If your career depends on being in the limelight, it can be disconcerting when you feel yourself being edged out of it. These days, aspiring and fading celebrities can’t resort to old routines for grabbing attention. What worked yesterday may not work in today’s fickle and competitive news environment. And therein lies the tragedy of the modern fame seeker.

The people who deserve a lot of the world’s pity today are the ones that many people will never think of pitying. And why would Joe and Jane Public (or perhaps Jagan and Janaki Janata) share a sad thought for them? They seem to have it all, living the grand life and basking in the adulation of thousands of fans.

But take a minute to see the other side. The poor little rich boys and girls who form the amorphous category labeled celebrities. Those unfortunate souls who live by the camera flash and waste away in the darkness. The ones who take the Bard’s words about the world being a stage literally.

In these times, when even goldfish have a fighting chance in the attention span races, celebrities have to up their ante to keep lenses pointed their way, to keep the tabloids in circulation and, in keeping with the times, to set the twitterverse on fire.

A celebrity is one only when he or she is making news. And it is becom­ing increasingly difficult to be the one who hogs the headlines or the tweets. How do you, as a celebrity, ensure that your acts (or shenanigans) go viral?

One way to look at it is to say that the tactics that celebrities fall back on have not changed for decades – Tease and Shock. But that is the same as claiming a blunderbuss is the same as a rocket launcher since they are both types of firearms. Time was when a Hindi movie heroine grabbed headlines when she decided to appear on screen in a bathing suit. Today, that will not wash. Enter the (almost) stripper. She promises to strip if India wins the World Cup, and for many other reasons besides. However, the promise remains unfulfilled and she teases and promises to do so at every opportunity. And it has worked to keep her in the news regularly.

But the magic wand to go viral has to be the shock tactic. As Miley Cyrus used in good measure during a recent music awards ceremony. The ex-Disney star who has been peeling off layers of her goody-goody TV image in recent times, pulled out all the stops during her performance. In fact, she did not shed her image as much as tear it off and bump-and­grind it into the dust. The effect was far-reaching. The internet was abuzz with reactions and jokes as people picked their jaws up off the floor and hit the keys. The many adults who googled the word ‘twerking’ were stunned all over again.

In one performance lasting six minutes or so, Miley Cyrus made life more difficult for aspiring celebrities hoping to make a splash. Information overload (some would say trivia overload) has desensitized the average reader and viewer and it takes a lot more to grab attention. And while in simpler times, raised eyebrows might also have meant more eyeballs, the stakes have now been raised in inverse proportion to the attention span. With so many things fighting for attention, the only way forward for poor celebrities is to out-shock the last person who grabbed the public imagination, or left little to it.

In their quest to stay in the limelight, celebrities have to be ready to drop many things — their inhibitions, their clothes, and the occasional colourful word on the wrong occasion. Many people see this as a drop in morals and standards, but the average celebrity doesn’t lose sleep over this as long as his standards are flying high in Tabloid World.

Out of news, out of mind is the mantra that celebrities live by. The explosive increase in media has created more platforms to perform on, but these platforms are becoming more fragmented and niche in nature. Faced with so many options, viewers and readers limit their exposure to the topics and channels that they identify most with, rather than spread their attention too thin.

But the celebrity is not just competing with others of his ilk for this attention. Social media has made every other person an attention hound with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr and other platforms serving as personal stages for the individuals on them. This leaves us even less time and mindspace for the antics of celebrities. Unless the news is startling enough to dislodge the latest selfie, the news-seeker has no chance of making a dent, never mind an impact.

This relentless chase for fame and hankering after the public’s ever-decreasing attention has caused many stars to go off the rails and end up as train wrecks. Ironically, this sometimes ends up grabbing headlines and feeding the need for attention, rewarding ‘bad’ behaviour in the process. This inspires a new generation of hungrier wannabe celebrities, and the vicious cycle starts again, this time in a higher gear. And so it goes, ad infinitum, and for many people, ad nauseam.