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Monday, July 23, 2012

New Celebrity: Lifting Up the Famous and the Infamous

"Eighty-one percent of 18- to 25-year-olds surveyed
in a Pew Research Center poll (2007)
said getting rich is their generation's most important
 or second-most-important life goal;
51% said the same about being famous."

"We're seeing the common person become famous for being themselves," says David Morrison of the Philadelphia-based research firm Twentysomething Inc. MTV and reality TV are in large part fueling these youthful desires, he says.

"Look at Big Brother and other shows. People being themselves can be incredibly famous and get sponsorship deals, and they can become celebrities," he says. "It's a completely new development in entertainment, and it's having a crossover effect on attitudes and behavior."

The results of the Pew telephone survey of 579 young people describe the "millennial" generation (also known as Gen Y), who were born since the early 1980s and were raised in the glow and glare of their parents' omnipresent cameras. While experts say it's natural for humans to seek attention, these young people revel in it. They're accustomed to being noticed, having been showered with awards and accolades. (Sharon Jayson, "Generation Y's Goal? Wealth and Fame," USA Today, January 10 2007)

Add in the anything-is-possible attitude typical of youth overall, and experts say that even among millennials of lesser economic means, there is an optimism that fame and fortune can happen to anyone.

Where does the desire for fame originate? The desire to be famous comes from a basic human need to be part of a group, said Orville Gilbert Brim, psychologist and author of the new book Look at Me! The Fame Motive From Childhood to Death. Often those who seek fame find the need for acceptance and approval because of rejection by parents, adolescent peer groups, or others. Brim believes insecurity develops in these people and emerges as the fame motive.

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 motive to seek fame.

Ironically, in most cases, fame is not the answer for the need for love and acceptance. The desire is never fulfilled, so the search for fame remains, driven by those basic needs. In fact, Brim estimates four million adults in the U.S. (2 of every 100) have fame as their primary motive. Of course, many will not fulfill their dream of being famous, then experience deep frustration and be faced with adjusting their primary ambitions.

And, Brim says, for a person with the fame motive,
whatever level or strength of fame may be achieved,
it is never enough to either satisfy the fame seeker
or to cause the fame motive to disappear,
leading to what has been called the "16th minute of fame,”
the desire to live on in people’s minds after death.

(Orville Gilbert Brim, Look at Me!: The Fame Motive from Childhood to Death, 2009)

Some people seek fame more as a "call for attention" or a desperate need for celebrity they believe can be fulfilled by seeking media exposure. They have done nothing that deserves to be publicly praised as an achievement. A part of this group will do injurious or open evil that brings extraordinary attention to the general public. At times, the infamous act is not done on purpose, it’s an accident, but many other times it is sought. A recent example is the “balloon boy” where the father was seeking fame through this infamous act of pretending the boy was in the balloon in order to gain attention

Studies have called attention to the specific reasons of a desire for fame among the general population. (John Maltby, et al., "Implicit Theories of a Desire for Fame," British Journal of Psychology, December 31 2010) A model has been developed.

A Six-Factor Analytic Model of Conceptions of the Desire To Be Famous

1. Ambition
2. Meaning Derived Through Comparison With Others
3. Psychologically Vulnerable
4. Attention Seeking
5. Conceitedness
6. Social Access

Author and psychologist David Giles argues that fame should be seen as a process rather than a state of being, and that "celebrity" has largely emerged through the technological developments of the last 150 years. (David Giles, Illusions of Immortality: A Psychology of Fame and Celebrity, 2000) The explosion in mass communications has permanently altered the way people live.

However, we know little about many of the phenomena these conditions have produced - such as the "parasocial interaction" between television viewers and media characters, and the quasi-religious activity of  "fans."

The level of coverage given by the news media to certain great crimes appears to encourage unbalanced people, seeking a lasting fame, to copy these crimes.

In an episode of Charlie Brooker's BBC series Newswipe, a forensic psychiatrist outlined the guidelines for news reporting of such a tragedy, assuming that your aim was to prevent further ones.

He says:

If you don’t want to propagate more mass murders… do not start the story with sirens blaring.

Do not have photographs of the killer.

Do not make this 24/7 coverage.

Do everything you can not to make the body count the lead story.

Do not make the killer some kind of anti-hero

Do localize this story to the effected community and as make it as boring as possible in every other market.

Brooker said: "Repeatedly showing us the face of a killer isn't news; it's just rubbernecking. ... this sort of coverage only serves to turn this murdering little twat into a sort of nihilistic pinup boy."

Given the intense media coverage of mass killings, don't these frenzies 

(a) play straight into the perpetrators' tendency to want recognition for their crimes? and

(b) encourage copycat repetitions?

(Robert Wright, "How To Discourage Aurora Copycats," The Atlantic, July 21 2012) 

Can major media outlets police themselves not to play into these dynamics?
Perhaps, media should adopt a code and call for a norm, about not featuring certain things in their coverage of mass murder. The better media can do what our better media has always done as a matter of vocation: It can go on the attack and shame those responsible for social exploitation. (J.J. Gould, "Disrupting the Infamy Game: How to Change the Coverage of Mass Shootings," The Atlantic, 2012)

Twenty years ago author Clayton Cramer considered this possibility.

"Can we develop a code of ethics that resolves this problem? Let us consider the following as a first draft of such a standard: "A crime of violence should be given attention proportionate to its size, relative to other crimes of violence, and relative to the importance of its victim. Violent crime of all types should be given attention, relative to other causes of suffering, proportionate to its social costs." We must develop a strategy for dealing with this problem now -- before another disturbed person decides to claim his fifteen minutes of fame."

(Clayton Cramer, "Ethical Problems of Mass Murder Coverage In The Mass Media," Journal of Mass Media Ethics, 9:1, 1993-94)
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