What is famous?
If you take Merriam-Webster’s word for it, the word famous means that a person is widely known, or honored for achievement.
If you take my word, famous has a whole new meaning, and it’s kind of sad.
I was working The Kentucky Derby this past Saturday, and the main reason I was there was to photograph the race for newspapers throughout the parent company of The Springfield Sun.
I arrived very early, as I do for any event. Just ask my wife, and she’ll tell you what I always say - five minutes early is 10 minutes late.
Since I was at Churchill Downs several hours before The Derby, I took the opportunity to snap some photos of some of the rich and famous as they made their way off the red carpet and headed to the area known as Millionaire’s Row.
There were some impressive folks who passed by, and among them were athletes, actors and musicians, many whose names are widely known around the nation and even the world.
Then there were some other folks who passed by, and it dawned on me just how little it takes to impress a lot of people these days. Apparently, just because you’re on TV, whether you have enough talent to fill a mint julep glass or not, you’re famous, and therefore, a big deal in the eyes of many people.
I’m sure there are some of you out there who wouldn’t give a dime to watch a sporting event or go to a concert featuring some of my favorite athletes and performers. But then again, I hope you wouldn’t even sit down and waste a minute of your life watching some of the people who have gained notoriety, and thus fame, on TV today.
Some of the security staff at The Derby was made up of some younger folks, and many of them knew some of the people passing by where we stood. They commented on one woman, who once appeared on a reality show featuring a Playboy bunny who is best known for being naked for all the world to see, and also for acting a fool on MTV. Then there’s the guy who was a disc jockey, and his claim to fame, according to the folks around me, was slapping some other person of whom I’d never heard. Not only did these younger folks know these supposed celebrities, but they were clearly impressed to see them.
That day made me think about fame, and just how little it actually means in this world. These days, fame often comes because you’re willing to do something more outrageous than anyone else would do, and you do it on camera for millions of people to watch.
I think back to the days when fame was reserved for movie stars, TV actors, athletes and even political leaders.
When I lived in Maryland a few years ago, I had the chance to see the 109th United States Congress in session. As someone who had always looked up to athletes, I found myself particularly impressed as my group was able to sit in the gallery and look down on the action on the floor as then-Sen. Hillary Clinton, along with senators Mitch McConnell, John Kerry and others, including the late Ted Kennedy, as they discussed political matters that could shape our nation. I was quite impressed with those who were doing the work, and the power, and fame, they had. It didn’t matter what I thought of any of those folks or their political views, I was impressed with who they were and what they were doing, and how important their work was to the world.
Looking back on that day and watching those people who will be remembered throughout history, and many of them who will even appear in history books studied by my grandchildren some day, it makes me feel a little sad to think what some folks do to be famous today.
Even before I was born, the artist Andy Warhol said back in 1968 that, “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” Sadly, he was right. Some are famous for a short time for being a hero, saving a life, or just doing something impressive in an athletic competition. But I don’t think even Warhol, who was one of the most eccentric of his day, could have imagined just how right he would be, and how little it would take to gain that 15 minutes of fame.
In my opinion, there are a lot of folks whose clocks are ticking, and personally, I can’t wait until their 15 minutes are up.