In Miami, An Instinctive Search For Celebrity

Dec 12, 2012

When actor/director Adrian Grenier screened his latest film, Teenage Paparazzo, during Art Basel, it was a very Miami kind of night.

After making it past the well-dressed group of women controlling the door, guests enjoyed a movie under the stars at the new YoungArts campus (the former Bacardi building on Biscayne Boulevard). Sponsors provided snacks and drinks and few bold-faced names showed us that they were just like you and me. (Adrian’s hair is windblown! Christian Slater is a family man!)

Wake-Up Call

Following the screening, Grenier was joined on a panel by Slater (shout out to my adolescent crush), photographer Seth “I am not a paparazzo” Browarnik and Lesley Abravanel, Miami Herald’s celebrity columnist. Grenier’s documentary explores the nature of celebrity in our society, particularly as it affects young people.

The wake-up call in the film came with a study cited in Jake Halpern's book, Fame Junkies. Middle and high school students were asked whether they'd rather be CEO of a Fortune 500 company, president of  an Ivy League university, a Navy SEAL or an assistant to a celebrity.

An audible gasp went up from the audience when Halpern revealed the top choice. An astounding 42 percent chose "celebrity assistant."

"They put such a premium on fame," Halpern said in the voice-over, "that they're willing to give up some of the most coveted jobs in America just to be the bag-carrier to the celebrity."

Fame Doesn't 'Do', Fame 'Is'

The Q&A with Grenier's panel was just as eye-opening. A trio of Ransom Everglades High School students who came to ask questions  seemed more concerned with simply attaining fame rather than actually doing anything with it. The Miami students were unable to articulate what they wanted to be famous for.

In their defense, they came of age in a time when "You" became Time Magazine's 2006 Person of the Year. Their world has grown dependent on user-generated content  and social media. Whether by blogs, Instagram or Facebook, we have effectively turned the spotlight on ourselves.

We are the celebrity. And we love it.

At the evening’s close, Grenier asked the audience first to take a photo of the celebrity panel onstage, then turn the camera around and take a self-portrait. Which of the two do you think people posted and tweeted?

This  was during Miami Art Week when the lens of the world seemed to be focused on us. The city itself had developed a celebrity persona. And I say us because locals also put on their public faces. Let’s be honest, how many of you amateur paparazzi snapped self-portraits at the fairs and mug shots with Big Names around town. (Yes, I am also guilty.) I dare you to post those photos here. I’ll even go first.

Fifteen Minutes

It’s fitting that Andy Warhol, the artist who first said "In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes," was represented not just in virtually every major fair this week but also in an iconic exhibit at Fendi Casa.

If Warhol were alive today, who would be his subjects in Miami? We have our fair share of notables who should make the list. Surely the Estefans, maybe Pitbull, and possibly home-grown art sensations Hernan Bas or Carlos Betancourt. But in an age where reality TV or notoriety can make everyone and their dog famous in a matter of minutes, would Warhol do a series on The Real Housewives?

No doubt, there is a changing nature of celebrity. Many players, like Grenier -- realizing they can no longer be just entertainers -- have become activists, or entrepreneurs. A positive counterweight to the reality stars phenomenon is a societal expectation that stars should do something with their fame and status.

I hope the dialogue will circle back to empowering kids to develop their talents and actually earn the spotlight. YoungArts and Grenier’s film are working on doing precisely that.

Miami certainly has become a celebrity among cities, and that is not necessarily a bad thing. The question now is what Miami will do with the spotlight.

And if we are all to be world-famous for 15 minutes, what will you do with your time?

This guest post comes to us from Florencia Jimenez-Marcos.