What the Celebrity Phenomenon Is and Why People Are Getting Famous for Seemingly Nothing
Usually, when pronouncing the word “celebrity” or “star” we imply a person who succeeded in a certain area such as cinematography, sports, singing, etc. However, sometimes, everyone seems to know a person but no one can say what this person is famous for. This phenomenon even has a special term — famous for being famous. It is slightly dismissive since it is used in relation to stars who have gained popularity not because of their talent but simply because of their frequent appearance in the media.
We at Bright Side were curious to figure out the reasons for the appearance of this phenomenon and we came to the conclusion that it originated in the 19th century.
What it all started with and who was the first celebrity.
The term “celebrity” was created by the American historian and social theorist Daniel J. Boorstin in 1961. He said that “the graphic revolution in journalism and other forms of communication had severed fame from greatness, and that this severance hastened the decay of fame into mere notoriety.” The idea of “celebrity” reflected the new phenomenon that surprised many people, “In the past, if someone was famous or notorious, it was for something—as a writer or an actor or a criminal — for some talent or distinction or abomination. Today one is famous for being famous. People who come up to one in the street or in public places to claim recognition nearly always say: “I’ve seen you on the telly!”
A 19-century French dancer Cléo de Mérode can be considered one of the first celebs whose image was widely recognized. She was called the “first true celebrity.” She was also the first woman whose pics got spread around the world in the form of postcards. We can say it was a kind of analog of today’s Instagram.
Cléo was the illegitimate daughter of a Viennese Baroness and she became popular not only thanks to her dancing but more so thanks to her bright appearance, glamourous look, and various rumors. Also, she brought into fashion a hairstyle that covers both ears, and many people started to assume that she was missing one or both of her ears. Moreover, society was actively discussing her personal life, in particular, her alleged romance with the king of Belgium. What’s more, once she appeared on stage in a light pink gauze tunic, which created the illusion of a naked body — that’s when everyone started to talk about Cléo even more. She was one of the most popular women in France at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century and she got the title of the most beautiful woman in Paris in 1898.
A socialite who became famous for the number of husbands she had in the ’50s of the last century
Zsa Zsa Gabor, an American actress, and socialite, who was in the spotlight in the ’50s of the past century, can be called another bright example of this phenomenon. Once, historian and critic, Neal Gabler, introduced the term “Zsa Zsa Factor” to describe the phenomenon of fame that came from unknown origins. Although she is listed as an actress in all sources, it should be noted that her filmography is much less impressive than her extravagant behavior and the list of her husbands. Zsa Zsa had 9 husbands including the hotel magnate Conrad Hilton and the famous actor George Sanders.
The story of Gabor’s success is pretty demonstrative: after several appearances in films, she didn’t leave the TV screens and regularly appeared on various TV shows. As a result, she created an image of the ubiquitous socialite for herself. Of course, the details of her personal life, and all sorts of scandals and sensations, constantly got into the press.
By the way, Zsa Zsa had 2 sisters who also became actresses and repeated her fate to some extent. TV host Merv Griffin wrote in his autobiography, “All these years later, it’s hard to describe the phenomenon of the 3 glamorous Gabor girls and their ubiquitous mother. They burst onto the society pages and into the gossip columns so suddenly, and with such force, it was as if they’d been dropped out of the sky.”
It’s interesting to know that Zsa Zsa lived to be 99 and witnessed the blossom of another socialite whom she was related to — Paris Hilton.
The re-appearance of the phenomenon in the ’00s thanks to the granddaughter of a talented granddad.
Conrad Hilton was a successful businessman who remains in history as a person who created a revolution in the hotel business and as the founder of the Hilton hotels chain. It was he who made hotels the way we see them now. Conrad united them with restaurants and entertainment, having turned hotels from places for sleeping into places where one can have a good time. Also, he came up with the idea to grant stars to hotels.
It was his great-granddaughter who became one of the most popular celebrities in the ’00s. She was known all over the world, the name Paris Hilton was always there on magazine covers but at the same time, no one could explain what she was famous for. According to the official version, Paris Hilton is a model, actress, singer, and designer, but in none of these areas has she left a significant mark that is comparable to her fame. Fame came to Paris after taking part in the reality show The Simple Life where she filmed together with her friend Nicole Richie who also became a socialite.
Hilton became the very woman who resurrected the phenomenon of “famous for being famous” and had a huge impact on the masses of the 2000s. She appeared in the Guinness Book of World Records in 2007 as the most overrated celebrity to succeed solely through inherited wealth and a luxurious lifestyle. However, Paris went further and managed to monetize her popularity by creating a brand with the same name. Today, her perfume line alone brought in an income of more than $2.5 billion. In 2011, Variety magazine called Hilton a “Billion Dollar Entrepreneur.”
The phenomenon of the Kardashian family
In 2011, TV host Barbara Walters, invited Kris Jenner and her daughters, Kim, Khloé and Kourtney to her annual program about the most outstanding people of the year. The host asked the guests, “You don’t really act, you don’t sing, you don’t dance. You don’t have, forgive me, any talents.” And Khloé replied, “But we are still entertaining people.” And Kim added, “I think it’s more of a challenge for you to be on a reality show and get people to fall in love with you for being you. So there is definitely a lot more pressure I think.” As curious as it might sound, Kim used to work as Paris Hilton’s personal assistant for a while.
Today the Kardashian — Jenner family is even called a “cultural phenomenon.” Many people are still wondering how they managed to get famous all over the world and create a whole business empire that is based only on the popularity of the sisters and their mother. After all, it all started with participation in a reality show, but then, as if by magic, everything that the Kardashian family touched started to turn to gold. Today, the famous sisters produce clothes, underwear, cosmetics, jewelry, work as models, and have become one of the key figures in modern pop culture. At the same time, their most important talent is their ability to constantly warm up interest to their personalities and not fall out of the media’s field of vision.
What are the reasons for this phenomenon and what is happening with it today?
Experts outline 2 versions explaining the appearance of celebrities. According to the first one, celebrity is a universal concept that has existed and will exist in any society and at any time. The other version says that the celebrity phenomenon is connected with the growth of popular culture when video and audio media started to dominate in society. That is, there have always been famous people, but their popularity was due to real talent, while today’s stars are famous because their lives are actively covered by the media. At the same time, society clearly shows its interest in it — look at the number of followers on the social networks of stars. This happens for several reasons.
According to a psychologist, “Perhaps some people who don’t feel good about themselves and are not able to get what they want out of a real relationship because of a fear of rejection can feel a connection with a celebrity and get something positive out of that.” In other words, it’s a way to cope with the difficulties of everyday life.
Also, there is an opinion, according to which, society has a wish to worship all idols. We obsessively follow the daily life of celebrities, we are interested in everything: from love dramas to everyday things like what kind of coffee they drink. Personal aspects of life become more important than professional achievements. In this sense, the line between a star and ordinary person is blurred, because today we also voluntarily flaunt our lives on social networks. And one can think, “She is like me and has had a lot of success in life. Perhaps, I will also be able to do that.”
It is not surprising that under these conditions, the celebrity phenomenon has greatly expanded its boundaries over the past 20 years. With the spread of the internet, social media, and YouTube, the number of people “famous for being famous” is growing and will continue to grow. Today everyone has the right to their own moment of fame — all you need to do is to start your own blog.
We can say that the turning point in the understanding of fame in the 21st century was the cover of Time magazine in 2006, where a monitor with a mirrored surface with the word ’You’ written on it was depicted, instead of a photo of the “person of the year.” This is how journalists identified those who create content every day on various internet platforms.
In your opinion, what is the reason for the appearance of celebrities who hardly possess any talents but are known to everyone?