When I was a child fame seemed so elusive and grandiose. I did not think I, nor anyone around me would be able to attain this pinnacle of achievement or inclusion. The closest thing to fame I knew was my father occasionally being mistaken for a Yankee player at the bar across from the old Yankee Stadium. My father was never a Yankee. However, he did have a photo of himself and Mickey Mantle, both in full uniform as a result of my mother’s 40th birthday present to my father of “Yankee Fantasy Baseball Camp”. At the end camp, my father asked Mickey Mantle to sign the photo of them both, “To Bill, a great hitter.” Instead, Mr. Mantle signed it “To Bill, a great hitter? – Mickey Mantle.” Refusing to let this question mark sit in peace, my father signed his own side of the photo with “You Bet!!! –Bill Grammaticas.” A copy of this photo was prominently hung at my father’s friend’s bar across from Yankee Stadium. He was often mistaken for a Yankee player when people connected the photo with him at the bar. Each time someone asked when my father played for the Yankees, I felt connected through his faulty fame. I knew it wasn’t real, but there was magic in the illusion. What I didn’t know was that years later, my father’s strategic fame trickery would become common cultural exercise.
Andy Warhol famously said we would all be famous for fifteen minutes. He should have added that if we didn’t make that fifteen minute cut, we would be spending our time trying to look as if we did, or might one day.
Fame was a different creature in during the era of Andy Warhol. Staples of reaching fame included magazine covers and talk show interviews and likely a successful career propelled from the realms of sports, the arts, or politics. Now, the bulk of the western world has cameras in their hands, and can easily manipulate and upload these images of themselves and the world around them, and in nearly real time. We don’t wait for the holidays or gatherings to show photos to family and friends. We also don’t have to wait to be nominated for an Oscar to feel as though we have a large audience. These days, through the assistance of the likes of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, we are acting out in our own news cycles, providing our own life commentary.
My father gets mad every time I meet a celebrity without receiving an autograph from them. Paris Hilton in her cameo on the early 2000’s teen show The O.C. states that cellphone photos are ‘the autographs of the 21st century.
To ask for that autograph is to admit that you are not equal, but merely a fan, thus denying your own possibilities at fame. You are doing a similar action by getting a photo with them, it may at least look like you could know each other or be friends. The autograph slashes these dreams apart, and doesn’t translate nearly as well for social media sharing purposes. Except of course, if it’s a work of deception like my father’s double autographed Yankee portrait. We are controlling our own images like a celebrity by attempting to control the perception of ourselves through these images. Andy Warhol knew that we could create our own fame, but what he didn’t know was just how easy it would become. After all, even my dad could do it.