A guide to how famous you are.
By David Davila (playwright/song-writer)
Sean quickly took sides with Lady Gaga, while I defended my queen, Madonna, but somehow my side-comment about a titty-flash became a larger discussion about artistry vs. fame, and more importantly; who was more famous.
The truth is, I spend way too much time thinking about things like this. Fame, as Lady Gaga would put it, is a monster, and has nothing really to do with artistry. Fame can be a short fifteen-minute visit or consume someone’s entire identity, as they become martyrs to it. It has become very clear to me that the world needs a way to measure this phenomenon called fame, and so I present to you: David Davila’s Five Levels of Fame.
LEVEL 1 – Fifteen minutes: Everyone in the world is automatically at level one, because everyone in the world will have at least fifteen minutes of fame as defined by the Pop Artist master, Andy Warhol (Who, I must remind you, was friends with Madonna.)
LEVEL 2 – Community Fan Base: The second level of fame is reached when a person becomes well known around a community or subculture of people. For instance, a weatherman in Dillon, Texas is famous around Dillon, but nowhere else. A tattoo artist may be the greatest in the world, but will still only be known by tattoo enthusiasts. Marin Mazzie may be the fiercest mother on Broadway, and famous among theatre fans, but I bet your aunt Sue out in Tacoma doesn’t know who she is when you gush about her at dinner.
Can I just tell you how obsessed I am with Carrie Manolakos. (Please sing in my 52 SONGS concert in Sept Carrie!!!!) If you don’t know who she is, it proves my point.
LEVEL 3 – House Hold Name ( or Face): Something happens between levels two and three that is quite big. Someone like Sutton Foster, lands a gig on an Internationally televised program with her name slapped above the title, and suddenly everyone in the Pan Handel knows who she is. Level three is pretty self-explanatory; your Mom knows who you’re talking about when you tell her she should see the new Kristin Wiig movie. Someone can get to level three by doing the stupidest stuff, like having sex with a senator, or killing a homeless man, or catching the football that wins the game, or just being sexy like the cast of Gossip Girl (I’m obsessed.)
LEVEL 4 – Legends: Legends are people who remain famous for generations after death. Although a person’s talent is not measured on this scale, it seems obvious that the people who achieve level four of fame are celebrated for generations because of the abilities they possessed while alive. These are often the people that songs, and movies are written about. We can pretty easily guess that Liza Minnelli and Meryl Streep will be celebrated for at least as long as Fanny Brice was.
LEVEL 5 – The Saints of Fame: The lines become severely blurred when I try to define level five. The highest level of fame can only be reached when a person completely sacrifices themselves over to the “fame monster.” These people figuratively, or often literally become martyrs to their art, beliefs, or celebrity. The Saints of Fame do not shy away from the highest level as it approaches, but drown themselves in it. They never reach level five unwillingly, they go after it themselves, using charismatic messages and propaganda. Thusly, people who reach level five are usually controversial figures.
Even though defining level five seems to be impossible, everyone seems to agree on several recording artists who have reached it in the last fifty years: Elvis Presley, The Beatles, Michael Jackson, and Madonna. All four of these pop/rock artists were self-proclaimed as royalty (the king, the king of pop, her majesty) or deity (The Beatles were “bigger than Jesus,” and Madonna was “immaculate”). They all rode the waves of a paradigm shift in culture when they rose to stardom, spreading their ideas about segregation, war and peace, liberation, integration, female sexuality, and equality, and they all empowered their fans. Furthermore these four examples all embraced their fame, and sacrificed their self-identity to the personas that they created.
It's almost as if at level five, the famous person is worshiped.
Based on that I’d have to guess that Lady Gaga is heading toward level five, if she isn’t there already. Maybe it’s too soon to tell, or maybe I’m measuring the wrong thing here. Isn’t this the section where I question why our culture is so obsessed with fame anyway? Isn’t this the part where I tell you what a crappy world we live in that the Hiltons and Kardashians have more influence over our culture than our poets? Maybe so, but if we can figure out how to deconstruct fame, maybe we can figure out a way to construct it for good. After all, sometimes the most important ideas start from a spark in the mind of Joe Schmo. That is until Joe gets his hands on absolute power, and the rest becomes history…
And now for a quiz. Let’s see what you’ve learned. Please rank the following public figures on a scale of one to five using David Davila’s Five Levels of Fame.
- Alyssa Milano -
- Christina Aguilera -
- Judd Nelson -
- Barack Obama -
- Rebecca Luker -
- Carey Grant -
- Eva Longoria -
- Judy Garland -
- Ghandi -
- Juniki Tazawa -
- Tony Danza -
- Boyd Gaines -
- Elton John -
- Troy Aikman -
- Casey Anthony -
- Lindsay Mendez -
- Michael Jordan -
- Jerry Matthers -
- Jesus -
- Your Mom -
... and now for the 90's jam of the week:
DAVID DAVILA is half of the song-writing duo Havrilla & Davila, author of the Tex-Mex plays, and founder of Lone Star Theatre Co. Wanna talk about it? www.daviddavila.net
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