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Seeking instant fame

In the contemporary world, everyone is striving for instant fame – greatly facilitated by social media – forgetting that such glory lacks direction

Seeking instant fame

When in the mid-60s Andy Warhol, the American director and leading figure in pop art, said, "In the future, everyone will be world-famous for fifteen minutes", little did we know how desperate 'everyone' will be to retain their 15 minutes. In the age of 'democratisation' of media – thanks to low-cost social media penetration – nobody stops at 15 minutes but stretches the time spent in the limelight as long as they can. There are examples galore.

In this age of competitive self-promotion, very few retire to go into oblivion. Even after one retires from a prominent position with a high, the desire to remain in the limelight makes one revisit and push expert opinions. Many such opinions, as we see, would have had more value had those been pronounced when that person was wielding some authority in the corridors of decision taking. Take India's former chief economic advisor who said that demonetisation of 86 per cent of currency notes was draconian. True that this was while he was touring India promoting his book but the question remains whether he liked his office in the North Block so much that he winked at saying so when he was the government's chief economic advisor? By remaining silent then and ventilating his feelings now, Arvind Subramanian ensured that he maintained his cushy job then and relevancy now.

The art of self-promotion is a common enough trade which is not unique to the former chief economic advisor. Take Raghuram Rajan, a former governor of the Reserve Bank of India. Rajan apparently wanted to go back to his teaching assignment in Uncle Sam's land. This he did, but he did not forget to teach the not-so-well educated country brothers with his regular presence in various opinions expressing fora. He cautions the nation against possible dilution of RBI's credit rating if a part of RBI reserve is transferred back to the government which owns the central bank. Instead of focusing on his teaching and writing intellectual papers, Rajan has busied himself in publishing his lectures as the former RBI governor under a catchy title and continues enjoying media glare with his expert knowledge on global credit rating companies.

These academicians teaching economics have perhaps taken a cue from Amartya Sen, who happened to win the Nobel memorial Risk Bank prize in economics. Sen comes to India, often enough when weather in his adopted country is harsh and sends his sermons which get dutifully highlighted in the media. Such visits ensure that the motherland does not forget its prized child who now resides abroad. Scholastic contributions of these academicians have every chance of remaining confined in libraries and to serious students of economic literature but for such occasional (read frequent) commentaries to educate the uneducated in India.

While comments of Sen could be arising out of ideological commitments, there are many who jump the line of past commitment for the sake of remaining relevant. Two glaring examples are two former ministers of the first BJP government. Unable to accept retired bliss, both Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie keep hurling barrage of criticisms against the second BJP administration where they failed to secure any post.

In the age of social media, instant fame comes easy and at no cost. All one needs to do is post some provocative comment using oft-used social media tools like Twitter or Facebook. What is even more curious is that people in high positions also fail to observe basic decorum when they use social media. US president Donald Trump remains a prominent example. Trump is already a part of history books, winning an election which nobody ever thought he would. For him to post outrageous tweets actually illustrates the deep-rooted showbiz person he had been. Even now, after reaching a historic seat, he fails to control his itch for 15 minutes of fame.

Take Marc Lamont Hill who works as a professor at Temple University in Philadelphia. Hill might be known in his close circuit and had also bagged a contract with CNN. He received his global 15 minutes exposure when he supported the free Palestine cause as propagated by the militant group Hamas. The controversial comment led to Hill losing the CNN contract but perhaps created future options for him to get featured elsewhere. In any case, he won global attention, even if it was brief.

Why do people opt for the 15 minutes of the limelight? Evidently, those who feel that their position in public life is slipping, resort to some gimmick of sorts to rejuvenate a failing career. Warhol had seen it in the sixties, how TV was turning many into celebrities, though briefly, due to its reach. The invention of social media has increased the scope. Even mainstream media now positions social media celebrities to fetch them more durable fame. Take for instance the Twitter celebrities of India. To come to the limelight, they post loaded comments – sometimes, not infrequently, hurting the feelings of many. One such celebrity had to spend a few weeks in jail in Odisha when he attempted to make fun of a famous architectural monument. True, it was all in lighter vein but why offend a section even jokingly? He had more than 15 minutes of fame and finally was released from jail after falling sick.

There had been many such cases, one even contested state elections in West Bengal banking on his 15 minutes worth fame after releasing cartoons on the state chief minister. Lesson learnt, hopefully, by such temporary celebrities is that to remain in public mind with some element of affection one needs more than social or instant media. It requires hard work and creating a durable link with people. It is easy to get noticed by making witty, often outrageous, comments on people in a leadership position but such instant fame takes one nowhere.

(The views expressed are strictly personal)

Sugato Hazra

Sugato Hazra

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