“All I wanted to do was be famous.”
—Accused ice-cream carton-licker, Lenise Lloyd Martin III, a 36-year-old unemployed man who has been arrested in Louisianan for making a video of himself licking a carton of ice cream in the Big B’s Supermarket in Belle Rose.
“It’s a shame,” commented Matt Walters, who works at the store. “A grown man doing something like that.” Yes, that’s a shame, but a greater shame is a grown man thinking like that, and a culture that raises its children to believe that fame itself is an accomplishment, regardless of what one is famous for.
The internet and social media have spread this disease of ethics and the mind, but it began long before the web took over our lives. Andy Warhol’s prescient quote, “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes”, first appeared in the program for a 1968 exhibition of his work at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, Sweden. We saw the hints of the cultural malady with the advent of television, as we saw ordinary Americans getting a thrill from acting like giddy fools behind announcers and TV journalists when they saw a TV camera.
This compulsion spawned such pop culture freaks as “Rocken Rollen” also known as Rainbow Man, who somehow managed to get himself and his rainbow-hued Afro on camera at dozens of live sporting events. At least he stayed in the stands; another example of the phenomenon was fans who ran out on the field mid-game hoping that a TV camera would capture their moment of “fame.”
Clearly, the culture is sending a toxic message to our youth. The movie and subsequent TV series “Fame,” following the travails of aspiring teenage performers, both pushed the false concept that being famous itself is an achievement:
Baby, look at me
And tell me what you see
You ain’t seen the best of me yet
Give me time
I’ll make you forget the rest
Don’t you know who I am
Remember my name!
I’m gonna live forever
I’m gonna learn how to fly, high
I feel it comin’ together
People will see me and cry,
I’m gonna make it to heaven
Light up the sky like a flame,
I’m gonna live forever
Baby, remember my name
Remember, remember, remember, remember
Remember, remember, remember, remember…
Part of the fallacy here is that people don’t remember, and never have, even when the fame was deserved and based on something significant. That was the theme of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s once-famous poem (“Shelley? Who’s that?”), “Ozmandias”:
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
A similar sentiment is conveyed in the poem “Mortality,” by the somewhat more prosaic (but once famous!) poet William Knox. A sample..
O why should the spirit of mortal be proud?
Like a fast-flitting meteor, a fast-flying cloud,
A flash of the lightning, a break of the wave,
He passes from life to his rest in the grave….
The hand of the king that the scepter hath borne,
The brow of the priest that the miter hath worn,
The eye of the sage, and the heart of the brave,
Are hidden and lost in the depths of the grave.
The peasant whose lot was to sow and to reap,
The herdsman who climbed with his goats to the steep,
The beggar that wandered in search of his bread,
Have faded away like the grass that we tread.
The saint that enjoyed the communion of heaven,
The sinner that dared to remain unforgiven,
The wise and the foolish, the guilty and just,
Have quietly mingled their bones in the dust….
The key word here is quietly. Accomplishments last; contributions to society and culture last. Fame is random and ephemeral, and often has no connection with societal worth. Mel Brooks managed to briefly rescue the evaporated fame of a long-dead and slightly disgusting vaudeville performer, Joseph Pujol ( 1857 – 1945), by using Pujol’s stage name Le Pétomane (“the farter”) as the monicker of the corrupt territorial governor (Played by Brooks, with his eyes crossed) in “Blazing Saddles.” Le Pétomane could whistle tunes out of his sphincter, and made a good living doing it. More people know his name now than can name most of the Apollo program astronauts, or any of the “famous” Eight Wonders of the World other than the Great Pyramid.
The cretinous search for hollow fame has inspired fools like Martin to be mass shooters or Presidential assassins, to try to survive going over Niagara Falls in a barrel, to audition for ” American Idol” despite being unable to sing a note, and more. Ice cream carton-licking is just the latest impetus for the desperate to seek fame as a substitute for having a life.
A video of a teenage girl licking a carton of Blue Bell ice cream in a store and then putting it back on the shelf “went viral” under the hashtag #icecreamchallenge. Now the authorities and store owners across the country are trying to stop a wave of copycat videos and gallons of tainted ice cream. Making an example of sad, stupid Mt. Martin is part of that effort.
Even though Martin produced a receipt to back his claim that he purchased the pre-licked ice cream on his video (the store had to throw out all of its supply anyway, since it couldn’t be sure that he bought the same carton he licked), he’s been charged with criminal mischief for tampering with a product before he had purchased it, and with “unlawful posting of criminal activity for notoriety and publicity,” an obscure Louisiana law that makes distributing a video of oneself breaking a law punishable as aseparate crime. That sounds like a First Amendment violation to me, so maybe Martin will achieve fame by having his name on a landmark Supreme Court Case. You know, like Buck v. Bell.
Quick now: who were Buck and Bell?