The Rise of the Has-Been

Has Been

Celebrity is a subject that has been rattling around in my head recently. It started around when I started podcasting, or more precisely, when I realized that people were really listening for the first time.

In a way, we are all celebrities.

Some of us are larger-scale, than others, true. Adam Curry is pretty huge, but what about C.C. Chapman? He isn’t a household name yet, but he is on the rise. Is being a household name even the point nowadays? With everyone participating in media more diverse than the previous generation’s, our focus being directed far more widely than before, we are all, in our own way, becoming the object of attention of a fair amount of people.

But with a rise, there must be a fall. With the rise of the celebrity, there must be a fall of celebrities (often aided by paparazzi and tabloids). Ricki Lake’s newest television show is based on ex-celebrities, ex-members of N’Sync, George Foreman, whatever. They all seem to be doing a (possibly final) cash-grab, hoping their name still has value. Maybe it does.

As less families gather around the television screen, and more of us simply sit together with our laptops, splitting our attention as vastly as our mice will allow, we are creating small pockets of celebrity, and bringing the downfall of 20th century celebrity culture. With celebrity on the fall, something else is on the rise: Has-Beens.

Little known fact: In the summer of 2003, Ella and I were filmed for a Canadian documentary series that airs every year on cable (I suspect it still may be in reruns). For an entire summer, we were followed by cameras and, as such, were briefly considered important by the public at large. They saw us with a camera crew and entourage in tow, which gave them pause as they wondered what was so important about these two people.

The answer to us became clear as it all happened: there was nothing special about either of us. We were entirely normal people placed in the increasingly banal position of having our lives documented, either on television or the web. Has it happened to you yet? Don’t worry, it eventually will, especially if you’re around video enough.

The realization that comes with cameras being around is that they are nothing special, except for the brief glow of importance they provide. But that is going to fade the more it happens, and most people’s lives will return to normal, except for the feeling that, if only for a moment, the eye was upon them.

The eye is also increasingly fickle these days. In a recent New York Times interview, video producer Ze Frank said that he felt an incredible rush from the popularity of his original How to Dance Properly page, trying to recapture the rush even after the traffic slowed. Frank has once again captured the attention of the public with his daily vlog, The Show, but for most people, that won’t happen. Once they’ve had their time, they’re gone.

Where each of us is along the curve of celebrity is fairly easily gauged by their personal situation. Is your traffic going up, or down? Are you meeting people whose personal celebrity can rub off on you? Are you actively going out there and promoting your thing?

If you’re not going up, you’re probably going to find yourself in the position of being a has-been, though not necessarily in that William Shatner way. It’ll be a small thing, a story like I tell people about what being on television is like (hint: it’s dull). A story to tell your grandkids. Also, get used to the feeling of not being alone in that boat; with increasing amounts of reality television on the horizon, the time is coming where being on TV is no longer a privilege, or a chance at stardom – it’s just a thing; a simple event that happens in a lot of people’s lives, like being in the local paper.

Personally, I’ve been in the paper about 5 times in the past 12 months or so, maybe more, with a fair amount of incoming links from a lot of different places on the web. That might not happen next year. I might be done already, and not know it. But one of the things that can get your head swollen while you’re on the up-swing is getting the impression that, since you’re ahead of this curve with this new era of media, that you are somehow special. However, just like we make fun of our parents (while whispering) for not being able to use computers, our kids will make fun of us for talking about how we were on television, on how we had a popular blog or podcast or something. The truth is: it ain’t no thang no more. There may have been a hundred Ze Franks in the past five years – but in the coming five, there will probably be a thousand.






14 responses to “The Rise of the Has-Been”

  1. Rod Adams Avatar

    So Julien – was this post inspired by having tons of adoring fans at Podcasters Across Borders? Was your speech met with thunderous applause?

    Just kidding – hope it went well. Please tell us a little about the event and your impressions.

  2. Julien Avatar

    Ha ha. Yeah, totally. This post has actually been mostly written for about a week, but I delayed it to ensure I finished off my speech properly instead.

    As it turned out, I mostly didn’t use the speech at all! I turned it into a mostly interactive session to ensure people would wake up!

    I’ll make sure to post my feelings on the session soon. 🙂

  3. ella Avatar

    I believe the term is actually ‘it hain’t no thang’. Great post btw.

  4. C.C. Avatar

    Great post as usual Julien. It’s a very strange word “celebrity” and one that I am far from comfortable with. It’s an interesting ride right now that many of us are on and who knows when the merry go round will crash. For now I’m going to keep on riding and hope for the best.

  5. Boris Anthony Avatar

    15 people

    We’re all just people. The rest is illusion; manufactured and manipulated perception. Celebrity is marketing applied to people, the product being personas.

    “Celebrities” fart like everyone else. 😉

  6. Julien Avatar

    I’ll have you know that I have never farted once!!! 🙂

  7. Andrew J. Fulks (the DJAJ Podcast) Avatar

    Liar Julien! Hey whats your skype name?

  8. Niomi Avatar

    very thoughtful post.. and interesting concept regarding the fall of the macro celebrity and the rise of the micro “star”. i was thinking the same thing this week, oddly enough..

  9. […] It happens in Hollywood, it happens in electronics, and it happens on the web. One day, you and your app, your weblog, or your podcast, will be over. […]

  10. Peter O'Connell Avatar


    If I was famous in the 80’s on radio….can I finally get my own reality show now?

    It will be me and Jan Smithers from WKRP in Cincinnati.

    I think the Discoverybravoa&e channel will love the concept.

    Ah, to be on the “D” list again!

  11. […] renting other people’s attention, it won’t last forever. You’ll become a has-been very quickly if this is all you […]

  12. […] matter what the size of your audience, you are a kind of micro-star who is, at least, famous for 15 people. So you need to act that way. My favourite example is the […]

  13. […] web naturally creates an ecosystem of micro-stars, like television, but doesn’t necessarily have a way to turn this into a living. If you keep […]

  14. […] web naturally creates an ecosystem of micro-stars, like television, but doesn’t necessarily have a way to turn this into a living. If you keep […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *