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Why are young people so obsessed with becoming famous?

Is it because of shows like "American Idol?" Does the obsession ever go away?

The new season of "American Idol" kicked off not long ago and while watching the first episode and seeing thousands and thousands of people gathered to get their shot at being a pop star, I was reminded of just how many people want to be famous and live the life of a celebrity.

And although "American Idol" is responsible for laying down that now cemented short path to fame, the huge singing competition is just one out of hundreds that people hope will turn them into the next Carrie Underwood or Jennifer Hudson.

But just why is our modern-day culture so obsessed with fame?

Certainly wanting to be the next big celebrity isn’t anything new, as each generation had its portion of wannabe rock, movie and TV stars, but since the rise of the Internet, along with its ability to give the average person an immediate audience, the kid who spent his time gazing at the ceiling dreaming of stardom from his bed, has leapt off the mattress and headed to the nearest computer to show the world what he can do artistically.

What’s also different from past generations are the many examples that young people see on television these days of a person going from an unknown to a global sensation seemingly overnight.

It’s a little scary, but it seems that an extremely large portion of kids would rather be Kim Kardashian or Justin Bieber rather than the lawyers and the accountants that manage their brands, and what’s even scarier is that many of these kids won’t just stop at dreaming of fame, some will ignore their personal responsibilities and put more realistic goals, like being a valedictorian, on the back burner.

Famous for being famous

Orville Gilbert Brim, author of Look at Me! The Fame Motive from Childhood to Death, says that today’s culture is full of people who don’t want to be famous for a particular talent, they just want to be famous so they can feel better accepted.

Brim pointed to several surveys that showed there are at least 4 million people in the United States who make becoming famous their chief goal in life, and these statistics were pulled from findings in 2009. And one would have to assume those numbers have swelled over the last four years, with even more signing competitions and reality shows being broadcast.

“These millions of people who are so strongly motivated for fame are obviously different from the rest of the population,”  said Brim in a published interview with the University of Michigan.

“And what has happened is the fame motive has come out of the basic human need for acceptance and approval and when this need is not fulfilled because of rejection by parents, or adolescent peer groups, or others, a basic insecurity develops and emerges as the fame motive.”

Brim also differentiates the various ways people hope to become famous, from wanting to achieve celebrity through a great accomplishment, to wanting to be associated with someone who is already famous, like a prominent family or famous actress.

But what’s most prominent in today’s culture, especially among younger people wanting to be famous, is becoming a celebrity without displaying a talent or putting in any kind of work. Simply put, these folks just want the benefits of being in front of the camera and have no desire of being away from the camera to perfect a craft.

“More in the news these days is what I call ‘calls for attention,’” said Brim.

Fame and renown

“Celebrity comes from the Latin noun meaning ‘fame and renown’, but these days, it has a new meaning, which designates someone who has become a public figure through seeking media exposure. These persons, which seem to be increasing in number, have done nothing that deserves to be publically praised as an achievement. They’re simply calling attention to themselves,” he said.

After studying a group of 1,032 sixteen-year-olds, a team of UK researchers determined that more than half had no desire to go into professions that didn’t involve being a celebrity.

Some might say this is normal and will eventually fade away, but seeing that the age of 16 is only two years from adulthood, and the age one potentially goes to college, there’s a good chance these kids and others like them will bring their fame pursuits into adulthood.

The research team also pointed out that many young people don’t know what it takes to apply a talent in order to achieve a respectable kind of notoriety, so many go the faster route and may do things they will regret later in life, like posting an inappropriate or salacious YouTube video.

In a separate study conducted by the Pew Research Center among 18- to 25-year-olds, researchers found that even getting rich is less important than becoming famous among some young people.

Many media experts say the fact that people can be themselves and don’t necessarily have to display a talent, makes it seem much less challenging to be on TV these days, so people are even further motiviated to pursue fame.

A persistent obsession

What also may sound troubling to some, is the fact that the fame bug is extremely hard to stomp out, and many people will chase unrealistic pursuits  their whole lives and most will live in a perpetual state of disappointment, says Brim.

“The fundamental truth about the fame motive is that it’s never satisfied and people have to live with it all their lives. However hard they try to become famous, they’ll fail to get what they’re after,” he says.

“This brings many defeats into their lives and later in life, when this final reality sets in, the realization one’s never going to become famous, the person must take steps to protect the self from this feeling of failure.”

“Some interesting psychological processes occur, what I call ‘cognitive strategies,’ such as blaming someone else for one’s failure, finding new people to compare yourself to who are even less successful, or to the devaluation of others who may have become famous,” Brim says.

What’s also interesting, says the author, is that the percentage of people wanting to become famous hasn’t really increased that much over the years, and it’s just the fact that there are more avenues today for people to become celebrities, so it  just seems like today’s kids want fame more than the kids of past generations.

Brim also points out some interesting figures about the number of people who will be sorely disappointed in their pursuit of fame.

“Out of the 4 million fame seekers, if you look at the Halls of Fame and biographies around the world, there are perhaps only 30,00 entries and of those, perhaps 10,000 are dead," he says. 

"So this leaves about 20,000 slots for 4 million fame seekers, which is going to leave 3,980,000 people with no opening where they can be famous.”

But I doubt these figures will keep people from trying to be the next Kim Kardashian.

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