Lakshmi Chaudhry wrote a fascinating piece in The Nation about how social media (social networks, blogs, Wikipedia, YouTube, etc.) has quickly evolved into a toolset for "Generation Me" to become famous. The critique is that with this generation being so caught up in self promotion and validation, young people have developed an aversion to collective action.
Yet this type of individualism has always been a part of the collective unconscious -- it's the American dream with the added icing of celebrity on top. Instead of pulling yourself up by the bootstraps, working incredibly hard, and then maybe becoming successful, all with whatever traditional forms of self promotion that existed, technology has made this process much faster, easier and accessible to more people. And yes, you can become temporarily "famous" for doing something silly, dangerous or showing some skin online. Chaudhry calls this landscape the new Los Angeles. Maybe, but it definitely requires a lot less risk and commitment than moving to L.A., going on audition after audition and ending up in a commercial or B movie if you're lucky.
Before we all get down on Generation Me for being so narcissistic and for wanting this type of celebrity, I think it's interesting to think about what young people are really saying when they say they want to be famous:
- They want to be validated and to receive constant attention and feedback (vs. feeling isolated and ignored)
- They want to be discovered (not have to stress so hard about getting into good schools, what they will do for a career)
- They want to be rich (not have to worry about money, be taken care of, possibly have money to take care of their own parents who may be struggling...and yes, to have lots of stuff)
- They want to perform and entertain people (we all like to grab the karaoke mic once in a while, sing in the shower or fantasize about being Danny or Sandy in the Broadway production of "Grease." The fact that reality TV is creating "American Idols" like Fantasia and Carrie Underwood who came from nothing, fuels this desire even more.)
- They want to have fun (The hedonistic lifestyle that is sold to them through pop culture from "Entourage" to MTV looks like fun, does it not?)
Celebrity is about fantasy, escapism and ego. As Chaudhry notes in her piece, "this growing self-involvement is a luxury afforded to a generation that has not experienced a wide-scale war or economic depression. If and when the good times come to an end, so may our obsession with fame." Maybe a new Ice Age will cure this generation's obsession with fame, but I have to think that there is some other way to help young people meet these very human needs while also raising awareness of the world they live in and teaching them about the power of collective action. Maybe we need a new PSA campaign that highlights the downside of celebrity (kind of like mini-episodes of VH1's "Behind the Music") -- its fleeting nature, not knowing who to trust, being picked apart by tabloids and gossip blogs, self obsession, etc.
What are your prescription for Generation Me's "fame problem"?