Switching on the radio, a pop song from twenty-five years ago was playing; its distinctive sound made it instantly recognizable. Looking at the Wikipedia entry of the group who sang the song, it says they had a “string of Top 40 hits;” the string was actually four, but it did cause thoughts on the nature of fame. What degree of fame do you enjoy if someone can recognize your song twenty-five years later?
Someone somewhere has probably devised a formula for comparing the relative fame of various personalities and public figures, one of those algebraic sort of things where “e” might equal the total media exposure; where “f” might equal the number of adherents in that field; where “g” might equal its global exposure; where “h” might equal its historical significance; and where “i” might equal the income of the participants in the field. Ascribing values to each of the factors and then applying some sort of weighting system, numbers that recognize such things as “h” is obviously being more important than “e”, one could presumably construct a fame index. But would it mean anything?
Most fame tends to be very local, how many Bollywood actors can you name? How many American footballers? How many Chinese politicians? Even on this island, personalities that might be household names in Dublin will be unheard of in Belfast.
Not only is fame local, it is very transient. One might be the president of the United States of America and still be forgotten in a generation’s time? How many people can name the presidents of the 1960s and 1970s? And what about sports? The Brazil soccer team that won the 1970 World Cup was arguably the greatest in history, and, apart from Pele, how many are now remembered?
Fame is local and transient, and it is also very subjective. The reason the twenty-five year old song sticks in the memory may be more due to the video that accompanied it than to any intrinsic merit possessed by the song. Had someone not seen the video, would they have remembered the music? Another listener might have thought the song mournful and thought it far from being worthy of remembrance.
But if the politicians, personalities, celebrities, and stars aren’t the really famous, who are the really famous people? Who are those whose names will live on through the centuries? Composers and writers, artists and scientists. Is there any celebrity whose name compares with that of Galileo, Darwin or Einstein? Or with Picasso, van Gogh or Monet? Or with Mozart, Beethoven or Bach? Or with Shakespeare, after whom the group from twenty-five years ago was named?
Real fame doesn’t come through power or money. Political power and financial wealth, pop music and sports, films and television, are here today and gone tomorrow; real fame demands far more than power or money.