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WOSTER: Famous for being famous

My social media skills must be wearing thin, because until last week I'd never seen the phrase "YouTube celebrities.''

YouTube is that online place with videos of cute kittens, clips from old movies and television shows and heaps of other video-audio content. It's also a place, apparently, where celebrities can argue with each other. I know this because I stumbled on a posting with references to two people who were using YouTube to carry on a feud. The article called them YouTube celebrities.

I searched further and found a site called "Pocket-lint.com.'' It's true. An article there said, "If you only use YouTube to look up funny cat videos or how to brine a turkey, then you're probably unaware of this thing called YouTube celebrities. It's not really a thing. It's a fact. There are people on YouTube with millions of subscribers.''

To put that into perspective, the article said the first season of Game of Thrones had an average of 2.5 million viewers. Since I've never seen Game of Thrones, that comparison gave me no perspective at all. I gather, though, that millions of YouTube subscribers is a lot.

Millions of subscribers simply for posting things on a video site? That sounds like a celebrity. The dictionary says this of celebrity: "A famous person, especially in entertainment or sports.'' And this: "The state of being well known.''

Digging deeper, I learned of a book called "The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-events in America,'' by historian Daniel J. Boorstin. Boorstin defined the celebrity "as a person who is known for his well known-ness.'' Lot of that going around these days, huh?

Boorstin argued that the revolution in journalism and other forms of communications separated fame from great accomplishments. In other words, a celebrity used to have to do something outstanding — have some talent or achievement — to be famous, rather than being famous just for being famous. My online source credited the phrase, "famous for being famous,'' to a British journalist, Malcolm Muggeridge. It's the sort of line I wish I'd said first.

Another site listed several people as being famous for being famous. The list included Kim Kardashian, Paris Hilton, Tila Tequila, Kevin Federline, Bristol Palin and Jenny McCarthy. I recognize most of those names, but if you asked me to say anything about any of them, I'd draw nothing but massive blanks. My knowledge of YouTube celebrity is lacking, I guess.

It was much easier to understand fame and celebrity when I was growing up. People who were famous showed up on boxes of Wheaties. As an incurable fan of the Boston Celtics basketball team, I remember when guard Bob Cousy made the cover of Wheaties. I remember when the Rev. Bob Richards hit the cover, too. He was an ordained minister, a decathlon competitor and a two-time Olympic gold medalist in the pole vault. The "vaulting vicar,'' they called him.

A Wheaties history says the first person placed on a cereal box was baseball star Lou Gehrig, the pride of the Yankees, way back in 1934. The first woman was Elinor Smith, the youngest licensed pilot in the world at age 16 and the first female test pilot.

Those Wheaties celebrities were some of my early heroes, but I'll tell you this. By the time I was 10 or 12, many of the people I most admired were soldiers and pilots who had fought to defend the country and whose stories I learned in books and movies.

Audie Murphy was my hero. The Texas kid's exploits in the Army in World War II were the basis for the movie "To Hell and Back.'' I marveled at the career of Chuck Yeager, the daring test pilot who broke the sound barrier but whose real heroism came as a combat fighter pilot. And I thought nobody was more courageous than Ted Lawton, a B-25 bomber pilot who flew on the Doolittle raid on Japan early in World War II and who wrote about his experience in the book "Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo.''

I'm thinking we'd all be better off with that kind of hero instead of the famous-for-being-famous celebs.

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