Andy Warhol famously said that "In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes." This is commonly interpreted to mean that the hierarchical structure that identified worthy subjects of art - 'celebrities' - from those not worthy - 'civilians' (thanks Liz!) was breaking down. In other words the structure that delineated who was famous from who was not would break down, making it possible for everyone to be famous.
You could also infer that this would mean that no one would be famous, but Warhol was clearly right as we still have fame and there are people now who have become famous outside of the traditional model of celebrity (Honey Boo Boo). So if anyone can now become a celebrity, that is, can be sacrificed on the alter of fame, what does that mean for Payne's thesis that celebrities serve a social function in society?
As you'll remember from our fame episode with Lucy, Payne puts forth the thesis that "celebrities fill a social need, an outlet for our collective aggression, that we can trace back to ancient times, where young maidens were lavishly bestowed with fineries and then sacrificed. We idolize them, but set them up to disappoint our expectations, at which point we turn on them and raise up a fresher, younger replacement." In essence, famous people are proxy sacrifices, serving as an outlet for the community's violent urges.
So if everyone can be a celebrity, we are likely to see a vast increase in the number of famous people, suggesting that a) we have an ever increasing need to vent suppressed violence or b) we have an increasing number of outlets to vent the same amount of urges. There is a question of causality here: does the need to have an outlet drive the creation of sacrificial victims? If so, as new/social media and the breakdown of the hierarchical structure make it easier for anyone to become a celebrity are we seeing the creation of a greater number of celebrities for sacrifice as a direct result of society's urge to violence?
It can't be denied that the relatively recent phenomenon of reality TV has created a tremendous amount of fodder for cathartic Schadenfreude. At least among my acquaintances, seeing average to despicable characters engage in socially unacceptable behavior, petty conflicts and make fools of themselves is a delight of the 'train wreck' variety. It's a disaster but you can't look away.
This differs somewhat from part of the discussion we had with Lucy, about the need to build someone up before seeing them torn down. Many of these people are set up to be immediately torn down (contrast the Bachelorette to The Situation). So we might ask whether the new 'debased' form of celebrity is actually serving the same purpose. Honey Boo Boo is in no way to be idolized prior to her inevitable disappointment. And this suggests a critical differentiator for me: Schadenfreude does not function like Fame.
Fame, on Payne's account, is a formal social mechanism. Ritualistic, cross-cultural, timeless. It is a relation between the one and the many. Like rites of spring, it signals a kind of recurrence of the same as celebrities are born, grow up and die. The enjoyment of seeing others debase and exploit themselves for your entertainment is something else altogether. It's more akin to a fascination with the macabre or bizarre, closer to the fascination with freaks at a carnival than the interaction with celebrity.
Although the mechanisms for publicizing and interacting with objects of both Fame and Schadenfreude are the same, they seem to function differently for us. There is no positive association with the latter, there is no catharsis upon their fall. It is expected as part of what they are, not as part of a cycle through which they are traveling as a proxy for us. And there is no possibility of eternal idolization, which I was trying to get to in the discussion about Cal Ripken (relevant given the O's resurgence this year) and which didn't come across in the podcast. I'll think about following that up in another post later.