When Andy Warhol declared 15 minutes of fame for everyone's future, the pop artist surely never realized how notoriety could one day be achieved.
The path to your slice of celebrity is smooth these days. Make a video for YouTube. Win a place on a run-of-the-mill reality show. Answer some questions on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. Post pictures on Flickr.
Oh yeah, and hire paparazzi.
What once was considered an unwanted byproduct of "true fame" - winning an Oscar, becoming the first African American president - is now available to the everyday VIP like you and me. For a fee.
One thousand dollars gets you two video cameras and three photographers trailing your every fantastic move for three hours. The take-home prize (besides the all-night attention): two DVDs of the session, an 8-by-10 magazine cover of yourself, a CD of all the photos taken, and a place on the Internet - all courtesy of Paparazziphilly.com.
Love them or hate them, those pesky photographers and videographers and their rabid attention are still fame's best measurement. And judging by the proliferation of gossip magazines and the photographs inside them, the public can never get enough.
"We always want to know what the Joneses do, or where we stand in relation to everyone else," said Kenneth Dunning, the Old City photographer and founder of Paparazziphilly.com. "What makes you better than me? What do you have that I don't have? It's not good enough for us just to hear about it; we need the pictures to show us."
What sort of culture demands a level of faked fame like hired paparazzi? Robert J. Thompson blames our search for attention on a caste-less society.
"The great thing about democracy - an incredibly fluid system where presumably everyone's created equal - is that anybody can grow up and be a star. That's the good part," said Thompson, a professor of television and popular culture at Syracuse University.
"The bad part is often the very same thing. If there are no official designations of status, we then have to carve it out in other ways."
Dunning, 35, was in Lewes, Del., working for newspapers in 2002 when he heard that a celebrity was coming to the area for the weekend. "Everyone from editors to everyman made such a big deal," Dunning said, laughing. That big reaction gave Dunning a big idea for a business - to have cameras follow people around while everyone else wondered who they were.
First he called it "Super Star" and followed bar-hopping University of Delaware students. "It was amazing how fast bars would let you in if you had cameras with you," said Dunning. "Everyone bought them drinks, and they were the spotlight of every place they went." Some students were asked for their autograph months later from people who had seen them trailed.
Dunning then relocated to Philadelphia to create his own advertising and modeling agency. He kept Super Star as a side gig until 2008 when he changed its name to Paparazziphilly.com and devoted his full attention to it, hiring an intern from MTV (Deliana Krasteva) as his main photographer, a videographer (Michael Weisser) from the Big Picture Alliance, and a few freelancers. Since November, his company has snapped 16 clients, each with a party of about 10 people.
"This is their time in the limelight," Dunning said. "But instead of 15 minutes, it's three hours of fame. . . . We allow clients to be whoever they want to be. The crew says they can't give out the information, to keep it intriguing. And we've had random people pretend they know them to get in front of the camera, too. It's like a snowball rolling down a hill."
Local day trader Steve Beers procured Paparazziphilly's services for the 30th birthday of his wife, Jessica. The "crew" met the Beerses and their guests at the Plough & the Stars in Old City, and followed the assembly to Beers' neighboring apartment where they had a red-carpet setup with a "Ryan Seacrest"-type person asking questions.
"It was hysterical," Steve Beers said. "Everyone at the bar thought we were famous, stared at us the whole time and even asked who we were while we were walking en route to our apartment. It made the party."
Philly event promoter Mike Fazio used Paparazziphilly over the Thanksgiving holidays.
"I'm always promoting myself and my events and thought it would be cool to have someone follow me around to help raise my profile," said the 28-year-old South Philly native. "At first, people thought we were shooting a reality show," said Fazio, a man with experience in that milieu. He was a cast member of MTV's A Double Shot at Love.
Fazio dug the guerrilla vibe of the production and loved the attention he got from strangers. "Girls were more receptive to me."
Hugh E. Dillon, a local photographer and self-named "Philadelphia Paparazzi" (his photographs of area social events have graced this paper), thinks Paparazziphilly is onto something outrageously fun. "Why not hire someone to experience what it's like to get followed by a paparazzi out for the 'gotcha' photo you enjoy looking at so much in the glossy magazines," he said. ". . . People just respond differently to someone who is holding a $3,000 professional camera."
Not all photographers agree that the endeavor is such a good idea.
"I think it's disgusting," said Scott Weiner, a Retna agency photographer whose celebrity pictures have appeared in national magazines for 32 years. "Whoever thinks it's funny has some screws loose. Catching people not looking their best is what a paparazzo does. Let [Paparazziphilly] do that and see how much money this place makes."
Dunning says the need for attention is natural - and harmless.
"Who hasn't played air guitar to their favorite song and imagined cheering crowds?" he asked. "Who hasn't jumped behind the news guy when a TV cameraman is filming outside? People want other people to think they're famous."
If you can't have real wealth, its trappings will have to do. The problem arises, Thompson said, when the once-exclusive trappings become the norm.
"Showing up somewhere with a limousine used to be enough," Thompson said. "But now when every middle-class kid can arrive to a prom in a stretch limo, that's become meaningless."