America’s Toxic Culture Of Fame

Just one week after the Kim Kardashian and Kanye West wedding, Harvey Levin, founder of TMZ, launched his new reality show “Famous in 12.” The show chronicles the life of the Artiagas, a small-town family with a manager mother and three daughters, whose goal is to become as famous as the Kardashian family — famous for being famous — in just twelve weeks.

From the start of the show, Levin tells the girls not to count on being talented to guide them to instant celebrity. Certainly, talent is not required to join the ranks of Paris Hilton, the Kardashian family, Snooki, the magcon boys, or any of the real housewives.

Who needs talent when you can just have fame? For the Artiagas, fame has become their life purpose and meaning; fame is the solution to their beige lives.

They are not alone. The millennial generation has millions like them, young women who dream more about having the career of Paris Hilton rather than Hillary Clinton. And if fame is the millennial solution — is that a problem?

The dream of fame and fortune is not unique to millennials. Baby Boomers wanted to be the next Joan Baez or Sandra Dee, Generation X wanted to be Farrah Fawceit or Fiona Apple; but back then there was a connection to art, talent, and abilities that would eventually lead to fame. For many millenials, fame is both the starting point and the ultimate goal

The hope of instant celebrity spread far and wide into our cultural fabric, not just in the entertainment business. In politics, there are those who dream of being the next talking head; wheeling seven-figure radio, book, or talk-show deals, or influencing an army of millions, a desire fueled by the capricious way people become famous on the Internet today. Suey Park, the Asian-American activist who created the hashtag #CancelColbert after he made a culturally insensitive joke. After the hashtag caught on, Park revealed in a Salon.com interview that this “is not a reform, this is a revolution” where she and her army of twitter followers were out to fight “whiteness”.

Throughout the interview, Park never managed to create a clear argument as how she intended to fight whiteness. By her actions though it’s clear she means to do it one tweet at a time, she followed #CancelColbert with #NotYourAsianSideKick and recently attacked the #YesAllWomen hashtag because it had been coopted by white feminists. Whatever the case, she intends to grow her twitter army – twenty-five thousand strong and counting — promoting herself as the Rachel Maddow of the new Millennial anti-‘whiteness’ revolution one tweet at a time, from her comfortable home. Her revolution does not involve any kind of meaningful work.

The generational desire for notoriety and fame has a dark side, when wedded to instability and mental illness. Take into account recent young men, plagued with the longing to be famous: Elliot Rogers, Aaron Rey Ybarra, Robert Hawkins, and Adam Lanza.

The mentally ill are not isolated from the broader culture — if anything, they’re more susceptible to it.

If a generation of the fame-obsessed is the condition, the disease could be a rootless upbringing. Millennials are the most uprooted generation in history. Our generation is more mobile than any that came before, generally with no particular affection for place and little-to-no sense of family and roots.

The generation before us traded family, place, and faith for keeping up with the Joneses. Now their children’s generation looks for meaning in sex tapes, parties, reality shows, paparazzi pictures, and fortune. Experiencing a generational failure to launch, life is no more than a drawn-out high school drama: measuring self-worth by guest lists, social media, and publicity. You’re nobody until somebody tweets about you.

It’s perhaps the reason that Millennials are less bound to a political party, organized religion, less likely to trust other people, or consider themselves as patriotic and environmentalist. Baby Boomers may have thought that a suburban, multi-cultural, transient, society that replaces apple pie with Applebees is ideal, but so far it has only further decimated America’s social capital.