Content Note: this is a frivolous distraction theme. If taken too seriously, please do not email me to explain why I am ridiculous or don’t deserve more Twitter followers of fame. Phooey on you.
Back in the late 90’s, my employer had us doing a daily radio talk show from (then) WESA on the your AM dial. It was pure propaganda for the organizations who belonged to our coalition. But it was actually fun and interesting. And people told me that they heard me on the radio. Someone made a joke about me being famous and I described myself as a ‘minor Mon Valley celebrity’ which caused uproarious laughter among my colleagues aka the actual employees of the radio station on the FM side.
Fast forward to year 2021 almost 2022 and wonder – am I famous? I mean, not internationally famous, not have a Wikipedia page famous, not invited to the White House Pride celebration famous. Yet when my wife and I were at the veterinarian’s office with our ailing cat a few weeks ago, the woman ahead of us needed some help getting out of her parking space (it is a tight fit) and I offered to go out to wave her away from collisions. Then she said “Are you Sue Kerr?” and I could hear my wife rolling her eyes in the background.
This happens quite a bit. I’m usually horrified because I can’t recall how I know this person and embarrassed that they are praising me. #Awkward In the big picture, I know it is both cool and a testament to what we do here, but in that short immediate interaction I’m tongue-tied and worried that they might actually start yelling at me. That’s never happened. And if it did, my wife would probably deck them. Figuratively, I mean.
‘Pittsburgh Famous’ means that someone might recognize you from Facebook or a blog or public radio, but you still walk out to the parking lot to help them move their car or you give them the extra chair at your table or you help carry packages.
Pittsburgh Famous is a fusion of local visibility that’s not quite celebrity status with a degree of accessibility. Some Pittsburgh famous folx are also actually famous – think Mr. Rogers, Vanessa German, and John Fetterman. But most are part of our everyday lives here in the Burgh. TV news anchors and major media content creators certainly make the list. “I saw Ken Rice at the drive-in movie theater” or “I was on the T with that nice lady from WPXI” sort of thing. Sports celebs are a unique breed, but clearly Franco Harris Pittsburgh famous as is Mario Lemieux, and the entire lineup of the Pirates and Steelers from the 1970’s. Some well known famous sports ballers who are infamous for their antics and homophobia as well as the occasional round of smacking women are not Pittsburgh famous. They are jagoffs, no matter what the world thinks. We know the difference.
My Dad used to brag that Jack Ham was a sales rep to his steel mill and literally distributed hams at the holidays to all the vendors, shook their hands, and sealed the deal. He and most of the adults in my neighborhood could tell you all about their brushes with Pittsburgh famous people. This was before selfies were a thing. Autographs might have been part of the encounter.
It requires more than simple fame or infamity for doing a certain thing. It isn’t quite the same as a meme going viral, it is a more enduring relationship between Pittsburgh and the person. Pittsburgh famous starts when your grandma clips the newspaper article out for the fridge and really kicks in if she has a scrapbook of those articles.
Virginia Montanez is Pittsburgh famous. Yes, she had a wildly popular blog, but she is also doing marvelous work with the Make Room for Kids project and sharing her journey as a single parent. She replies to email messages from everyday people. Do people outside of Pittsburgh know who Ginny is? I have no idea and I’m not sure she cares.
Being in many places is also part of the standard. It isn’t being in demand per se as in requiring a speakers fee, but showing up to lend your little bit of clout and fanbase with something of value – an art show, a fundraiser, a special event, or a political rally. It isn’t at all like being an influencer because the brand is the person’s reputation and investment in Pittsburgh, not a product or service. You can invite a Pittsburgh famous person to your event, you might even pay them to participate or comp them some tickets, but you aren’t blatantly hiring them to be a brand ambassador.
Pittsburgh famous folx are known and recognized artists. Jasiri X is Pittsburgh famous, so is Phat Man Dee. Artist Jason Sauer is absolutely famous. They aren’t just creating, their artistic contributions are changing Pittsburgh and the region. Obviously, Billy Porter is Pittsburgh famous. I think Chris Potter is too, but he would laugh ruefully and tighten his hoodie a little bit.
Fortunately for all of us, times have withered away the political dynasties that accompanied some Pittsburgh famous surnames versus individuals – the Houses of Wagner, Costa, O’Connor, and Lamb are still in play, but definitely requiring more than birthright from the current generation which is probably why they are all running for 89 year judicial terms. Political and electoral power is still wielded with great influence, but we simply don’t know the players by name. Note that you can be part of the Central Catholic Mafia and swing either to Pittsburgh Famous or Cosa Nostra political influencer. Or both. How would we know?
The influence can wax and wane – look at Kevin Sousa.
In my case, I have no family dynastic ties – I am related to the Stickmans (including the judge), the Graf family on their mother’s side, and Rachel Carson but only learned these things after I ascended in the ranks of bloggers. I’m not on TV or the radio. My great-grandfather was Executive Sports Editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. I have a cousin who is a big-time lawyer with UNICEF and the United Nations. Another cousin in on faculty at Harvard. A great uncle who was somehow involved in some part of the Manhattan Project. Several people have patents. I grew up in a neighborhood where being on the Christmas Telethon broadcast for a few minutes at Century III Mall was bigtime stuff. Our alumni with a presence in Hollywood includes that Jeff Goldblum graduated West Mifflin North c/o 1970. The year I was born. Yikes.
I am an alumnus of Leadership Development Initiative, a James G. Fulton Congressional Fellow, and was one of the first three queer people named to Pittsburgh’s ’40 Under 40′ so I’m not sure if that fits under “Central Catholic Mafia” adjacent or not?
Still, I do the “good work” part of things. And I’ve been blogging for 16 years which is longer than most regional news outlets seem to actually remain in publication. I am still shocked and often flabbergasted when people approach me in person with the “Are you Sue Kerr?” question and definitely embarrassed when they say “we are friends on Facebook/Twitter/etc” and I have no idea who they are. They usually forgive me for that.
I was shocked when the Facebook page for my blog reached 5K. Combined with my personal page (4.5k) and the LGBTQ group I’ve managed for almost a decade (6.8k) – that’s a lot of connections with less overlap than you might think.
But Twitter is my sticking point. Since I joined in 2008, I’ve connected with over 8k folx. And they chose to follow me unlike the reciprocal FB connection. It’s heady stuff, my friend.
Still, I’ve been holding steady at 8600+ for a long time. That’s a lot of followers for a non-famous person. But it is now stuck in my head that to be truly Pittsburgh Famous requires 10,000 followers on Twitter. Perhaps because I’m so close, but not quite there?
Arbitrary number? Absolutely.
Useful investment of my time? Not at all.
Fun project for 2022? Sure.
Now, a bunch of people will unfollow me because this is gauche. But I’m not the least bit high-faluting so that’s fine. I’ve earned my followers by creating good content, engaging other people on the platform, and sharing their best stuff. It’s okay for me to have a silly goal.
So during 2022, I would like to connect with about 1500 new folx on Twitter to break through the 10k level.
Well, I’ll keep doing what I do. That’s not much in the way of a plan. But if I knew how to do it, I wouldn’t need the goal.
You can follow me @pghlesbian24 (also a link in the right column of this blog)
FWIW, my other Pittsburgh Famous goals are to be invited onto a float during a parade (preferably the now defunct Celebrate the Seasons), to cut a ribbon, to walk on a red carpet, and to be regularly published in the Pittsburgh City Paper. A PLC sandwich twist on a BLT might be amusing. There are not spaces where we typically see fat queer disabled women lacking any artistic talent occupying space.
I’ll check in regularly to share my progress.
*One time in the early 2010’s, I was helping some local businesses with their social media accounts – the mom and pop sort of folks. I opted to pursue one of those “get new follower” schemes using my own account to see if it worked. It did not work, but my followers yo-yo’d for awhile. Lesson learned at my own expense (Twitter dinged me.) There is some unknown person who likes to pop up into my mentions screaming “J’Accuse! J’Accuse” about this incident so I thought it best to be blunt. I spent $5.00 on a scam. That’s my Twitter secret.
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