5 Destructive Sides Of Celebrity Culture No One Talks About
Fame, in and of itself, is not a bad thing. Without famous actors we'd miss out on some great art. Famous scientists like Neil deGrasse Tyson introduce us to new information. And famous people from all walks of life can use their celebrity to draw attention to charitable causes that need our help. (I personally use what little notoriety I have to petition Michael Fassbender to go bottomless in all of his movies.)
But we as a society have decided over the past 20 years or so that being famous is the most important thing in the world. And that's becoming a big problem. Here's why we need to embrace a lifetime of anonymity.
We're More Focused On Fame Than Ever
We've told you before that a ridiculous 51 percent of 18- to 25-year-olds think they will be famous one day. But it starts even younger than that. When parents asked their children as young as 5 what they wanted to be when they grew up, 19 percent said they wanted to be famous. When I was 5 I wanted to marry my daddy and eat cotton candy all day when I grew up, and that is still a more realistic dream. But maybe this new development shouldn't come as much of a surprise, considering that the TV targeted at children in the last decade, like American Idol and Hannah Montana, has placed more value on fame than ever before.
The Voice, on the other hand, is about real talent, which is why I can't name a single winner.
The problem is that being famous is replacing traditional goals. When a poll of 16-year-olds finds that 54 percent of them want to be famous, but only 1 percent want to work in an office and 4 percent want to become teachers, you are setting a whole generation up for a lifetime of feeling like a failure. Working in a sea of cubicles is soul-destroying enough without your broken dreams hanging over you the whole time.
And those dreams of being the first actor-turned-director-turned-astronaut will still be there for most of you. Even once we grow up and get jaded, 40 percent of us still want to be famous. Thirty percent of you probably daydreamed about it at some point today.
Don't forget to put your hand on your face, or it doesn't count.
And these days, thanks to social media, we can all feel a little bit famous every minute of the day. Even if you have only 50 Twitter followers, that is 50 people who seem to care about what you have to say, who might retweet a joke or like a photo. But those micro-fame moments become addictive and can destroy your self-esteem, rather than improve it like intended. Millions of people who post selfies on Instagram are bothered when they don't get enough likes and will even take posts down if they don't garner enough attention.
People Will Stop At Nothing To Become Famous
After a while you start to feel like you can't go without the reassurance that tiny amount of personal celebrity gives you. You need more followers, more "fans," because you have to get your daily dose of attention. And, for some people, keeping fame limited to a few thousand people online stops being enough. They need to bring it into the real world.
This can be as simple as taking the songs you posted on YouTube and starting to sing them at open mic nights. But there are people out there who want to be famous but have no talents. They can't ignore the signs that society gives them that fame is the ultimate measure of success. And we as a society don't care if you got famous for being good or bad; we'll still put your face on the cover of People.
And stick Leonard Nimoy's tribute in the corner, because we SUCK.
Researchers are now saying that one of the reasons America has so many mass shootings is because of the emphasis we put on fame. We see it all the time in the manifestos left behind by these shooters: They all want to surpass Columbine in infamy and body count, they want to be plastered on the news, and they want to become a household name. And it is only very, very recently (like, within the last year) that media outlets are learning to not give in to these desires. But as long as even one news channel concentrates on the killer, the need for a sick kind of fame will still motivate these people.
Assassinations are often driven by the same reasons. According to a study of people who have tried to kill politicians, it usually has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with getting people to notice them after a lifetime of being invisible. One guy who attempted to assassinate a vice president said he thought he might get a "whole chapter" in the history books for that.
Why he thought anyone was reading their history book is another thing.
And while murder is definitely the worst manifestation of this obsessive need to be famous, there are other harmful ways people try to get their name in the news. It is mind-blowing how many 15-minutes-of-fame reality-TV stars have gone on to pose for Playboy, released a sex tape, or just straight-up started starring in porn. Now, far be it from me to judge these women (and some men) if they truly get joy and self-worth from putting their bodies out there for public consumption. But I have a feeling that for most of them it is a last-ditch effort to keep themselves relevant, even if they have to do something they never thought they would. When you would rather show the world your O-face than have them not give a shit about you at all, it might be time to question why.
It Can Find You Even If You Don't Want It
So what does this mean for you? Well, we know you can get famous for nothing. If you want to be on a reality show, fine; it's your choice to send in the form. But not all no-effort fame is Kardashian fame. In a world where we accept that anyone can become a celebrity for any reason, a lot of people have discovered they are famous for the wrong one.
Remember Justine Sacco? She was the most famous person online for a few days back in 2013. You probably posted something about how horrible she was. That's because she tweeted this:
It was a terrible joke dashed off in a couple seconds, and it ended up making her famous. She also lost her job and her life was ruined for a long time. No matter what she achieves in her life, that will be what she is best known for. This is the other side of the celebrity coin; yes, your chances of being known outside your friends and family are better now than ever, but because of how easy it is for people to become well-known for anything, you might not have control over what you get famous for.
No, the world does not care about your superhuman ability to unclog toilets.
Just ask the dentist that shot Cecil the lion. He had the correct permit to go big-game hunting, just like dozens of other people every year, but because he shot the wrong one he became an Internet celebrity. He also received hundreds of death threats and had to close his practice for weeks. Once you become famous online it is a free-for-all. It doesn't matter if you were a private citizen before that; now society owns you and usually will not be kind. That's because ...
Our Culture Yearns To See Famous People Fail
America is really, really good at churning out celebrities. And our actors and singers become famous around the world at a rate no other country can match. But we expect a lot from people whom we build up to those heights. Namely, that you be perfect all the time. A hint of scandal and we are more than happy to tear you down.
The gossip trade is a $3 billion a year industry. That's "billion," with a B. And no one wants to read about how great famous people are. They are already richer and more attractive than we are, so give us some good schadenfreude. We want to see these seemingly perfect people fall.
"Rectus. Hoc honebus."
Then there are the people we love to hate. The Kardashian family did not become as successful as they are today because everyone was ignoring them. But because we don't really think they deserve their fame, we are willing to believe almost any terrible thing about them. For example, when Lamar Odom was rushed to the hospital a few weeks ago, members of his estranged wife's family hurried to be by his side. And if you believe this Radar Online headline, they did so with cameras in tow, all ready to film that human tragedy for their TV show. It didn't matter that E! completely denied this; Radar still kept the article up and people continued to believe it because it seemed like something those fame-whores would do.
If you are OK with being urinated on, you must be fine with pulling the plug for ratings, too.
This also explains why we feel perfectly fine piling on people who get famous on the Internet. After all, they are getting to experience the celebrity so many of us would kill for, so they should expect the negative side as well. You tweeted 500 jokes I loved but one that I thought was dumb? You're a faggot. Your latest Instagram selfie doesn't make you look as pretty as the last one? You're an ugly slut. I didn't enjoy this free article on a comedy website? I need to send a death threat to the writer.
Not that any of you lovely people have ever considered doing that last one.
It Ultimately Makes Us Depressed
We've all read interviews with celebrities in which they whine about being famous, where they say that they wish they could just go grocery shopping again without being recognized. And while it might seem ridiculous to us that they are complaining about achieving something that so many other people want and that comes with so many amazing perks, they have a point. Fame has almost never made anyone happy.
A study on the different stages of being famous found that celebrities experience extreme emotions like addiction to their fame, a loss of self, and a general sense of mistrust of those around them.
"Managing Not To Kill Yourself" should be an award category.
For those of us who want fame but don't have it, that desire is almost never about actually becoming a celebrity. There is usually some unacknowledged need that we think being famous will fix. If you don't feel like you get enough love or recognition from your parents or significant other, you might want millions of strangers to fill that gap. If you can't afford all the things you want, you might see fame as a way to achieve wealth. Or maybe you just want to cheat death. As we get older and our chances to become famous in this life become limited, people start to concentrate on how to be famous after they die.
Maybe you'll finally get around to finishing that novel.
We have to stop obsessing. If we're starting at 5 years old and only finally giving up on our deathbeds, we are wasting our lives chasing a dream that is not only hurting society but wouldn't make us happy even if we caught it. Those are millions of lifetimes wasted, when we could be banding together to make Michael Fassbender take his pants off again.
Fame is so sought after in our culture that people will lie their way to fame faster than it takes to snap a selfie. Check out the celebrities who did just that in 15 Famous People Who Lied Their Way To Fame. Some people are born famous, others have fame thrust upon them, and some just kick so much ass they have to be famous. See who got fame the right way in 5 Celebrities You Didn't Know Ass-Kicked Their Way To Fame.
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