Fame! The biggest priority among youth these days? Take the New York Times article on how some young teens are becoming cultural phenomenon within a matter of days. Or 23-year-old “internet sensation” Dia Frampton, who originally got her fan base through You Tube, but then gained even more popularity by being the runner-up on NBC’s The Voice. I’m sure there are many other examples, but I, alas, am not all that great when it comes to pop-culture savvy.
And then there’s the research. Recent work out of the Children’s Digital Media Center at UCLA finds that “fame” is the number one value conveyed in television shows targeting 9-11 year olds in 2007. This is in sharp contrast to the top value of “community feeling,” which topped the list from 1967 all the way through 2006. And a survey of adults by Dr. Jean Twenge revealed that 10% of young adults (in their 20s) had experienced symptoms of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, as compared to only 3% of Seniors.
So, why all the focus on the self? It’s possible that the simple answer is “because we can.” The internet (especially social networking) can cause an individual to reach a vast number of people exponentially, something that probably couldn’t be done a decade ago, and most certainly was unobtainable a generation ago. Pair that with the normative developmental stage of egocentrism often found in teens and young adults, and their tech-savvy, and the recipe is perfect for this storm.
The question I have is, “is this focus on fame inherently a problem?” Part of me says no, simply because to some extent, as I stated above, such focus on the self is pretty typical of youth. Plus, this focus could help increase self-esteem, sense of well-being, and maybe even a sense of purpose and obligation. For example, 14-year-old Benni Cinkle has used her new-found fame to help non-profit organizations. Where’s the harm in that?
On the other hand, not having such notoriety — despite, perhaps, trying hard to achieve it through a clever blog or video — could backfire on a young person and threaten their sense of self. “After all, if all these peers I hear about on the news can gain such followings, why can’t I?” goes the thought process.
It all comes back to a basic reality: There is always someone out there who is “cooler” than you. They have more friends, a better voice, nicer hair, a more impressive jump shot, a more noble cause. If we can convey that basic fact to youth (and heck, to people of all ages), perhaps there would be less focus on fame. And, it would probably help if the media catering to the tweens didn’t think it was so great, either.