Friday, May 23, 2008

Shelf Life: Not a Trivial Pursuit

I've always been fascinated by the illusive nature of celebrity and the transient nature of contemporary fame. Andy Warhol's metaphor calculated fame in minutes, fifteen to be exact. What he meant, of course, was that so-called "celebrity" has a very short shelf life.

Father Time wields an unforgiving and indiscriminate scythe. No one presently living has a clue as to what will be the classic of tomorrow or who will even be remembered—except perhaps in future Trivia games, a dubious distinction.

When I was on the Warner lot, I used to visit the main building of Warner Bros. where the green-lighters hung out listening to sweaty-palmed producers, writers and stars pitch their movie ideas.

The reception room was filled with large photos of the stars of yesteryear when the star system was at its height. I would take along my younger staff people, all movie industry wannabees and prod them to identify the names of those pictured. One would think television might have familiarized them with these people until I realized that the black and white movies of the past had little interest for them.

They could not, for example, identify Clark Gable, once known as the King of Hollywood. Or Gary Cooper. Or Myrna Loy. Or William Powell. I could not fault them for their non-recognition. These were not the stars of their generation, nor could I and others of my vintage recognize most of the names in the current issue of People magazine. The creation of "celebrities" is an end product of media manipulation feeding an insatiable appetite of a craven public searching desperately for role models. The preceding sentence sounds like psychobabble and probably is, but I'm sure the reader gets my meaning. Perhaps it has been always thus, but its proliferation in our contemporary culture distorts our perception today of what is worthy of saving and what should be quickly discarded.

In terms of the writing game, I often wonder which contemporary scribbler's works will be relevant to future generations. In my own lifetime I've seen the literary heroes of my youth disappear into oblivion. Thomas Wolfe and John O'Hara, where are you?

How many of yesterday's literary heroes will weather the vicissitudes of time? Beyond mere name recognition who will read their books? After all, a book not read is a form of authorial homicide.


Donna said...

Or,how many of todays youth know or even would Care about, John Ford's one sided love affair with Maureen O' have to touch you..your a special way, to remember or know them. Sad. Thanks for the kick to My memory. Much happiness to you!

~Red Tin Heart~ said...

Ever since I was a small child I have loved old movies, and movie stars from long ago. One of my favorite stars is Cary Grant.
It is very sad that most people don't like classic literature.

I am 42 and I want to learn as much as I can about things from the past.
Do you remember the movie, My Man Godfrey?
One of my favorites.

I am happy to have stumbled upon your site. It is very interesting.

Warren Adler said...

Glad you like it, Nita.