Famous for being famous

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Famous for being famous is a pejorative term for someone who attains celebrity status for no particularly identifiable reason (as opposed to fame based on achievements, skill, or talent) and appears to generate his or her own fame, or someone who achieves fame through a family or relationship association with an existing celebrity.[1]

Term origin[edit]

The term originates from an analysis of the media-dominated world called The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-events in America (1961), by historian and social theorist Daniel J. Boorstin.[2] In it, he defined the celebrity as "a person who is known for his well-knownness".[3] He further argued that the graphic revolution in journalism and other forms of communication had severed fame from greatness, and that this severance hastened the decay of fame into mere notoriety. Over the years, the phrase has been glossed as "a celebrity is someone who is famous for being famous".[2]

The British journalist Malcolm Muggeridge may have been the first to use the actual phrase in the introduction to his book Muggeridge Through The Microphone (1967) in which he wrote:

In the past if someone was famous or notorious, it was for something—as a writer or an actor or a criminal; for some talent or distinction or abomination. Today one is famous for being famous. People who come up to one in the street or in public places to claim recognition nearly always say: "I've seen you on the telly!"[4]

Neal Gabler more recently refined the definition of celebrity to distinguish those who have gained recognition for having done virtually nothing of significance—a phenomenon he dubbed the "Zsa Zsa Factor" in honor of Zsa Zsa Gabor, who parlayed her marriage to actor George Sanders into a brief movie career and the movie career into a much more enduring celebrity.[5] He goes on to define the celebrity as "human entertainment", by which he means a person who provides entertainment by the very process of living.[5]

Similar terms[edit]


The Washington Post writer Amy Argetsinger coined the term famesque to define actors, singers, or athletes whose fame is mostly (if not entirely) due to one's physical attractiveness and/or personal life, rather than actual talent and (if any) successful career accomplishments. Argetsinger argued, "The famesque of 2009 are descended from that dawn-of-TV creation, the Famous for Being Famous. Turn on a talk show or Hollywood Squares and there'd be Zsa Zsa Gabor, Dr. Joyce Brothers, Charles Nelson Reilly, so friendly and familiar and—what was it they did again?" She also used actress Sienna Miller as a modern-day example; "Miller became famesque by dating Jude Law . . . and then really famesque when he cheated on her with the nanny—to the point that she was the one who made Balthazar Getty famesque (even though he's the one with the hit TV series, Brothers & Sisters) when he reportedly ran off from his wife with her for a while."[6]


Celebutante is a portmanteau of the words "celebrity" and "débutante". The male equivalent is sometimes spelled celebutant. The term has been used to describe heiresses like Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie in entertainment journalism.[7] The term has been traced back to a 1939 Walter Winchell society column in which he used the word to describe prominent society debutante Brenda Frazier, who was a traditional "high-society" debutante from a noted family, but whose debut attracted an unprecedented wave of media attention.[7][8] The word appeared again in a 1985 Newsweek article about New York City's clubland celebrities, focusing on the lifestyle of writer James St. James, Lisa Edelstein, who was named New York City's "Queen of the Night" by St. James and who was referenced briefly in his 1999 book Disco Bloodbath,[9] and Dianne Brill, who was crowned "Queen of the Night" by Andy Warhol.[7][10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Jenkins, Joe (2002). Contemporary moral issues. Examining Religions (4, illustrated ed.). Heinemann. p. 178. ISBN 978-0-435-30309-9.
  2. ^ a b Richards, Jeffrey (2007). Sir Henry Irving: A Victorian Actor and His World. Continuum International Publishing Group. p. 259. ISBN 978-1-85285-591-8.
  3. ^ Boorstin, Daniel Joseph (1961). The image: A guide to pseudo-events in America. New York: Vintage. ISBN 978-0-679-74180-0.
  4. ^ Muggeridge, Malcolm (1967). Muggeridge Through The Microphone. p. 7.
  5. ^ a b Gabler, Neal. "Toward a New Definition of Celebrity" (PDF). The Norman Lear Center. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  6. ^ Argetsinger, Amy (August 10, 2009). "They Must Be Stars Because They Get So Much Press, but What Is It They Do Again?". Washington Post. Archived from the original on 2010-04-24. Retrieved 2009-08-15.
  7. ^ a b c Zimmer, Ben (January 20, 2007). "Celeb-u-rama". Language Log. Archived from the original on 2011-11-12. Retrieved 2011-09-24.
  8. ^ Winchell, Walter (April 7, 1939). "On Broadway (syndicated column)". Daily Times-News.
  9. ^ James St. James. Party Monster. Simon & Schuster, 2003.
  10. ^ "James St. James profile". Newsweek. June 3, 1985.