I was recently listening to Lisa Kudrow and Bill Maher chat on his show, Real Time. The discussion of fame came up, and I remember Lisa making a comment about how fascinated she was with the amount of talentless people who were famous, or who were desperately seeking fame.
It's a thought that has crossed my mind often, as I'm sure it has for many Americans, but I usually let it slip away and chalk it up to the obvious -- something not worth discussing. But it irked me this one evening and I started thinking about how this concept, everyone-and-their-mother seeking fame, influences society's view of talent. (American Society, at least)
First stop -- the Kardashians. They've really become the mascots for the famed and talentless. I think it's because there are so many members in their clan and their cumulative recognition and finances have reached such a massive level that it's tough not to reference them when speaking about the downside of American culture. Of course, referencing them makes them all the more famous and being the ambitious business minds that they are (is that a talent?) they most likely welcome the part love/part bashing, because fame is fame, right?
And what about that? Is it better to be void of all talent but be famous, than be full of talent and an unknown?
In America, the answer is yes. Or at least that's what society teaches us.
Simply having a successful Instagram account can lead to Instafame, possibly real life fame. A viral YouTube video, despite the content -- but the sexier, the better -- will get your name launched and could lead to a reality show. And if you're already a reality star you can expect a book deal, a clothing line and possibly even a follow up show complete with stalkings from the paparazzi and daily headlines on the top news sites -- all without being good at a single thing, except maybe looking hot. We'll settle for cute, even.
If you're privileged with parents on board your Instaplan you can even skip the line of some of those goals, sending the message that the talentless one percent deserves our praises. (The Kardashians, yes, but many others as well.)
Of course there are still the super talented turned famous. But it seems this is an older tribe -- one who took many years of pounding the pavement with their craft, sacrificing and sometimes nearly starving before getting their big break. It seems we are losing those people daily (R.I.P. Robin Williams) and they are being replaced with the Instafamous. As for those newbies who are talented, like Jennifer Lawrence, we embarrassingly cling to them like we would a deity, for fear another may not come around.
If JLaws are one in a million and the Kardashians are a dime a dozen who are paid handsomely, then why bother with the whole talent thing?
I'm a writer in NYC, which is a constant uphill battle. I'm surrounded by exceptionally talented people in various fields -- dancers, actors, artists, designers, novelists, fitness and finance gurus, agents and entrepreneurs -- all hard working and idealistic that this city will make them. But all knowing there are easier ways to get a break, most of which do not include the passion they've spent their entire life working on.
What keeps us from trading it all in? For one, we weren't raised on the notion of Instafame and while it consumes our generation now, it didn't shape our early perceptions of talent. (We are all in the Kim K. age range, keep in mind.)
I grew up in an unconventional family. It was a somewhat privileged one, but that was never bragged about. I was pushed to read books and be involved in a numerous activities. When I narrowed those passions down, I was taught the value of rigorous practice and to focus on those talents more than focusing on my aesthetics or my family's money or the quickest way to fame. While I realize I was lucky to be able to afford lessons and good schools, I have many friends who were not and they compensated by embedding themselves in the corner of the library or taking free dance classes and various sports lessons at local rec centers. Or they simply locked themselves in their bedrooms and painted. (This doesn't help the case of the Instafamous born into money, who had the ability to cultivate numerous passions but seemingly did not.)
The idea of being a celebrity was coveted, but it seemed like a long road to get there.
Today, that's no longer the case and that cocktail of advanced social media mixed with our obsession of beauty and fame (more so, fame, as we saw with Honey Boo Boo) has set the tone for a new American dream -- wake up to two million followers and you're a celebrity. Put down those books. Quit your day job. Game over.
While I'll admit this has slightly brainwashed my view of success, what about my future children who will one day be born into this? Will they decide that talent is an obsolete notion? That their old, silly parents spent far too much time practicing and prepping for something when easier, fame-inducing skills could have been utilized? It seems we are on that path -- one that will lead to a boring, clone-like population. But they will be pretty.
So do we blame this shift on the daily increase of social media and other tech advances? On capitalism? On corporate-funded media networks and the multi-billion dollar beauty industry? I think it's all of the above and an addiction to instant gratification that Americans are already notorious for.
Of course, America still values real talent, hard work and integrity. We worship Beyoncé and Adele, as we should. They've spent their lives cultivating their talent through preparation and hustling and can bring any room to its feet with their live performances.
Angelina and Brad might as well be crowned King & Queen of America -- both talented and going the extra mile with their charitable acts.
We adore our sports players, but do lose respect for them when the doping issues arise, as we do with our performers who only rely on voice enhancements.
I'm only referencing players and performers because let's be honest -- America loves celebrities best and if you're in any other field you better bottle what Warren Buffet and Mark Cuban are drinking because their celebrity category is, well, comprised of just them.
Why, then, next to the news on the Beys and Buffets do we find the Kate Uptons? Because she (and others) is the current American Dream -- Discovered in an online video doing a cute little dance, became every guy's sexual fantasy, every brand's monetary fantasy and eventually landed on the cover of Vogue. Instafame. Game over.
So where do I sign up? I can dance pretty well. Someone Snapchat this.
Would I ever really consider selling out or giving in by offering up more skin and attempting to market myself to the masses in a more generic, be-seen-do-and-say-less role? My gut says hell no, but as long as that option is available to me I can't truly say for sure. Let's see how this writing thing pans out first.
I do know two things seem certain -- it's no longer considered selling out when so many are choosing the easy, talentless route and we are all willingly watching, ultimately funding and rewarding, these Instastars. As for future generations' view on talent -- it seems unlikely that a society already so highly acceptant of the talentless will ever go back to demanding more of it.