Professions and Fame

Our society loves the famous, and the glamour of being famous, yet I think we have a rather narrow range of professions in which people become famous.  Quite naturally, the most famous in our society are the people who work in front of cameras:  movie stars, television stars, sports stars.  Musicians are less famous because they aren’t on television as much, and the more famous of rock stars seem to be due to media exposure rather than just musical ability.  If you want your song to become a hit, you have to make yourself famous. 

With the Internet, people are gaining fame through online exposure, but more often than not, it’s because of video hijinks.  YouTube now allows anyone to produce themselves as their own star.  See “The Impact of the Like Button.”

Fame drives ambition, so kids want to grow up and become the kind of people we see on screens – television screens, movie theater screens, computer screens, tablet screens and smart phone screens.  This limits what professions kids will think about when asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” 

I’m thinking we need to make more types of professionals famous.

Take for instance architects.  PBS has a new series Super Skyscrapers that is about building monstrous structures that would make the Tower of Babel dinky.   Their episode on the Shanghai Tower, about a 121 floor “vertical city” was mind boggling.  The feat of designing such a building is so tremendous that I have to wonder why such a person isn’t more famous than any movie or pop star on the planet.  Of course, Shanghai Tower wasn’t designed by one man, but a firm, Gensler, but even still, they should be as famous as any rock band.  But I can’t name them.

Shanghai_Tower_2013-8-3

How many professions out there are so cool, so important, so dazzling, that their best practitioners should be famous?  Shouldn’t doctors who develop new techniques to cure cancer be more famous Justin Bieber?  Shouldn’t the creators of the Mars rovers or space telescopes be more famous than Miley Cyrus?  Shouldn’t the top philanthropists get as much attention as Olympic athletes?   Would two weeks of fame every four years inspire more people to change the world for the better?  Hell, I think there should be a weekly show devoted to such people.

Since people love CSI shows so much, why don’t we have weekly shows about real criminal investigators?  Our cities are plagued by crime, so why not focus on real crimes being solve by real people?

Why do we need so many reality shows about faked reality when we have so much far out real reality to film?

Steve Jobs and Bill Gates became famous, but why aren’t the programmers of all the apps and games we use today not famous?  Things do change, because chefs have gotten famous lately.  And I assume because of that, more kids want to take up the culinary profession.

I love The Big Bang Theory, but why not have a weekly show about real scientists and engineers and what they really do?  Would a weekly show about particle physicists around the world encourage more kids to study math and science harder in school?

I can’t help but believe if we made more smart people famous then kids might choose to become smarter.

JWH – 2/21/14

4 thoughts on “Professions and Fame”

  1. Jim, I couldn’t name an Olympic athlete if my life depended on it. And although I’ve heard the names, “Justin Bieber” and “Miley Cyrus,” I couldn’t pick them out of a crowd or even tell you what they’re known for. (I suspect that they’re just famous for being famous, like most ‘celebrities.’)

    I’m sure that architects are well-known by other architects – and other people interested in architecture. There are certainly game developers who are famous among gamers, but I doubt that you’ve even heard their names. You probably know authors, though, right?

    The reason we don’t have television shows about real scientists is because fantasy is a lot more appealing to most people. Even ‘true crime’ stories are just fantasy, because that’s what gets more people watching them. You need particularly appealing people to make reality as entertaining as fantasy to most people. It can be done, but it’s not easy.

    We need this stuff in school more than anywhere else. Because science really is fascinating. Unfortunately, we do a poor job of it in most schools – even schools which aren’t afraid of teaching science in the first place (given the religious outrage about such things).

    Luckily, there’s plenty of this stuff on the internet (television is ancient history; forget about that). Unfortunately, there’s plenty of fantasy, too. Once someone gets hooked on reality, it’s easy enough to find good stuff. But most people still prefer fantasy, and I don’t know what we can do about that.

    1. Until we can make scientists more famous, and their work more well known, I doubt science will ever be popular in schools. I love The Big Bang Theory, but is it a positive portrayal of scientists? And it does nothing to make their work more understandable. What we need is a show about science that’s like The Newsroom.

  2. Try dealing with science in historical perspective — Galen for instance. He wrote some interesting things concerning anatomy. Study Da Vinci — his anatomical studies are fascinating. Used to teach an art history course and always tried to connect science and art. I still connect classics (Latin and Greek) to just about anything I can. And, oh yes, on the whole religious thing — Christians just followed the pagans in so many ways — got to get converts with a carrot not a stick.
    Liz

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