A non-quantitative way to think about fame, how to increase it, and how to manage it.
By Mark D. Harris
(Fame) I’m gonna live forever I’m gonna learn how to fly (High) I feel it coming together People will see me and cry (Fame) I’m gonna make it to heaven Light up the sky like a flame (Fame) I’m gonna live forever Baby, remember my name (Remember, remember, remember, remember) (Remember, remember, remember, remember)
When Irene Cara sang those words in 1982, she was predicting her future fame, and echoing a dream of people throughout the ages. Napoleon Bonaparte reputedly said, “glory is fleeting, but obscurity is forever.” Thousands of years before, women rejoiced with Naomi at the birth of her grandson Obed, saying “may his name become famous in Israel (Ruth 4:15).” From the Gong Show to American Idol, from the high school gridiron to the Super Bowl, and from the county seat to the White House, many people are willing to do almost anything for fame.
Writing articles about a mathematical model to calculate (and predict) fame is not a good way to become famous, but it is intriguing nonetheless. This work will propose such a model. It is not based on a complicated statistical analysis of a massive data set, but based on anecdotal observations over a half century of life.
Fame = (Power*Works*Desire (for fame)*Connections + ½ Money2)/(Avoidance (of fame) + ¼ Uniqueness)
Alternately stated, F=(PWDC+½M2)/(A + ¼ U)
Fame is a continuum – even a hermit has a little, most people have some, at least in their social circle, and a few people have a lot. Fame can also be described as a bell curve heavily skewed to the right.
Some people are famous from birth, like William, Duke of Cambridge (2nd in line, after Charles, Prince of Wales, to the British throne). Even lacking political power, he, like all hereditary royalty, has tremendous soft power. Others start in obscurity but end up famous due to their great political power, like Dwight David Eisenhower after the Allied victory in World War II. William Shakespeare and J.S. Bach were neither royalty nor did they gain positions of power, but owe their fame to their work. People can diminish but not eliminate their fame but actively avoiding the limelight – Emily Dickinson was a recluse who wrote over 1800 poems but only published about a dozen during her lifetime.
Great wealth is a path to fame – it is hard to avoid fame when you are listed in Forbes’ The World’s Billionaires, even if you are number 1940 on the list. But the relationship between money and fame is not linear. Until a person reaches about $10 million in assets, wealth probably does not contribute much to fame. Once someone reaches about $100 million, fame seems to grow exponentially as money increases. This relationship might be best illustrated by an ew term, but for the sake of simplicity I have used the clumsier ½ M2 term. Using strategies of avoidance, fabulously rich people can intentionally diminish their fame. Let us consider each variable:
Power – The most important question that people usually ask of other people is “what can they do for me?” A doctor can make you well, a lawyer can defend you in court, and a musician can make you feel good; these people tend to have a high degree of power. A corollary question is “what can they do to me?” A policeman can arrest you, a lawyer can sue you, and a robber can hurt you. These people also have power. Experts in a field have power to answer questions. Chief executive officers, generals, and presidents have a greater degree of power and commensurately more fame.
Works – Power requires the presence of the person and vanishes with death, but works can reach beyond the grave. A symphony, a scientific discovery, a novel, or an enduring institution confer lasting fame on whoever created, discovered, wrote, or established it. The Boy Scouts have made Baden Powell famous, as Johns Hopkins University has done for its namesake. Major historical events confer fame on their participants, regardless of success or failure, as General George Pickett discovered at the Battle of Gettysburg.
Desire – People who want fame are more likely to get it. They will talk to the right leaders, say the right things, and orient their activities towards fame. A young Bill Clinton stepped in front of a crowd to shake the hand of President Kennedy in a well-known photograph. A minor political figure named Adolph Hitler scrawled his name in the guest book of the famous arms manufacturer Gustave Krupp. But so many folks want fame that desire is not enough.
Connections – The famous, the rich, and the accomplished confer fame, riches, and even accomplishments on those around them. Children of such people tend to inherit traits, connections, and opportunities denied to others. It is not enough just to have connections – people who want fame need the right connections.
Money – Resources beg to be used; whether an empty house, an idle car, or a still machine. Money is no exception. My grandparents used to say, “money is burning a hole in your pocket”, and that saying is as true today as it was in the previous century. When resources are used, whether for a fat tip for a waitress or to buy a shiny new auto, people notice. Money can be used to increase fame – Conrad Hilton multiplied his fame by putting his name on all of his hotels, and Donald Trump did the same with his buildings.
The wealthy have hidden their abundance for centuries, wisely fearing the envy of those around, and continue to do so. However, with the internet and the flood of information available in the world, this is getting harder.
Uniqueness – independent of money, power, and the other factors, uniqueness is a minor factor in fame. A person named Zelda Zonkerstein is likely to be easier to find with an English-language internet search engine than any particular John Smith. Someone who is eight feet tall or four feet tall is probably more memorable, and more famous, than someone exactly alike in every other way than someone who is 5’5”. A woman who is dazzlingly beautiful, or a man “ripped” with muscle, will be well known in her or his circle.
Uniqueness confers a greater increase in fame if the unique aspect of the person is easy to appreciate, like fine clothes, expensive looking jewelry, or an endearing accent. Uniquenesses that are harder to see, like accomplishments that you might put on a resume, do not improve fame as much. Fear of negative judgment might prevent people who otherwise might want fame from getting it.
Avoidance – Refusing interviews and photographs is one way that people avoid fame. Avoiding public speaking is another. Most people do not need to use avoidance techniques.
The astute reader will notice that there is a significant amount of overlap between these variables (power, work, connections, money, desire, uniquenesses, avoidance). This is inevitable, because fame is far too complicated to be reduced to a single equation. Nonetheless, by identifying each factor, a would-be famous person can increase their notoriety.
- An executive wanting fame could take a volunteer leadership position in his community, thus increasing his power.
- A music teacher seeking fame could spend her summer vacation composing a great song.
- A shy person who hoped for fame could take an acting class and get more center stage in events.
- A politician needing fame could make connections with high profile leaders and donors in his district.
- An heiress could use her money to grab the public eye.
- An average Joe or Jane might start dressing differently, and unusually.
- Anyone could learn how to interest the press, and engage them.
The only question people who seek fame should ask is…why? Fame brings advantages and disadvantages; blessings and curses – as the songsmiths of The Eagles noted in their famous and haunting tune, Hotel California.
Like the Ring of Power in Lord of the Rings, fame is the heart’s desire of many in the world today. Fame is an elusive prey; many who try for it will not get it. Fame is also an unfaithful mistress; it will abandon all those who don’t constantly cater to it. Nonetheless, the model presented here is a useful way to think about fame.