Living in the age of manufactured celebrity
Sometimes there are posts which I put out on Google+ that delve into topics that, while they work well for social media, also beg to be expanded upon in a long-form format here in the blog. Not all of my posts are about virtual worlds specifically, but they do (quite often) cross over and find a parallel when it suits the larger narrative.
Today, I’d like to write a bit about Andy Warhol, and more importantly the things that he popularized in the art world. Maybe more importantly, the things he popularized in the rest of the world as well.
Andy Warhol is a pop art icon, and by most considered an art master of the 20th century. Most famous for his depiction of a Campbell’s Soup Can, Andy wasn’t always the super famous pop icon that he is known for, and most importantly the very persona that he is known for isn’t even real.
Admittedly, when Andy Warhol started out, he was an unassuming guy that nobody paid attention to. He worked as an amateur artist and had trouble selling his works, even in a diner.
But that didn’t stop him.
He worked at a leather company for awhile, and did their marketing images and design stuff. They loved him. To this day their logo is the one that Andy designed and they won’t change it. Of course that’s for obvious reason now, since their logo is probably worth a hundred million dollars as an Andy Warhol original these days.
But that didn’t satisfy Andy Warhol.
So one day he had an epiphany... artwork is manufactured, and in the art world it’s just as much about persona behind it as it is about the art. You could be brilliant at anything, really... but if you don’t have the persona and reputation to go with it, then you’re just an unknown brilliant person. So the trick was figuring out himself as a packaged persona that would be well known.
Andy decided what he needed was to reinvent himself as a persona to go with that artwork he was making, and that’s exactly what he did. Gone were the bland shoes and slacks, the bowtie (yes, he wore a bowtie), and the unassuming attitude.
Andy Warhol set out to create himself as a public persona and to do that he went wildly in the opposite direction of who he was as a person. Striped shirt, leather jacket, leather boots and sunglasses.
Of course, there is also the white wig.
Here’s the thing about that: Andy Warhol was perfectly aware that the wig was blatantly noticeable, and at absolutely no point did he expect you to think otherwise. That was the point. It was a manufactured oddity of character persona that stood out.
In a way, you could say Andy Warhol was the original Second Life avatar.
I highly recommend watching the embedded video below about Andy Warhol, when it comes down to all of this. I know most people reading this aren’t necessarily the sort to spend an hour here, but I assure you it’s worth the time.
The very personality that he took on when he was dressed that way was also manufactured as well. Vague and mysterious. Answering questions with perplexing and brazen mockery or “because I could” attitude.
Effectively, he realized that in order for people to take his work seriously and not just as illustration, it had to be “about” something. He had to comment on the world around him, and make people look at it differently. My kind of guy, actually.
In order to get people take that seriously, artwork that was about marketing, branding and the effects on society, he had to rebrand himself.
And that’s what we’re exploring today in this post.
Not necessarily Andy Warhol, but the concept of how persona in the modern age comes from that personal rebranding for the public image. Andy famously predicted that in the future, anyone who could get themselves in front of a camera could become a superstar with at least their 15 minutes of fame. We play personas today in the digital age quite a lot, but brilliantly... Andy Warhol got things right in the age of YouTube well before the Internet even existed.
Indeed, anyone that can get themselves in front of a camera can become famous. Millions of subscribers (fans) on Youtube are a testament to that.
So much was Andy Warhol intrigued by all of this, at least in his time (he passed away in 1987), that he decided that he could manufacture celebrity and fame at will. Which is what he regularly did in his studio and projects... You’ve probably heard about the band Velvet Underground, which of course was a project by Andy Warhol.
The Age of Fame
Which transitions to the idea that here in 2014, many of the things Andy Warhol are already in practice. As mentioned before, anyone with enough dedication to getting themselves in front of a camera can get themselves fame. Youtube allows for that and I’ve had quite an interesting amount of conversation with folks like Diana and Dmitri, who are well known in the ASMR community, about this very concept.
Fame, for what it is worth, is mostly manufactured and subscribes to the very things that Andy Warhol set into motion. Of course this process existed before Andy pointed it out, but it was reserved mostly in a closed system for movie stars and radio. But now literally anyone can be famous if they want to.
But that comes down to manufactured persona and your ability to get in front of a camera long enough. Just like Warhol predicted.
So in the Youtube scene, we see plenty of personas (PewDePie, Jacksepticeye, Laina, etc) and they are quite famous. At least, they are likely a hell of a lot more famous than you are reading this.
It’s also an interesting psychological effect on the person in the limelight. Too often, Youtube personalities are taken aback at their own rise to fame and popularity. You see videos saying “Holy crap! 500,000 subscribers!?” and then a month or two later that number is a million... in some instances, those same Youtube personalities become famous enough that people notice them on the street and ask for autographs and photos.
This also extends (to a lesser degree) to virtual worlds like Second Life where you’re more often than not playing a persona by default. You can be “famous” in the virtual world as well, and from there it’s just a matter of how ambitious you are.
In some cases, you just trip into it or end up being in the right places or seen with the right people. I can attest to that one, and even Aeonix Aeon is a persona – albeit merely a mild caricature of my real self. I definitely enjoy playing up the Lewis Black/Bill Hicks aspects for the hell of it, because that’s what you expect from the persona. I play those caricatures on and off for this blog as well (depending on my mood and the topic), and for many reading this stuff you enjoy it quite a lot, or are absolutely irritated by me and want to hunt and kill me.
The real me is a happy medium in there somewhere and the contentious cantankerous behavior are exaggerated quirks because of that fame aspect. Every celebrity is putting on that persona for you – even when you meet them in person. They’re playing a character... the person you think they are.
But therein is the truly interesting thing... in that manufactured fame aspect, you are playing a character even in real life. Youtube personalities do the same (at least in their videos), and in the virtual world you’re simply going whole hog with the character.
An excellent example is during the height of The Matrix, Keanu Reeves was asked about his personal life, to which he replied he’s really boring. Goes home to his apartment (gasp!) reads or watches television.
Which brings us the idea of Projecting onto others. Something that Bryn Oh explained to me a long time ago... which I guess in the virtual world Bryn Oh is pretty much the Andy Warhol equivalent. Completely and utterly manufactured persona to the Nth degree for “celebrity” status as an artist, which only reinforces what Warhol had said.
Though there is definitely a darker side to that manufactured fame, and this was famously illustrated by Warhol as well in his famous painting of Marilyn Monroe.
Lot’s of glitter and color painted over a black and white print, the statement was that celebrities where a mask in public and underneath that mask they are very different. Norma Jean Baker was the real person and fame absolutely killed her. Depression and such led her to suicide.
Few people really did know Marilyn Monroe as the person and the world knew her as that manufactured persona for fame.
Putting on that facade for the public really starts eating away at you over time, which is why I make a very clear distinction between myself and the persona of Aeonix. I don’t pretend Aeonix is who I am entirely and flatly tell you (and the public) when I’m putting you on, and even why. This is mostly because I actually do want you to know me as a person and not a persona, and I am more interested in knowing others as a person and not persona.
Regardless though, (at least in Second Life), most people are terrified of the reality and do everything they can to keep up the manufactured character at all costs. As you can imagine, few people take me up on that offer of person to person, and dropping the facade.
But of those that do, they find out I’m pretty fun to be around (mostly).
There is (of course) the context of “fans” when you’re “famous”. Don’t mind the quotes... though I do understand the context from a first hand experience. Some are typical while others get totally obsessed over you (the persona) even when you’re no longer playing into it... it is such an odd situation to me whenever that happens.
So the real question isn’t about whether anyone with enough ambition and getting themselves in front of a camera can be famous in this day and age, but whether we can actually handle it when it comes. While I can personally handle it, I simply chose to get out of that limelight (or sure as hell try) and back to where I enjoy things most: Still hanging out with those “famous” people and even helping them behind the scenes.
Modern day celebrities often fail in this respect, if you look at people like Lindsay Lohan, Brittany Spears or (I suppose) Miley Cyrus. I’d put a picture of them here but I can’t really decide whether it would illustrate the point tastefully or not.
Alright, so I went with Lindsay Lohan as Person. The first thing that you’ll notice is that Lindsay looks a hell of a lot different without the photoshop and makeup. Of course, this isn’t a picture of her at her worst... we already know what that looks like and we don’t need a reprise. However, instead of opting for a picture of her as manufactured celebrity (we’ll touch on the Madonna/Whore complex shortly), I just decided to show her as a typical person...
If you saw Lindsay Lohan on the street without the makeup and manufactured persona, you’d more than likely not even realize it was her. Just a random red-head in the crowd.
It’s not too much to understand that the general public are just as vulnerable in the same respect, if not more. The constant doubting about whether people are being sincere, not really getting close to your fans, the whole nine yards. The real life version of you isn’t nearly as spectacular as the manufactured celebrity version. You’ve got flaws... physical and character. Your real life might even totally suck (bad marriage, bad circumstances, an a laundry list of other imperfections).
For instance, (aside from Lindsay and her drug issues), she’s dead broke or damned close. Seriously... after the one show she was on got cancelled she lost her only source of income. For what it’s worth, Lindsay is now back to being a person... character flaws and all. And can we/she actually handle that? How quick the public turns on celebrities when that manufactured image shatters revealing the real life person.
I’m sure you’re aware of this even in your own Second Life whenever that highly manufactured persona of your avatar character gets shattered and people see you as you actually are in real life. Therein is a major source of drama.
So when that manufactured celebrity kicks in, and the public goes for it... in a way you’re totally screwed. You’re now forever playing a character of yourself and not your real self any longer. The moment that the manufactured celebrity falls apart or the real version of yourself shows through, it destroys the mental image that everyone had of you. Metaphor shear in a real life sense... instead of an illusory file or item we’re talking about metaphor shear in the context of an illusory person/persona.
When the persona disintegrates (in real life or Second Life) and the real person (not the manufactured one) comes through, we end up with all sorts of drama and issues. We build ourselves up so high that the fall requires a parachute. I suppose this is compounded in Second Life when the entirely manufactured and people do everything in their power to never have that facade destroyed. That’s pretty much the bigger issue with drama, but that’s not the only reason.
I’m just highlighting one of them for the purpose of this writing. But it’s a really huge one.
There is also the concept of the Madonna/Whore complex to describe men and their attitudes toward women in general. This is definitely amplified in the age of manufactured persona and fame... What completely finds me interested is that such behavior is rampant in Second Life to the extreme, and women play into it absolutely and completely.
In the form of fame, even in the Youtube generation, we exhibit that behavior over celebrities – more often than not projecting onto them qualities which we want to see in them. In relation to the Madonna/Whore complex (for which Diana and I have had a really good discussion about), it is quite possible that it’s not just limited to men but also (to a degree) women who either play into it or project onto men those qualities.
In the context of Second Life, this manifests in a sort of absolute degree. People are absolutely playing into a character that is manufactured (in most cases entirely). But something interesting happens in Second Life... in that the manufactured persona is more often than not a mirror image of themselves.
The person you are in Second Life is (often) an example of what you think you’re devoid of in Real Life. If you’re overweight, you definitely like the idea of playing a Barbie doll that is lusted after. The persona is often a representation of what you are not in real life, or amplification of only the best possible qualities while attempting to erase anything bad.
Contradiction of Mundane
Really what this boils down to, and ironically the entire point of what Andy Warhol was doing, is that he was pointing out the juxtaposition of celebrity versus our everyday lives. The things we choose to give our attention to are all manufactured experiences.
The point is that we seldom actually pay any attention to the mundane world and give undue attention to the completely fictitious.
Andy Warhol was just an every day person, much like everyone else. Just like Lindsay Lohan is just an actress. It’s her job... or maybe was... but the only reason you paid attention to her was because of manufactured celebrity. The product of an army of public relations, makeup artists, agents, and so forth...
In much the same manner as there is Dmitri (MassageASMR) or Diana (DianaDew ASMR) or Lauren Owestrowski Fenton... what you see on the screen is a manufactured experience. And so we see them as that manufactured personality. We project onto them what we think they are, and we know little or absolutely nothing about them for real, nor do we bother to want to know.
Maybe it’s a lot like how in high school you never thought of your teachers as people... they were very much persona. It never occurred to you to think of them as people... outside of being a teacher. Home life, likes and dislikes, the good, bad and ugly...
For what it’s worth, the secret to being a celebrity is simply not being yourself but instead being what the public thinks you are, or in a manner of speaking – doing everything in your power to manufacture the best possible “you” to play as a public image.
Unfortunately, for many... that manufactured persona literally becomes your demon and ultimately destroys you.
The overarching point of this post is simply a thought provoking look at the situation, and maybe understanding why we should find the normality in people more interesting instead of demanding and celebrating the manufactured personality.
And that’s why Andy Warhol eating a hamburger is absolutely a brilliant work of art. Manufactured celebrity, unabashed and blatant... doing something boring and normal. Two contradictory concepts... and something I believe everyone should watch at least once and really contemplate in depth.
So keep in mind, we’re all normal. We all have varying degrees of totally screwed up situations in our lives that are absolutely not ideal. None of us are perfect, and we’re all full of flaws... and that’s what makes us awesome.
It’s not how great we are because of the good things, but how great we are despite the bad things that makes us the real celebrities. The mundane and the boring... the real person. We’re all dynamic and original. When we’re celebrities we’re just playing a part... but we’re not playing ourselves.
If you’re a celebrity... don’t allow the demon of the character to run your real life or make you unhappy. Know the difference between the illusion and the real deal, and never accept an illusion if what you desire is the real thing.
Illusions are never a good substitute for reality, but just like a magic trick it can be entertaining for awhile.