Friday, May 09, 2008

Are you famous?

When they left the Learning Technologies conference in January, Jay and Jane were struggling up the stairs at the station with a heavy bag. I was torn. Should I abandon my own bags on the platform and go and help them? Fortunately, I was beaten to the punch by a teenage boy who separated himself from his gaggle of friends and went to their aid. He returned to a chorus of gentle teasing from his friends and announced "He called me a gentleman and a scholar."

To save him from the teasing of his friends, I asked if he knew who Jay was. When I was met with blank looks, I gave them a potted history. "So is he famous?" one of them asked.

Good question. Is Jay Cross famous?

I have said before that I don't do star struck. I have met enough "stars" in my life to know that we all use loo paper for the same purpose and there are too many people who think that famous= superior, which it most decidedly does not. I once cause dismay and consternation by treating Lord Someone-or-other, former secretary of Northern Ireland, as an equal when he visited the college where I was teaching. He didn't seem to mind.

Many years ago, my niece once made a throwaway reference to her "famous aunt". That would be me. I asked her what on earth had given her the idea that I was famous, to which she replied, "Everyone knows who you are." She had lived all her short life in a small town where I had once been a prominent member of the amateur dramatic society. In my prime, I tended to play some pretty hefty parts, and sang at my fair share of weddings. Then I left and moved to Cape Town, shortly afterwards presenting a music programme on national television (I did a terrible job and my contract was not renewed). This meant that people regularly asked my sister about me (she looked enough like me to be instantly recognisable to anyone who knew me). My niece witnessed all of this, put it together in her young head and came out with famous. That's a bit 2 + 2 = Tuesday, but there you have it!

So I don't gush over movie stars and musos. And I have no appetite for people who are famous for being famous. During an infamous confrontation in Celebrity Big Brother (what a dreadful programme!) some time ago, the Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty - at the time a bigger star than than Hollywood's Cameron Diaz, according to some sources - was denigrated by one of the other contestants, Jade Goody, for having delusions of grandeur. Goody had come to prominence during an earlier non-celebrity version of the programme and was cut down to size by Shilpa's riposte that Big Brother was her only claim to fame. The incident brought worldwide coverage to the programme, all but destroyed Jade Goody's (ahem) career and made Shilpa Shetty (who went on to win the programme) a household name in the UK.

I tend to rave about people most folks have never heard of. "I got a shout out on Stephen Downes's blog!" I once announced delightedly in the office, to a round of "Who?" I got much the same response when I listed my dinner companions after Learning Technologies.

So is Stephen famous or isn't he?

Janet made a point today that resonated with me, as well. Sometimes the most unexpected people will make reference to something I have written on this blog. People who I would never have expected to count among my readers. So are we famous, too, Janet and I?

Of course, in the final analysis, it makes not the blindest bit of difference, but it's an interesting question. Maybe Andy Warhol was right. Perhaps everyone is now famous. Does someone call you in with a megaphone when your 15 minutes are up?


Anonymous said...

Hi Jago. Thanks for your comment. One thing I have found about "famous" people is that they are just people... even when they seem to forget that fact themselves. That said, the most likable of the "famous" people I've met have been the ones who have retained a sense of perspective and have not become their own greatest fans.

Most of the prominent people I have encountered in this space have been more than willing to share what they know.

The generosity of this community is at odds with the corporate culture of retaining the competitive edge by playing your cards close to your chest. Long may it continue. I have no skill at (or appetite for) subterfuge and corporate gamesmanship.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for putting "Janet" and "famous" in the same sentence. I had only hoped that "Janet" and "infamy" would not appear in a sentence together. ; )

The tagline on the website "Internet Famous" [] says, "Just because a lot of people see your stuff doesn't mean it's good. But it does mean you're famous."

I have signed up to confirm/deny my internet infamy. Good grief.

I am famous in my home for tortilla soup. This is something I only dreamed of.

I guess "fame" is in the eyes of the beholder. Being "famous" probably is defined by the space in which you reside. In the edublogosphere, you Karyn, are famous in my eyes.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Janet, for the blushworthy praise!

You make a good point, though. I am also famous for some of my recipes.. within a very small circle of my acquaintances.

I also used to be famous for my kids' parties, all home-made and themed to the hilt. The chess themed party was the biggest challenge, even thought the cake was a breeze. Ever noticed how few black food stuffs there are? I even wove black and white plates for each child to eat off. How sad am I?

Anonymous said...

Jago Time after time I have been in trouble with the bosses for tipping my hand, but almost without fail the clients appreciate the honesty and candour of my approach. How did we ever come to the conclusion that it was a good idea to dissemble?

Stephen Downes said...

You ask in this post whether I am famous and I can tell you that from my perspective, I am not.

'Fame' is I suppose something like 'name recognition' within a given population. And my name is not recognized by most people.

I have thought about it. I understand that it is possible to do things that would make myself famous - to write a popular book, for example. But I have other priorities in my life.

Should I ever become famous - and in the back of my mind, I have always supposed that I would, albeit probably posthumously - I want it to be for a body of achievement, and not for success in the intent of becoming famous.

Rina Tripathi said...

Famous or not famous, once you have a little glimpse of what a human really is beneath the surface, you respond. To dwell on this, how much does it matter, in a while, which is a wink in cosmic proportions all are either beneath the mother Earth or in flames like us Hindus. What remains is the good things you do-that is fame. Planted trees that provide fresh air, cradled a crying baby, wiped tears off someone's face. Thats what counts I think Karyn. I learn from books about the facts. I learn about myself when I respond to you Karyn. Thanks for such lovely blogs. You are such an evolved soul. Blessings.

Rina Tripathi said...

I had a question Karyn, why do we call this web 2.0? And another observation-there is a lot of hope in today's generation. I see they are very upright and don't hide things. They are brutally honest and if it is inherent or cultivated in them, they are sensitive too. Another thing, Shilpa Shetty ghas this so called fame after going under the knife for nose, waist , lips ... well all of it. Is such recognition even valid? If it is due to some talents well, its still acceptable but getting your body sculpted by surgeons and then on basis of this body being'famous' what I mean is what is this fame for? To be admired by men, followed by insane women who will follow example and go under knife. There has to be some logic to it, here there seems none. Hugs

Anonymous said...

@downes "I want it to be for a body of achievement, and not for success in the intent of becoming famous." I would have expected nothing else! Besides, within the world I inhabit, you're already pretty famous - it's just that one realises how many worlds there are within this one, when noting how fame often stops dead at the boundaries of one such world.

@rina The reason this is referred to as web 2.0 is that the first "incarnation" of the web was one to which a handful of people were able to contribute material, while the rest simply acted as consumers of this content. In its current form, we are all contributors to the content. 1.0 (for most of us) was a read-only web, whereas 2.0 is a read/write web.

jay said...


Anonymous said...

Thought you would like this.