Some argue that, in this statement, Warhol was commenting on the power of new media technologies, whereas others believe that it relates to Warhol critiquing the changing nature of ‘celebrity’ within society.
Personally – cynically perhaps – I fall into the latter camp whereby I believe that Andy Warhol’s famous quote predicted the nature of fame within our celebrity-saturated culture.
Love them or detest them though, it’s pretty clear that in modern life, celebrities wield significant power within modern society and, like any entertainment ‘product’, often make a major contribution to our economy. Public Relations can be argued as having had most profoundly influenced the rise of our ‘celebrity culture’ through not only assisting in the curation of individual’s personal brands, but also through cojointly benefiting brands like Nike and Virgin from their association with individual celebrities which share similar associations (or attributes the brand wants to adopt).
Although some may feel that celebrities are the ‘scourge’ of modern life, and admittedly I find it frustrating when I see that Kim Kardashian became famous after the release of a sex tape, or those from Jersey Shore, TOWIE etc gain fame from openly staged ‘reality’ shows. By no means do I feel that they haven’t worked to KEEP that fame (which can account for the increasingly volatile crises they have within their ‘reality’ storylines), but I find it hard to appreciate their ‘celebrity’ status when I have grown up believing that fame stems from an individual’s amazing ability, skill or personal accomplishment.
Saying this however, I believe that it’s far more common for celebrites today play a necessary and beneficial role in modern society by using their Legitimate, Referent and occasionally Expert power (as hypothesised by French & Raven, 1959) to bring people together, bridge divides between communities and cultures, and deliver valid public representations of private concerns that can direct media attention and generate public support for important causes.
British film, television, and stage actor, Sir Patrick Stewart (one of my favourite celebrities of all time and not just because his friendship with Ian McKellen), is an active campaigner against domestic violence for both Refuge and
Amnesty International, as well as an activist for the armed forces charity, Combat Stress. I love the fact that not only was he AMAZING in Star Trek: The Next Generation AND the X-Men film series, but he also recognises the power that he has as a white, male celebrity, and is using it as a force for positive change.
Another celebrity who is using their status to raise awareness and illicit change is acclaimed Indian actress, Mallika Sherawat, who (in the video below) defends her statement that Indian society is regressive towards women. Not only is she fiercely steadfast in raising the issues currently being faced within Indian culture, she is also passionate about the fact that (rather than damaging India’s reputation), in raising these issues, she is improving international awareness and stimulus for cultural change.
Looking at these celebrities and comparing their behaviour/actions to those of their reality-star counterparts has made me realise that the type of celebrity a person becomes is often influenced by the motivations behind their fame and their personal value-set.
This makes things harder for PR professionals as (particularly in the cases of reality stars) the associations and attributes asscribed to their personal brands is influenced by both their PR/Media representation but also their behaviour on the sets of ‘reality’ shows which thrive on fractious interpersonal situations and crises.
Maybe this is what Warhol was alluding to?
If you consider the idea that becoming a celebrity can be as easy as participating in a TV show, then doesn’t their ‘fame’ rely (at least in part) on their continuous presence on the show, or even of the show itself? Unless they learn to evolve the attributes connected to their personal brand beyond the intial pop-culture reference (by for example, using their fame for good or (at the very least) towards new avenues of associations), then once that starring reference falls out of favour, they too will fade.
Its an interesting challenge for PR Execs working on Celebs’ behalfs, and one which (no doubt) is going to be gaining increasing client investment over the next few years.