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This article can be found in Issue 2 (p36) of Vhcle Magazine.
A New Generation 
of Warhol “Superstars”

Marc IngbeR

When Paris Hilton burst into the national consciousness in 2003 on the heels of a low-budget home movie shot in night vision, the overall response to her in America was more or less unanimous – “Why should I care who this person is, much less what she is doing in her recreation time?”

Hilton, who was around 22 at the time, was certainly not the first person to “become famous for being famous.” But she seemed to both inhabit and define that role more successfully than any other “celebrity” before or since. She literally became a household name that year and also represented one of the few things the majority of Americans could agree on in 2004 – the same year slightly more than half the country re-elected George W. Bush to a second term as president.
As divergent as Americans were on politics that year, almost everyone – liberal or conservative, young or old, male or female – could agree that Paris Hilton was somehow bad for the country. The notion that a rich, not-all-that-bright heiress could become even more rich and famous simply for showing up at nightclubs and red carpets and posing for paparazzi appalled most.
Unsurprisingly, a “Hilton”-ified popular culture landscape didn’t wane as the decade progressed. Paris’ face in the tabloids may have become less frequent in recent years, but there have been plenty of Kardashians, Montags, Snookies and eight-child moms with Triceratops haircuts to take her place. The concept of becoming famous for just being yourself, whatever that might mean, hasn’t gone out of vogue.
This distresses many, but I am not one of them. It’s not that I am a fan of these people, or even pay attention to them in the “guilty-pleasure” sense. It’s just that the more of them who make their way onto my TV set or supermarket checkout aisle, the less likely I am forced to pay attention to them.

To put it simply, this whole side of Hollywood has become a cottage industry unto itself. The gap between fame and artistic success has never been wider, and I see that as a good thing. Though they are geographically located in the same place, there are two completely different Hollywoods right now.
There is the old-school Hollywood, which continues to produce movies, TV shows and other forms of entertainment I actually enjoy on occasion. And then there is the other side – the OK! Magazine, Kim Kardashian, Octomom, Spencer Pratt, Kate and Jon Gosselin, “let’s find a family with 18 kids and shove cameras in their faces” Hollywood. The difference between the two sides has never been more distinct. 
In Hollywood’s golden age, celebrity status was synonymous with a successful acting career. The biggest celebrities were people like Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, who were popular and critically-acclaimed actors. Nowadays, it almost seems as if the opposite were true.
Take someone like Jon Hamm – the star of AMC’s Mad Men. Though the show is one of the most critically-lauded programs in recent years and has won the Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series two years in a row, Hamm hasn’t become much of a celebrity himself. Many Americans have never even heard of him. 
Contrast his celebrity status with Lindsay Lohan’s. Few could name more than one or two movies Lohan has starred in, yet even your grandma could probably pick her out of a line-up thanks to her turbulent personal life.
It’s difficult to distinguish when this dramatic shift in celebrity culture occurred in Hollywood’s history. The start of publication for People magazine in 1974, and similar magazines that followed in its wake certainly played a part. The emergence of the Internet in the past 15 years really opened the floodgates into celebrities’ private lives as well, making the “famous-for-being-famous” celebrity seem like a recent phenomenon.
However, Andy Warhol – a predictor of pop culture if there ever was one – had a sense the entertainment industry was heading this way decades ago. Warhol’s most famous quote is, “In the future, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes,” which gave birth to the term “15 minutes of fame.”
But his grasp on the future of celebrity went far beyond that one line. In the 1960s and ‘70s, Warhol held court and produced art out of what he referred to as his “Factory” in New York. His scene included a collection of underground artists, musicians, actors, drag queens and models – some of whom starred in his avant-garde films and were dubbed “superstars.”
“In the ‘60s, very few people were willing to admit that fame no longer depended on achievement,” Mary Harron wrote in her 1980 Melody Maker piece, Pop Art/Art Pop: The Andy Warhol Connection. “Warhol was quite happy to admit it, and to play with it. What he did was to take a group of unknown people and turn them into ‘superstars.’”
In addition to his films, Warhol had a tape recorder, which he would use to record himself and his artists talking about various problems they were experiencing in their lives. “The acquisition of my tape recorder really finished whatever emotional life I might have had, but I was glad to see it go,” Warhol told Harron. “Nothing was ever a problem again, because a problem just meant a good tape, and when a problem transforms itself into a good tape it’s not a problem anymore.”
“An interesting problem was an interesting tape,” he continued. “Everybody knew that and performed for the tape. You couldn’t tell which problems were real and which problems were performed for the tape. Better yet, the people telling you the problems couldn’t decide any more if they were really having the problems or just performing.”
That statement, which Warhol made three decades ago, describes to a “t” the unspoken premise for almost every reality show on the air today. The only difference between his “superstar” projects and much of the 2010 entertainment landscape is now there are dozens of cable channels to beam the problems of today’s “superstar” celebrities into every home in America.

Nevertheless, technology advancements since then have also provided the tools to ignore these people. Thanks to Netflix and my digital video-recorder, I can catch up on past episodes of The Wire and Mad Men and completely avoid keeping up with the Kardashians. I’m sure Kim wouldn’t mind. She already has enough people keeping up with her every move.

2010: A New Generation of Warhol “Superstars”
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