View From Arada | May 29,2021
Recently, I had a chat with a once aspiring broadcaster whose dream of being famous through his local FM radio programme fell by the wayside some time ago. I asked him how he became sure of his failure.
”I am not easily identified, wherever I go,” he countered with his near weak and stammering voice, even places where his name is specified, such as before tellers at banks.
In the modern media-driven age, everyone will enjoy a brief moment of fame, as Andy Warhol, one of the iconic figures of the 1960s countercultural scene, said.
“In the future, everybody will be world-famous for fifteen minutes,” it was a nearly prophetic saying for being in the spotlight briefly before disappearing into obscurity.
Warhol anticipated the ”influencers” on social media sites, people without readily discernable talent that somehow generate millions of followers on platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and Tiktok. They tell some funny lines, show some dance moves or put on makeup while live. They may be famous perhaps for months at a time – some do break out into the mainstream – but generate income from firms that advertise to their followers. Not to be outdone, many young Ethiopians have jumped on the bandwagon, at the forefront of the digital revolution.
No doubt, it is fleeting fame. It existed befre; only the technology is different. The golden age of entertainment, and fame not for political or economic power but through entertainment, started in the late 1920s, corresponding with sound being added to films. Producers, in desperation, wanted to gain a competitive edge and released a movie called The Jazz Singer in 1927. The film launched what was then called the talkies, or just movies for us, and ended the Silent Film era. The popularity of screen actors, who were not only seen but heard from now, shot up. As the technologies of audio-visual transmission improved, new types of famous people have been created, and currently, we are in the ”influencer” age.
I had a friend who used to work for a broadcaster, who has the knack of clearly speaking; he dubs lines from famous plays. With his colleagues, they take turns playing different characters for the radio, and would most likely be recognised by his voice by the programme's audiences. Nonetheless, he never considered himself famous, and neither did he beat himself over it.
But fame is sometimes its own enemy. Like Frankenstein’s monster, it can turn on its creator. It is normal from the days of the ancient Greeks to be crowned with a wreath of laurels, usually limited to beloved storytellers and military leaders. Unfortunately, this sets its own set of expectations. Failure to outdo oneself or quitting while ahead often gets scorn. It is where the phrase to “rest on one’s laurels” comes from, to describe people that have remained stuck after some accomplishments.
The story of the Swedish-born US film actress Greta Garbo, whose hairstyle was widely popular with women in Ethiopia when I was growing up, comes to mind. She was illustrious both for her beauty and for her reluctance to accept the attentions of the media, which remained enthralled by her, until her death after nearly half a century following her retirement. Yet, she remained famous for her oft-quoted line, delivered in accented English, “I want to be alone” – a line from her 1932 film Grand Hotel.
It is also distracting for audiences. I was once invited to the National Theatre, for a holiday music show. It was first announced that Tilahun Gessese would be on the stage. Eagerly awaiting his appearance, I never enjoyed the whole show. In the end, we were told that he could not make it. To my loss, the performers that day ended up being established stars.
PUBLISHED ON Jul 31,2021 [ VOL 22 , NO 1109]
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