Fame – A Mathematical Model

A non-quantitative way to think about fame, how to increase it, and how to manage it. 

(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.

Gaining Fame

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.

  1. An executive wanting fame could take a volunteer leadership position in his community, thus increasing his power.
  2. A music teacher seeking fame could spend her summer vacation composing a great song.
  3. A shy person who hoped for fame could take an acting class and get more center stage in events.
  4. A politician needing fame could make connections with high profile leaders and donors in his district.
  5. An heiress could use her money to grab the public eye.
  6. An average Joe or Jane might start dressing differently, and unusually.
  7. 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.

The Year in Law, Government and Politics

8 Jan – President George Washington delivered the first State of the Union Address before a joint session of Congress in New York City (1790).

8 Jan – The only time in US history that the US national debt was $0.00 (1835).

16 Jan – Ivan the Terrible crowned himself the first Czar of Russia (1547).

16 Jan – The United States prohibited alcohol use throughout the nation in the 18th amendment to the Constitution (1919).

21 Jan – The National Assembly of Quebec adopted and flew the Quebec flag for the first time, inaugurating the Quebec Flag Day (1948).

29 Jan – Whig Senator Henry Clay proposed the Compromise of 1850, which admitted California as a free state, left Utah and New Mexico to popular sovereignty, limited Texas’ territorial claims, abolished the slave trade in Washington DC, and strengthened the Fugitive Slave Act, was introduced to Congress and passed in September (1850).

11 Feb – The first session of the United States Senate was opened to the public (1794).

23 Feb – A plot by the “Spencean Philanthropists”, including trade unionists and members of the London Irish community, to assassinate every British cabinet member, known as the Cato Street conspiracy, was uncovered (1820).

10 Mar – The US Congress ratifies the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, ending the Mexican American War (1848).

12 Mar – The newly inaugurated President Franklin Roosevelt addressed the nation for the first time in what became his first of thirty “Fireside Chats” (1933).

15 Apr – Abraham Lincoln, the Great Emancipator and US President during the Civil War, died after being shot by John Wilkes Booth at Ford’s Theater in Washington DC the night before (1865).

1 May – The Act of Union came into effect, uniting the Kingdom of England and the Kingdom of Scotland into the United Kingdom, also known as Great Britain (1707).

4 May – Margaret Thatcher became the first woman to serve as Prime Minister of Great Britain (1979).

9 May – The Royal Houses of England and Portugal signed the Treaty of Windsor, the oldest diplomatic alliance in history which remains in effect (1386).

16 May – US President Andrew Johnson is acquitted by one vote in the US Senate, retaining the Presidency after being impeached by the US House of Representatives (1868).

13 Jun – Rhode Island became the first British North American colony to ban the slave trade (1774).

1 Oct – Mao Zedong established the People’s Republic of China (1949).

24 Nov – Lee Harvey Oswald, the alleged killer of President John F. Kennedy, was murdered on live television in the basement of the Dallas police department by nightclub owner Jack Ruby (1963).

28 Nov – The Kingdom of Hawaii was recognized as an independent nation by the United Kingdom and by France.

1 Dec – Portugal proclaims King Joao IV as its ruler, ending the unity of the Iberian Peninsula (1640).

5 Dec – Former US President John Quincy Adams took his seat in the US House of Representatives, becoming the only US President to serve in the House after leaving Executive Office (1831).

5 Dec – Utah ratified the 21st amendment, becoming the 36th state to do so and ending Prohibition (1933).

7 Dec – Delaware became the first state to ratify the new US Constitution (1787).

11 Dec – With WW2 looming, King Edward VIII of the United Kingdom abdicated to marry American widow Wallace Simpson. Edward’s younger brother George became king (1936).

The 2012 Presidential Debates

We have one television at home and generally watch only videos on it, because we have no cable, no satellite, and not even an antenna. With rare exceptions, we have lived without TV for over a decade. This year, however, with the Olympics in July and the presidential race in the fall we opted to buy an inexpensive cable package. One of the things that I anticipated watching was the series of presidential debates.

Elections are always a bizarre mix of truth and error, exaggeration and understatement, and bluster and bombast. Presidential elections are the most extreme. With little trust for the professional media, people seem to like debates because they feel that debates are the only unscripted and unstaged events in politics. Political conventions used to be raucous affairs with the outcome in doubt until the last ballot; now they are primarily pep rallies with the choice of candidate a foregone conclusion. Stump speeches and other events have more of the ring of a Hollywood production than of a chance to get to know the real candidate.

Stated another way, everything we know comes from our experience or the experience (and subsequent testimony) of others. We have ample personal experience with friends and family to feel that we truly know them. In the past, citizens roamed the White House and Capitol and interacted personally with their leaders. With the massive increase in the size and power of the Federal government in the past century, the US population growth, and the increase in security threats, this ended. People still feel like they should know governmental leaders but this has become impossible. Since we have little or no personal experience with the candidates, we rely on the statements of others about them. Unfortunately, those making the statements either have no experience of their own or largely turn these men into caricatures; so bad or so good as to belie the truth. Debates seem to provide a small but genuine personal interaction to each viewer.

I do not claim to be an undecided voter, but I hoped the first debate would be informative and civil. With modern attention spans measured in the minutes, not hours, I was not expecting a replay of Lincoln-Douglas (1858), though I would love to have seen it (yes, even the ridiculous portions, which have been around since before Cicero ran for Roman consul in 64 BC). The debate was a bit of a letdown, since it is hard to argue a point in a two minute long strings of sound bites, but I thought that each candidate performed well enough.

The next morning on the drive to work, the satellite radio channels erupted with exuberance (if the speaker was Republican) and drowned in despair (if the speaker was a Democrat). Apparently the commentators and focus groups felt that Republican challenger Mitt Romney had crushed Democratic Incumbent Barak Obama. Both sides reviled Obama for being “aloof”, “diffident”, and “weak”. President Obama explained that he had been too polite and promised to do better the next time.

If watching the first presidential debate was a bit of a letdown, watching the vice presidential debate was wearisome. This debate received our household prize for rudest and most arrogant of the year. My wife and I skipped the second presidential debate, recording it for my son, who wanted to watch it later. The next day he judged it “nothing but bickering and talking points”, summarizing that it was “not worth watching.” The thin, smile laden veneer failed to conceal the acrimony. Afterwards my son and I watched a clip from the Nixon-Kennedy presidential debates of 1960 and the Reagan Mondale debate from 1984. He asked “Dad, why can’t we have debates like that today?”

Radio commentators and focus groups, however, seemed to be quite satisfied. Many believed that the president and vice president made up for lost ground, showing “commitment” and “strength”. Democrats labeled the Republicans “wonkish” or “weak”. Behavior that would not have been tolerated in our home was lauded on satellite radio. Do we really think that such cacophony demonstrates strength? Is this behavior really useful in tense international negotiations? Is this how Nixon opened China, or what Eisenhower did at Panmunjom? By the third presidential debate my wife and I had regained our tolerance for 90 minutes of televised argument and rudeness, so we watched. My daughter, home from college, was fed up after 45 minutes. Nonetheless we persevered. On the whole, I found it better than the others.

Were these debates really what the American people wanted? They must have been what the media wanted because they droned on for hours with commentary and analysis. Perhaps election coverage is to the media what the Works Progress Administration was to workers in the 1930s; a source of some useful and much meaningless labor. The debates were clearly what some of the viewers wanted, as indicated by the recorded comments and the tenor of some of the social media coverage. If people wanted conflict, they got it, just like spectators at the Coliseum in Rome. Were the debates what the candidates wanted? One suspects that they were at least what they needed, because these ambitious and articulate men subjected themselves to this process. Perhaps that is why George Bush infamously checked his watch in the 1992 presidential debates; he had to perform but hated doing so. It is easy to conclude that many Americans got what they wanted in the debates.

People want their leaders to be successful and to care enough about them to help make them successful. People want their leaders to be enough like them to understand their problems and enough unlike them to solve the problems that they cannot. They want strong leaders to stand up to threats at home and abroad, and sensitive leaders who are touched at the sight of a mother grieving her fallen warrior son. They want a man who can deftly manage a civil war in Syria and equally manage the workplace rights of a breastfeeding mother. It is a tall order, and no one on earth can do it perfectly. The entire election process is the best that we, or anyone else, has devised to pick the man who can do it the best. The American style of government, republican democracy, is messy. But given the inherent corruption of man, it is the best possible government for providing the most good for the most people. The election process, including the wearisome debates, gives Americans a glimpse not just into the candidates, but into the glories, and absurdities, of republican democracy.

One last note, as citizens of the world, Christians must help shape the world to reflect the goodness of the One who created it. Justice matters, and believers in Christ should be the first to fight for it, just as the American Abolitionists, largely Christian, did 200 years ago. However as citizens of heaven, we must never put our hope in the world. God alone is sovereign, and regardless of the outcomes of elections, or any other event on earth, He is in control. Our ultimate trust must always be in Him.