Undergraduate Courses

MCC-UE 1346 - Fame

Fame, notoriety, renown – the desire to be recognized and immortalized is the most enduring and perhaps the most desirable form of power.  Culture, commerce, politics, and religion all proffer promises of fame – whether for fifteen minutes or fifteen centuries.  This course departs from the insight that fame is a uniquely human ambition and a central force for social life.  Together, we will investigate this subject by asking, what is fame?, Why do people want it?, How do they get it?, What can they do with it?, How does it affect those around them, and the generations that come after? In other words, what kind of good is fame? Drawing on texts from history, ethnography, theory, literature, philosophy, and contemporary media, this course will reflect on the ethics, erotics, pragmatics and pathologies of fame. We will compare fame to other forms of recognition (reputation, honor, etc.), and look at how fame operates in various social and historical circumstances, from small agricultural communities to enormous, hyper-mediated societies such as our own.  Is fame, in our contemporary understanding, possible before photography? We’ll consider the enduring question of fame as it is transformed by the technological conditions of reproducing reputation across space, time, and societies.