15 Minutes of Fame

susan boyle

15 minutes of fame is short-lived, often ephemeral, media publicity or celebrity of an individual or phenomenon. The expression was coined by Andy Warhol, who said in 1968 that ‘In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.’ The phenomenon is often used in reference to figures in the entertainment industry or other areas of popular culture, such as reality TV and YouTube. It is believed that the statement was an adaption of a theory of Marshall McLuhan, explaining the differences of media, where TV differs much from other media using contestants.

The expression is a paraphrase of a line in Warhol’s catalog for a 1968 exhibit at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm. In 1979 Warhol reiterated his claim, ‘…my prediction from the sixties finally came true: In the future everyone will be famous for 15 minutes.’ Becoming bored with continually being asked about this particular statement, Warhol attempted to confuse interviewers by changing the statement variously to ‘In the future 15 people will be famous’ and ‘In 15 minutes everybody will be famous.’

Benjamin H.D. Buchloh suggests that the core tenet of Warhol’s aesthetic, being ‘the systematic invalidation of the hierarchies of representational functions and techniques’ of art, corresponds directly to the belief that the ‘hierarchy of subjects worthy to be represented will someday be abolished,’ hence anybody, and therefore ‘everybody,’ can be famous once that hierarchy dissipates, ‘in the future,’ and by logical extension of that, ‘in the future, everybody will be famous,’ and not merely those individuals worthy of fame.

On the other hand, wide proliferation of the adapted idiom ‘my fifteen minutes’ and its entrance into common parlance have led to a slightly different application, having to do with both the ephemerality of fame in the information age and, more recently, the democratization of media outlets brought about by the advent of the internet. In this formulation, Warhol’s quote has been taken to mean: ‘At the present, because there are so many channels by which an individual might attain fame, albeit not enduring fame, virtually anyone can become famous for a brief period of time.’

There is a third and even more remote interpretation of the term, as used by an individual who has been legitimately famous or skirted celebrity for a brief period of time, that period of time being his or her ‘fifteen minutes.’

John Langer suggests that 15 minutes of fame is an enduring concept because it permits everyday activities to become ‘great effects.’ Tabloid journalism and the paparazzi have accelerated this trend, turning what may have before been isolated coverage into continuing media coverage even after the initial reason for media interest has passed.

The age of reality television has seen the comment wryly updated as: ‘In the future, everyone will be obscure for 15 minutes.’ The British artist Banksy has made a sculpture of a TV that has, written on its screen, ‘In the future, everyone will be anonymous for 15 minutes.’

A more recent adaptation of Warhol’s quip, possibly prompted by the rise of online social networking, blogging, and similar online phenomena, is the claim that ‘In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people’ or, in some renditions, ‘On the Web, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.’ This quote, though attributed to David Weinberger, was said to have originated with the Scottish artist Momus.

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