Ken Bone — you know, the guy who asked a question about energy policies at the Clinton-Trump debate on Sunday — will be irrelevant in a matter of days. He may even already be irrelevant at the time of this publication. He will have served his purpose as a desperately needed distraction from the chaos that Donald Trump has wrought, latched on to by people with sophomoric senses of humor (including us) and a soft spot for mild-mannered dads (also us).
In the space of less than forty-eight hours, our baby boy Ken has taken over social media, appeared on late night and had the media inevitably turn on him in record time. At this accelerated rate of media consumption, the worst version of this arc will see him pick up a coke problem by Friday and hanging out at the Applebee’s that Jon Gosselin works at by the weekend.
However, as Jon Gosselin will tell him while fishing for a tip, Ken Bone is not alone. The momentary fascination of an entire country during a tough time is nothing new. In 2016, this phenomenon essentially boils down to the meme-ificiation of an unsuspecting human being, there are many who Bone leaves in his wake.
By definition, Ken Bone is “microfamous,” defined by New York Magazine writer Rex Sorgatz as “one in which both the subject and the ‘fans’ participate directly in the celebrity’s creation.” Sure, Bone agreed to be a part of the panel, but without the rampant tweet-storm that took place in the wake of his innocuous question, it’s impossible to define Bone’s fame as self-made. We made him, constructed our own ideas and mythology around him, and are likely to discard him in the next news cycle.
The New York Times has noted how Andy Warhol’s lauded prediction that “in the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes” — a quote he probably didn’t say at all — has become true (in a micro-sense) in today’s internet culture. At least now anyone can become famous.
By now, there’s a well-tread pattern that all fifteen-minute-recipients slog through, in a trail that begins on YouTube, takes a pit stop on Ellen, and ends in obscurity. The evidence in recent memory ranges from monsters who refuse to disappear, like Chewbacca Mom; sexy white teenagers like Daniel of ‘Damn, Daniel!’ fame and Alex from Target; or wild cards like the incarcerated hottie who, a year out, has lost his modeling agent and remains in jail.
Some, like Alex, who’s got a movie deal to play a teen with cystic fibrosis, have managed to extend their fame by a few paltry months through movie deals and attempts at making music à la teenagers filtered through the Disney and Nickelodeon machines, but those without the youth and talent tend to fade in increasingly short order.
What does set Bone apart, though, is just how many people saw him on live television. The debate broadcast pulled in 66.5 million Americans, and even if many of them had turned it off in disgust before Bone asked his question, he was lighting up Twitter and Jimmy Kimmel’s show the next day. It’s unclear if his fifteen minutes will extend into the parameters that existed before the internet or if he’ll be forgotten before he can milk a short-lived talk show out of all the attention. He’s got a leg up on the droves of Vine and Snapchat stars in the sense that his exposure ranges past an app, but it’s limited in the sense that no matter how fame-hungry Bone might become, he’s famous for being a regular guy.
Sure, there are the outliers — the hustlers in the vein of Kim Kardashian and Perez Hilton who make something from nothing through a combination of money, publicity, and a dedication to being seen. But it’s more likely that Ken Bone is the proverbial Left Shark of the 2016 election. Hey, at least enjoying it.