To be famous for something means, above all, to be under discussion. What prompts this discussion, or more precisely, what someone is famous for does not always have to be obvious, much less comprehensible. Indeed, the attribute “famous” always refers to a specific quality, which can be connected to either a regular activity (be it singing, skiing or acting) or to a singular action (be it a one-hit wonder or a political scandal), sometimes though only to a rumor (for instance about an affair). Such a quality can, however, also simply persist in the virtuosity of bringing itself into a discussion in such a way that its own prominence beats by far the value of its fame. Ultimately, no matter how exceptional the achievement, without medial presence, it is hardly worth a dollar and any presence therefore as an achievement on its own. If capital, as Marx said, “eschews no profit”1 and fame eschews no attention, then the equation must be that profit accumulates with increasing attention. In this regard, attention is the product in the fame trade and everything that accumulates attention is capital.
In pop culture vocabulary, fame denominates the epitome of displaying the commodity form: when a famous person – “star” here – seizes a specific role, pose, or mask and roughly fuses with it, the star ego becomes the central resource for the delimitation of labor and labor power that is typical for creative capitalism. This delimitation, however, is necessary in order for the identification offers that a star makes for even arousing the desire in their recipients to know who it is that is singing, looking or dancing. Indeed, almost quite as if the star ego had always been there and had chosen some such point in time. In 1978, Grace Jones exemplarily sang about the impossibility of the seamless transgression from persona to person in the title song of her album “Fame”: “Fame, so alone with my name, even that don’t belong to me.” Andy Warhol makes a similar comment in From A to B and Back Again: “Movie stars get millions of dollars for nothing, so when someone asks them to do something for nothing, they go crazy – they think that if they’re going to talk to somebody at the grocery store they should get fifty dollars an hour. So you should always have a product that’s not just ‘you’” (Warhol 1975, 85f).
But because the star persona’s ego is – as Jones and Warhol in particular knew – a specifically chosen one, it can also be adapted to fit in with aesthetic-political concepts of queer self-empowerment. And precisely because this persona is a public figure, such concepts can be performatively carried out as exemplary experiments of anti-holistic subjectivities and identities. In this sense, Mike Kelley asserts in regards to John Waters’ films: “Waters celebrates ‘queerness’ for its abject nature relative to dominant American society. One need not search for an outside aesthetic in his films, because ‘you’, the supposedly empathic film viewer, already represent the other. […] The freakish characters in his films were not designed just to be laughed at; they are, in a sense, role models” (Kelley 2003, 104ff). Role models for subject forms that are not aiming for self-optimization. Role models of a freedom that is accessible to all. Surely, to speak with Butler, “[not] all performativity is to be understood as drag”, but it arguably “can become […] the possibility of an enabling social and political resignification” (Butler 2011, 176) . Therefore the fame cannot be invoked vividly enough for all those who sing like Planningtorock: “Patriarchal life, it’s time to step aside!”
ReferencesMarx, Karl. 1956. Das Kapital. Kritik der politischen Ökonomie. Berlin: Dietz.
Warhol, Andy. 1975. The Philosophy of Andy Warhol: From A to B and Back Again. New York: Harcourt Inc.
Kelley, Mike. 2003. “Cross-Gender/Cross-Genre.” In Foul Perfection: Essays and Criticism. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
Waters, John. 2010. Role models. London: Beautiful Books Limited.
Butler, Judith. 2011. Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex”. London and New York: Routledge.
Notes1] Here, Marx cites the English unionist T.J. Dunning. The citation is exclusively included in the German version of “Capital”. (Cf. Marx 1956, 788: footnote 250).
Katharina Hausladen is an art and cultural scientist. She lectures at various universities, currently at the Institute for Theatre, Film and Media Studies at the University of Vienna. She also works as a freelance critic and writes for testcard and Texte zur Kunst, among others.
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