998 and getting a clue about some young woman who married some old guy. I could not come up with the name of Anna Nicole Smith. But eventually, her constant exposure (so to speak) drilled her presence into my mind.
The impressive skill about Lady Gaga is, whether you’ve heard her music or not, there’s a fairly good chance that you’ve heard of HER. She is great at self-promotion.
I’ll end with the obvious, FAME by David Bowie, who turned 65 last month and is fairly famous, still.