Home » Essay » Essay: “Those Five Seconds of Fame”

Essay: “Those Five Seconds of Fame”

I have mused before on how our modern society with its high speed broadband connections and smartphones, which always keep us connected with the rest of the world have made us more impatient. We crave news when it happens, we watch live feeds of Apple revealing their new iPhone and we keep ourselves updated on Twitter and other channels. Yet there is also another side to this; that we want to showcase ourselves on the net, to make our mark and contribution to that stream of information. This is something that taps into an old desire we all carry within ourselves, it’s that we all strive for immortality in some fashion. In some way we all want to leave our mark on the world before we leave it. The most common form of this is actually having children, or at least to encourage our siblings to reproduce, for in this manner we guarantee that some small part of us, our genes live on for a little while longer. But for those that don’t want to be so subtle about their mark on the world, there are other ways to make your name and person well-known to generations after you. You might become a writer, or a scholar, a person of some distinction, but really, even the old Romans found another way to etch their names into history, quite literally, even if their minds were plain and their voices uneducated: Graffiti. The walls of old Pompeii have scribbling from people from thousands of years ago, hands that may or may not have perished in that famed volcano eruption that buried the city for over a millennium. That form of expression, to achieve a kind of immortality lives on even today, though graffiti today is seen as more of a nuisance than anything else and its often erased within days or even hours of its creation by men with cleaning equipment and solvents. Today, those hungering for a bit of spotlight that might last longer than an ink mark on a park bench have more options to choose from. Even before YouTube was created and thus made it easier for users to share videos online, the first reality shows graced our television sets. In the late 90s the first “Survivor” began to air in Sweden, about a bunch of people sent out to a tropical island to survive with little food and competing against each other for a grand prize. The competitors were normal people, school teachers, housewives, police officers, chefs, entrepreneurs and bus drivers, anyone who thought they’d be able to cope with the ordeal of being in such a harsh climate away from their family for weeks. Much of the focus was on the interactions between the competitors, how they formed bands that voted each other off the island. This received plenty of criticism, but at the same time, anyone who won was more or less guaranteed a spot in the tabloids for years to come, for longer than that if they played their cards right (like the original winner who married a famous detective novel writer). With the success of Survivor, because despite the controversy it drew plenty of viewers and thus advertisers and money, other similar shows began to pop up. Only two years later the first “Big Brother” arrived on the air and with this show the entire focus was on the interactions between its competitors, a group of people who were shut inside a house for 100 days, with access to food and drink, but little else when it comes to entertainment, other than each other. And of course they had to vote each other out of the house until just one winner remained. Though the first seasons had mixed ages, future seasons saw the ages restricted to people in their 20s more or less and the big question in the viewer’s minds were, how long until the people in the house begin to pair up and use the bedrooms for something besides sleeping. Even the people in the Big Brother house could craft a career out of their stint in the house if they were just controversial enough to become a viewer favorite. If they created just enough of a scandal without shaming themselves too much they might have more than a few seconds of fame once they were back in the real world. The 90s saw the birth of this format, the reality series, the genre possibly named for The Real World, an MTV show featuring youths living together in one house, credited with launching the genre. It’s relatively cheap to produce, since you don’t have any actors, just a bunch of normal people in one set environment just doing what they always do, or so they claim. If there’s one criticism that always pops up now and then from former reality show stars it’s how they feel they were misrepresented and how cuts in the film made them say things out of context, which made them look worse than they are. It’s true that some of the early reality series brought into the spotlight a lot of important issues to those who watched, like poverty and homelessness, homosexuality and AIDS, abortion, prejudice and politics. The genre can also be credited to giving birth to similar shows like the many “Idol”, the “Got Talent” versions, “Top Chef”, “Master Chef”, “So You Think You Can Dance”, “Project Runway”, “Top Model” and other similar shows where people with a certain talent in a given area can be discovered from among hundreds of eager teenagers and adults, looking for a break. Some genuine gems have been discovered from some of these shows, who might have remained undiscovered otherwise. But for those that don’t have any real special talent that fit in any of these above formats, those who get knocked out early during audition tours, what can they do to still achieve that fame they surely strive for? Well, then it’s a good thing there are billions of other reality shows where the demands on those featured are not as harsh, where you don’t have to perform in any way, where immaturity and irresponsible behavior isn’t a bad thing, but a selling point. Whole families with some sort of quirk or special thing about them have been launched into infamy thanks to the reality series, tabloids loudly contributing to keeping their shows on the air by reporting on the details of their life that does not fit on public television. And that’s the part where I stop to wonder where it will all end. MTV used to be a music channel, a place where I once upon a time could go to find the latest music videos or just watch old goodies in all their various music shows, but now it’s mostly a network of reality shows, an endless parade of teenagers misbehaving or pregnant. Most every money hungry network tries to squeeze some reality show into their line-up and there seems to be a competition for the zaniest, goofiest new people to feature in their reality show. Where does it end indeed? Yet, have we not brought this upon ourselves? As I spoke of earlier, mankind has always had this aspiration towards immortality and to be noticed. Why else is it so common that upset consumers who find a hair in their soup, a cryptic message scribbled on their ice cream carton by a bored factory worker and a bug in their bag of salad rush to tell their story to a newspaper, allowing them to cry about it all over the internet edition. So, what better way to feel truly immortal than to be featured on national TV? To have video clips of you shared online with millions of people worldwide on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook? Though voices have been raised about the exploitation of these normal people who appear on reality series, are they not coming to these auditions out of their own free will, knowing what the consequences might be of appearing on TV? There must be a willingness to participate in these kinds of shows, a steady stream of people interested in appearing or the reality genre would be dead by now. As long as there is money to be made on reality shows, as long as it can be packaged in shiny paper, as long as there is a steady supply of participants that aren’t too shocking for advertisers, then the TV networks will continue to produce them. I am certain that even now there are some forms of talent scouts out there, looking for the next thing to package and sell to the public. Something controversial enough to keep people tuned in every week, but not too shocking so they’ll stop watching. And we will all swallow it, hook line and sinker. It’s all fine and good to complain about all the reality shows that exist today, that certain networks seem so full of them, that it’s the death of creativity. We can protest and boycott and change the channel, but as long as enough people still tune in to watch, as long as they buy products related to them, then they will never go away. And that also means that reality shows will always be there for those who want those five or more seconds of fame, flashing by on our television screens, their names forever going down in infamy. Actually, I think some of those Roman scribblers would have approved.

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