About this Blog

"In the future everybody will be world-famous for 15 minutes." So said the bleached-out, late lamented artist Andy Warhol. Having lived and worked in New York City, Warhol came to fully grasp the hold celebrity has on us. In this very famous sentence, he meant to point out that in a culture fixated on fame, many people will suddenly flash brightly onto the public screen, then--poof--will just as quickly disappear from public view--like shooting stars. Other individuals derive their celebrity from one stellar accomplishment (one hit song, one iconic role, etc.) that they never again match.

This blog is devoted to the one part of our celebrity culture that no one has written much about: temporary/one-shot celebrities.

The pace of modern life has quickened, and now we hear people speaking of someone's 15 seconds of fame. These "celebrities with a lower-case c" who will appear in this blog sometimes come to us from the world of entertainment, sometimes from the world of news. All are fascinating.

The need of our communications media for a continual stream of new material assures that we will have no end of colorful people who go quickly, where celebrity is concerned, from zero to hero (or villain) and back to zero. Now you see 'em, now you don't. What a crazy world, eh?

Temporary celebrities coming from the world of entertainment include one-hit recording artists; TV and movie icons who, although they might have had a great many accomplishments in their career, are remembered for one big role; standouts of reality TV; sports figures remembered for one remarkable accomplishment; and people whose celebrity came from one big role in a commercial or print ad.

News-based temporary celebrities come in many forms: mass/serial killers, other murderers of special note, sex-crime offenders, disgraced figures of government/military/business/media/religion, spies/traitors, hoaxers, femmes/hommes fatale, heroes, whistle blowers, inventors/innovators, and victims.

Celebrity Blogsburg will consider each category in turn.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Hoaxer Elizabeth Chapman

Some hoaxes are perfectly harmless. Some are deliberately harmful to others, and still others are unintentionally harmful. The fantastic hoax pulled off by single mom Elizabeth Chapman was of the third variety, and the person most harmed was her own son.

Many a mother is anxious about opening doors for their children and sometimes ask more of the kids than the little tykes can deliver. This was clearly the case with Elizabeth and her son Justin.

Justin was born in 1993, and his upbringing, and later his home schooling, was in the hands of his mother, Elizabeth, an aspiring gymnast. The child developed early and showed signs of considerable intelligence. According to reports, he walked at seven months and could read by 2 years and four months, around the same time he began practicing the violin.

At age 3, his mother said that a Wechsler Intelligence Scale test showed his IQ to be 160. He took up chess, and at 4, signed up for distance learning courses for gifted children. A year later, Justin took high school coursework, also via Internet.

When he was 6, his mother got him registered for coursework at the University of Rochester, where he took a course in religion and audited physics. This feat got him a fair amount of public notice, and in early 2000, an educational psychologist tested him and declared, grandly, that the boy's IQ was 298, the highest score ever recorded.

It was close to this time that Paradigm News gave little Justin his own nationally syndicated weekly newspaper column, which was titled "The Justin Report." By this time, Justin had also taken up piano and was said to be writing a book about innovations in education.

Justin's column ran from July 2000 until May 2001. In November 2001, the boy was hospitalized due to an apparent suicide attempt by Motrin overdose. The pressure on him had proved too great. Realizing this, his mother admitted that she had hoaxed the public by greatly exaggerating his mental gifts. He was a bright boy, but he had nowhere near the 298 IQ ascribed to him.

Human Services in Colorado, where the Chapmans had moved from New York, removed Justin from his mother's care, placing him on a quiet farm.

The saddest thing about this hoax was, of course, its effects on the boy. The hoax's silver lining was that it smeared egg on the face of a syndicate that clearly should have known better, and that the embarrassment was shared with those newspapers that chose to run the column. The press is supposed to be skeptical of things that sound too good to be true.

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