It’s been interesting to be following pre-Christmas sales on the internet for the last three or four days, for two reasons. One reason is personal – my book, The Fame Formula, has leapt up the Amazon sales chart by several thousand places in the last three days. The other reason is that I’ve been watching Rage Against the Machine’s 17 year old track, Killing in the Name Of, consistently outselling the X Factor winner’s song – an instantly forgettable motivational ballad from the Hannah Montana movie – thanks to the Facebook campaign set up by a couple bored with the ubiquity of Simon Cowell’s vision of music.
I have a theory that the two are connected, intellectually at the least. The Fame Formula is, under the surface, an antidote to fame, a prick in the bubble of modern celebrity. I am certain that the same sort of people who are downloading Killing in the Name Of are buying The Fame Formula simply because they are tired of prefabrication and relentless hype on a foundation of sand.
The Fame Formula examines the degredation of fame carefully and uses examples from history to expose the weak foundations that modern celebrity has been built on, where talent has been hoovered out leaving only a husk of toxic fame. The book celebrates the icons of the past who built, with the assistance of canny publicists, a lasting fame propogated by extraordinary talent; it also offers a view on how to achieve that today. It does not say the past is better – the aim of the book is (as it is with the Rage Against the Machine campaign) to offer alternatives for the future, using great moments from the past as a basis, a springboard.
I wouldn’t be at all surprised if people wanting to overturn the Cowell vision of pop were buying the book to stock up on ideas. At last there seems to be a consensus of opinion agreeing with George Santayana, who said: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” There seems to be a hunger for using the past to positively influence the future, at least in popular culture. If this is the case – and I hope it is – I’d say (with a little bias, admittedly) that The Fame Formula is a good place to start looking for ideas to adapt from.
If Rage Against the Machine’s refrain, “Fuck you I won’t do what you tell me”, is the sound of Christmas this year, I hope people take courage from it and use social media and networking in ever more creative cultural (and social and political) interventions in the coming years. And if my book can help it happen, all the better.