Why Americans are willing to do terrible things to be famous
Brynne and Clair Odioso—who are twins—now have a claim to fame. Although the episode of Fear Factor in which they each drank a big glass of donkey semen was cancelled, and although the network told them to remain silent about what they did, the story leaked and made international news.
The Odioso twins can now join Balloon Boy and Octomom and Kate Gosselin and every “Bachelor” and “Bachelorette” ever as poster children for how being preposterous can bring instant notoriety.
This would just be a cautious tale about two foolish twins, were it not increasingly the story of our society. Being “famous”—a part of the show, if you will—is now what millions upon millions of people care about, and they’ll do what they have to do to satisfy themselves—in whatever bizarre or anemic ways they deem acceptable—that they are on the road there.
I have been warning about this trend as the single, greatest threat to our culture for years. It is a true scourge. It is a psychological epidemic that is virulent beyond any known before. It is more ominous to us as a population than cancer or AIDS. Because a narcissistic people lost in the pursuit of something as vanishing as notoriety is a people who cannot summon real character, nor empathize with one another, nor pursue momentous deeds, nor achieve genuine greatness.
Note, for instance, that when a presidential candidate speaks boldly of colonizing space and demanding that people work, he is rewarded with contempt and ridicule.
Back in 1964, when Marshall McLuhan wrote the groundbreaking "Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man," he described precisely what is befalling us—a collapse into the very technologies we have created, a dissolving of our best intentions into billions of pixels. He said the most dangerous media were “cold” media which invite people into them to “complete them.” Without even knowing the exponential, extraordinary way that reality TV and the Internet and iPods would confirm his worst fears, he warned that such media can deprive people of their senses of self, fracture their focus and determine their destiny.
Reality TV shows are just one manifestation of our dizzying descent and dissolution into media. It isn’t an accident that people post self-destructive videos and videos hurtful to others on YouTube. Sometimes they actually commit crimes and post the evidence right online. Maybe they reason they’re just entertainers. And how can playacting, after all, actually hurt anyone? Or maybe they are “high” on the drug of narcissim and fame-seeking—inhaling themselves like lines of coke and then exhaling on the rest of us.
On Second Life people create whole alternate lives for themselves.
They may be cobblers by day, but at night, staring blindly into monitors, they can be make-believe billionaires. And parts of them really do believe. People have paid thousands of dollars for animated castles to “live” in. People have divorced in real life (whatever that’s worth now) because of virtual infidelities committed by their avatars on Second Life.
Yet Facebook, which just filed for what may prove to be the biggest IPO in history, is the most obvious manifestation of our wholesale flight into fame and fantasy.
On Facebook, everyone creates his or her own reality show version of himself, complete with handpicked video, photographs and text, and then (if they make their information “public,” which wrongly implies that the public ought actually care) broadcasts it, sharing it with hundreds or thousands of “friends,” many or most or all of whom actually aren’t that person’s friends at all.
Please note that as I write this about Facebook, knowing its downside, I maintain a Facebook page with thousands of “friends.” That’s how irresistible this drug of abuse is, how threatening this epidemic has become. Even someone sounding the alarm about it is getting high on it.
Lies have consequences. Lies about others are dangerous. But lies about the self are the most dangerous of all.
We are now in the grips of a panicked flight to fame, which is always a flight away from self and substance. It is unsustainable. The truth always wins. Neither science, nor nature, nor God will have it any other way.
And we face and will continue to face nations in the world who really, truly despise us and wish we would all die, economic challenges that really, truly can end our prosperity and the American Experiment, diseases that really, truly can threaten us with calamity.
These tests of character really, truly determine our fate as individuals, families and as a people. And I worry about the odds of a donkey semen-drinking, boozing, drugging, Facebooking, fame-obsessed culture finding it’s core self—which is good and decent and determined to protect those truths we take to be self-evident.
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