Famous For Being Famous

Kim K by mark hammermeister

Famous for being famous, in popular culture terminology, refers to someone who attains celebrity status for no particular identifiable reason, or who achieves fame through association with a celebrity. The term is a pejorative, suggesting that the individual has no particular talents or abilities. Even when their fame arises from a particular talent or action on their part, the term will sometimes still apply if their fame is perceived as disproportionate to what they earned through their own talent or work.

The term originates from an analysis of the media dominated world called ‘The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-events in America’ (1961), by historian and social theorist Daniel J. Boorstin. In it, he defined the celebrity as ‘a person who is known for his well-knownness.’ He further argued that the graphic revolution in journalism and other forms of communication had severed fame from greatness, and that this severance hastened the decay of fame into mere notoriety. Over the years, the phrase has been glossed as ‘a celebrity is someone who is famous for being famous’.

American journalist Neal Gabler more recently refined the definition of celebrity to distinguish those who have gained recognition for having done virtually nothing of significance — a phenomenon he dubbed the ‘Zsa Zsa Factor’ in honor of Zsa Zsa Gabor, who parlayed her marriage to actor George Sanders into a brief movie stint and a much more enduring celebrity career. He goes on to define the celebrity as ‘human entertainment,’ by which he means a person who provides entertainment by the very process of living.

Amy Argetsinger coined the term “famesque” to define actors, singers, or athletes who have become celebrities despite having achieved very little, if any, success in their careers. Examples include athletes Anna Kournikova, Matt Leinart, and Danica Patrick, singer Jessica Simpson, and actress Sienna Miller. The term is descended from early ‘dawn of TV creations’ such as Hollywood Squares stars Zsa Zsa Gabor, Joyce Brothers, and Charles Nelson Reilly who, while being famous for being famous, ‘always seemed to know how marginal they were.’

Celebutante is a portmanteau of the words celebrity and débutante. The term has been used to describe individuals such as Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie in entertainment journalism. The term has been traced back to a 1939 Walter Winchell society column in which he used the word to describe prominent society debutante Brenda Frazier, who was a traditional ‘high-society’ debutante from a noted family, but whose debut attracted an unprecedented wave of media attention. The word appeared again in a 1985 ‘Newsweek’ article about New York City’s clubland celebrities, focusing on the lifestyle of James St. James and Dianne Brill, who was crowned ‘Queen of the Night’ by Andy Warhol.

With the hyperbolized cult of celebrity in the Internet age, the word gave rise to mutlitude of other words with prefix ‘celebu-,’ mostly derogatory: ‘celebutard,’ ‘celebuskank,’ etc.

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