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What is a Has-Been?

A has-been refers to someone who once achieved prominence or success but is no longer recognized in that capacity. Often tinged with nostalgia, the term suggests a fall from grace or relevance. It's a human story of rise and fall, inviting us to reflect on the fleeting nature of fame. What can we learn from their journeys?
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A has-been is someone who once enjoyed fame and popularity, but does so no longer. There are a wide variety of situations which can cause someone to become a has-been, ranging from losing the physical traits necessary for popularity in image-based industries like the world of film to committing an egregious act which leads to widespread social rejection. A has-been's life can be quite depressing, as he or she may be tempted to relive glory days which cannot be recovered.

Celebrities and politicians are most at risk of becoming has-beens, due to the high profile lives that they lead. When people are constantly under the scrutiny of media and fans, it can be increasingly easy to slip up, turning a sometimes successful and fruitful career into a thing of the past. A has-been is viewed as no longer interesting, popular, successful, or valuable in society, and he or she may come to internalize these ideas, experiencing depression as a result.

Popular actors that become has-beens may try to branch out into producing and filmmaking.
Popular actors that become has-beens may try to branch out into producing and filmmaking.

The term “has-been” is also used to describe people who experienced popularity early, and then lost it. People who are extremely popular in high school or college, for example, sometimes become has-beens later in life, as the people around them grow and mature, becoming interested in the talents and abilities of others. Such has-beens are sometimes used as fodder for novels, becoming figures of mockery as they struggle to cope with their newfound lack of popularity or relevance.

People who were popular teens sometimes become has-beens later in life.
People who were popular teens sometimes become has-beens later in life.

For people who make their living on the basis of image, such as models and film stars, the risk of becoming a has-been is very real. It can be difficult to turn an image-based career into something more stable and long term, as many actors and models are viewed simply as pretty faces. Actors might try to branch out into producing and filmmaking, while models may experiment with their own fashion lines and branded consumer goods in the hopes of capitalizing on their names long enough to branch out into careers based on something other than their physical appearance.

Politicians can also struggle with the specter of becoming a has-been. Mistakes made early in life often come back to haunt people over the course of a political career, especially when they become famous, because every possible attempt will be made to dredge such information out of the past. If a politician comes to be viewed as untrustworthy or lacking in moral fiber, his or her career is essentially over.

Frequently Asked Questions

What exactly defines a "has-been"?

A "has-been" refers to an individual, often in the realm of entertainment, sports, or politics, who once achieved fame, influence, or success but is now perceived as no longer relevant or in decline. This term can carry a negative connotation, suggesting that the person's peak period of productivity or popularity is in the past. It's important to note that this label is subjective and can be influenced by public perception and media portrayal.

How does someone become labeled as a "has-been"?

Someone may be labeled as a "has-been" when their career or public visibility significantly diminishes after a period of prominence. This can occur due to various factors such as aging, changes in public interest, shifts in industry trends, or personal decisions to step away from the limelight. The label is often applied by media or public opinion rather than being a reflection of the individual's intrinsic worth or talent.

Can a "has-been" regain their former status or reinvent themselves?

Yes, it is possible for a "has-been" to regain their status or reinvent themselves. The entertainment industry, for instance, has numerous examples of individuals who have made successful comebacks or transitioned into new roles that revitalized their careers. This often requires adapting to new trends, rebranding, or leveraging their experience in innovative ways. Reinvention is a testament to the resilience and adaptability of individuals in the face of changing cultural landscapes.

What impact does the label "has-been" have on an individual's career?

The label "has-been" can have a significant psychological and professional impact on an individual's career. It may lead to reduced opportunities, as the perception of being out of touch or past one's prime can deter collaborators or audiences. However, the effect varies widely depending on the person's response to the label, their ability to adapt, and the support they receive from fans and peers in their industry.

Is the concept of a "has-been" unique to Western culture?

The concept of a "has-been" is not unique to Western culture, though the term itself might be. Many cultures have their own ways of describing individuals who were once successful but are no longer seen as influential. However, the dynamics of fame and the lifecycle of a public figure's career can be influenced by cultural attitudes towards aging, celebrity, and the value placed on enduring success versus temporary fame.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a PublicPeople researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a PublicPeople researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...

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Discussion Comments

anon193109

This pretty much describes me. I was popular in high school but due to very bad luck in college I ran and hid. I had the best high school experience ever but the worse college life imaginable. I feel betrayed. All that hard work and sacrifice since freshman year to get into the school of choice, and this had to happen?

To this very day I am struggling to overcome my problems and am yearning that one day I can come out again. It's been five years since misfortune hit me. I miss everything that I was. I miss my friends. I miss that great person I used to be. I'm still fighting, and I hope I will win. Five years is a long time. I miss my friends so so much. Please pray for my success.

allenJo

Other terms to describe such individuals are “washed up” or “flash in the pan.” When I think about actors and politicians, I actually feel kind of sorry for them.

They live on image. Yet no matter how successful they are, they will eventually be replaced; those actor’s faces will wrinkle, those votes will no longer be there to keep the politician in office. Then they will be looked at nostalgically.

It will only be said that this has been was once an important person whose life meant something. That has to hit you where it hurts.

It’s no wonder many of these people go into drugs and alcohol, after they lose their fifteen minutes of fame, because they can no longer reclaim the past. I say it’s better to be nobody in the world’s eyes, and be somebody to people closest to you.

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    • Popular actors that become has-beens may try to branch out into producing and filmmaking.
      By: oneinchpunch
      Popular actors that become has-beens may try to branch out into producing and filmmaking.
    • People who were popular teens sometimes become has-beens later in life.
      By: Edyta Pawlowska
      People who were popular teens sometimes become has-beens later in life.