For Alexander the Great, fame meant accomplishing what no mortal had ever accomplished before. For Julius Caesar, personal glory was indistinguishable from that of Rome. And the early Christians devalued public recognition, believing that the only true audience was God. These are only some of the dozens of figures that populate Leo Braudy’s panoramic history of fame The Frenzy Of Renown: Fame And Its History, a book that tells us as much about vast cultural changes as it does about the men and women who at different times captured their societies’ regard.
Since the dawn of civilization, man’s enduring relationship with fame has been in a constant state of evolution; however, over the course of the past century this evolution has witnessed its most significant and sophisticated transformation yet. Thanks to the advent of Hollywood in the early 1900s, the Western world shifted from a character-based society of stoicism and quiet resolve, to a personality-based society centered on image and celebrity. In a fascinating six-part video series entitled Razzle Dazzle, the The Museum of the Moving Image explores how Hollywood has portrayed the vast spectrum of fame — from heroism to infamy — throughout its history, and how it has grown into the behemoth it is today. MMI writes, “This series about the individual’s primal desire to be loved and feared. To be known, period, by strangers. To be recognized and appreciated, whether for cultural importance, athletic skill, artistic excellence, or God-given natural endowments. It’s about the difference between success and celebrity, and how the two words have become interchangeable.”
This coming Sunday, February 24th as you watch the Academy Awards, take a deeper look at what exactly it is you’re watching. You’re not just seeing filmmakers patting themselves on the back for their various achievements in cinema. From a wider perspective, what you’re really seeing is an annual peak of the supercharged electrical currents that fame and infamy directly plug into. Hollywood has not only invented the craftsmanship of celebrity — they have also perfected it as well.