Why Do We Chase Fame?

Entire books have been written on why we strive for fame. When Mark Zuckerberg developed Facebook (‘The Facebook’ as it was known in its early days) his genius was understanding that people have a need for attention, approval and recognition above almost any other need. Andy Warhol once said that everyone would have their 15 minutes of fame, but the Internet and social media allows us to share information and requests for recognition instantly, and about inane things too. Suddenly fame is close enough to touch. If you catch the algorithms correctly, any video or status can capture the attention of huge numbers of people. It’s very possible, but why do we seek it?

There are huge fortunes to be made if you can reach a position where your videos receive many tens of thousands of hits per upload. Advertisers will pay good money to piggyback onto your audience. YouTubers can earn thousands of dollars per video. I’ve had limited success with YouTube. I had two videos that went “viral”, although not “viral viral”. Each video received about 50,000 views over a period of time. I earned £25 per month until YouTube changed the requirements of monetisation. Imagine if I got 250,000 views per video in a narrower niche area (this pays better) and uploaded 3 videos a week! Suddenly you’re talking about a serious amount of money.

I was an extra on a TV show in 2011. I was ushered onto the set, sat down and in 15 minutes they had completed a run through and recorded their two takes. I was signed off by the assistant director (so I got paid) and sent on my way. Before I’d even left the set they were moving the camera into position for the next scene. It was completely impersonal. I had no idea about the plot or the characters. In such an impersonal environment, why would anyone tolerate it? The main actors are well-paid, of course, but the extras? Many will be hoping they do such a great job in their supporting artiste role they are suddenly told “we want you for a speaking part”. This rarely, if ever, happens but they all harbour the dream. The allure for most extras is to see themselves on TV. Personally, I’ve never even seen the episode. I just wanted to see what a real set was like. As I sat in The Green Room (a disused office upstairs), all I got was the impression I was around wannabe actors who desperately wanted their big break.

There is a downside to desperately seeking fame, the disappointment of not finding fame, the dealing with abuse and trolls if you do find it and what you do or feel like once that fame passes. Some people will do anything for fame, especially young people. Attractive people post revealing images of themselves on Instagram or snapchat day after day desperately seeking likes and approval. Young people go on TV programmes locked on islands with nothing to talk about other than who fancies who, who is getting off with who and who regrets getting off with who from last night. Maybe it’s my age but getting the tanned 21-year old male contestant on a morning talk shows after it ends to “discuss his future with ‘X’ from the show” seems weird to me. The most worrying thing for me is the contestant themselves won’t see how banal it is and they will think people are actually interested.

I’m sure young teenagers are interested and for a time it will seem great and an amazing life has opened up for them. They come out of these programmes and go out on an evening in a big city and everyone loves them and shows them attention they have dreamed about for so long. It must feel amazing. But what happens when the attention stops or in a few years when they hit 30 and they are still yearning for that attention with their teenage audience now grown up and a bit past that phase of their lives? By then the next generation will refer to them as “that guy or girl from the telly a few years back”. Life is cruel.

Fame can be an escape too. I love “The Office” by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant. It perfectly captures how people can become trapped in that office culture, a little embarrassed by their very real lives and how some people, the lucky ones in my opinion, find their purpose in this mundane existence. For these people and I include myself in this to some degree although currently I’m not unlucky in what I do, it’s nothing to mock to want something better. Would you not prefer to be at home, posting 3 YouTube videos a week that put you in front of millions of viewers who view you as an authority and get paid handsomely too? It’s alluring. It’s alluring for me and I’m not that egotistical. For someone who needs more approval or has not the self-awareness to see why they need it, it can be very dangerous for their sense of self and for their feelings of worth and purpose.

We may all get our 15 minutes of fame, but the part that interests me almost as much is what on earth we do after we get a taste of it. That seems to be where people can go really crazy, but that’s for another article.

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