In the '30s came radio and newsreels, and with them access to a degree of fame never known before. Still, the vast majority of time, you had to do something to get a microphone or camera in your face. It wasn't until the '50s and '60s that John and Jane Doe might be seen by millions; in fact, I would bet game shows were probably what prompted Andy Warhol to declare: "In the future, everyone will have their 15 minutes of fame." He was off by 45 minutes.
The reality show epidemic has produced an entirely new creature: the near-instant has-been. With the rare exception of a Elizabeth Hasselbeck or Paris Hilton, most of these gigs are one-night stands. But evidently, seeing yourself on TV and getting recognized at the supermarket can go right to the head. Why else would Richard Heene, (Balloon Boy's Dad) appear on Wife Swap twice?
I can understand how someone who's made it the 8th round of So You Can Think You Can Dance feels like they've earned some minor celebrity status. But what we're seeing more and more is something a little bit different: a sense of entitlement to fame unearned by any accomplishment.
The desire for notoriety is as old as humanity; we confuse a lot of attention with a lot of love. But recently people seem to be unable to distinguish between wanting it and earning it. Richard Heene is a shining example, but far from alone. Notice how often are athletes or talent show contestants told: "It depends how much you really want this." The likelihood of success is measured by intention, not result; yearning over performance. The takeaway message is clear: If you don't win, it's because you didn't want it enough.
Blame it on reality shows, blame in on the culture of celebrity, the perception increasingly seems to be that desire makes you deserving. The sentiment is funny--if a little pathetic--during American Idol auditions, when the tone deaf screechers can't seem to hear themselves. But when Denver airport gets shut down and the Colorado taxpayer is out a million bucks, it's downright dangerous.
My advice to all those blinded by the kleig lights: rent Gone With the Wind. There's a scene where Mammy utters three little words to Scarlett about her insistence that Ashley will propose marriage: "Wantin' Ain't Gettin!"
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