A New York Times article on Michael Jackson and the demise of fame in a digital world:
When the Beatles were on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in 1964, more than 70 million people watched, that is, more than one-third of the entire population of the United States. Yes, the Beatles were that good. But at the time, there were three networks and the radio. No Facebook, Twitter, video games, movie multiplexes, Sirius radio, malls or a dozen other potential drains on an audience.
There weren’t a lot of rock bands, either. George Harrison was the only Beatle who’d visited the United States before the group landed for that historic performance — his sister lived in Illinois — and when he returned to England he gleefully informed his mates that nobody in America could compete.
Likewise, Michael Jackson had MTV, which was the place for music videos, and as close to an Ed Sullivan platform as he needed. Of course, it’s been a long time since MTV played hour after hour of prime-time videos. Today, you watch music videos on YouTube, but because there are no programmers to curate what you see, every artist has to compete with thousands of others. And now that anyone with a computer has a miniature studio, and anyone with a Internet connection can post a song, there are more genres, subgenres and artists than ever.
That’s why even Michael Jackson would have a hard time becoming Michael Jackson these days. Come to think of it, Farrah Fawcett, who also passed away this week, would never have become Farrah Fawcett if she showed up in that red, one-piece bathing suit today. In the ’70s, she became the fantasy of choice for every post-pubescent teenage boy in the country, selling 10 million posters of her iconic, high-beam smile. Now, there are so many vixens grinning seductively from so many Web sites and lad mags that no single woman could ever commandeer the public imagination in quite the same way. There is no “this year’s model” anymore. There is this week’s model, and that’s about it.
Success is a blip. Celebrity a myth. The rules have changed.