Whatever Happened to Not Focusing on Fame?

The above infographic was published in yesterday's Boston Globe Magazine, accompanying an article about the current obsession among kids today with the quest for fame. It's sad--I grew up on Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, and Alf--and as the image notes, such sitcoms and countless others focused on "community feeling" and "self acceptance." Today, the TV schedule is infested with reality shows, many of which exist for the sole purpose of giving the average person a shot at celebrity status, whether it's American Idol, America's Got No Talent (I mean, America's Got Talent), The Voice, and that God-awful show Toddlers and Tiaras

You don't need a retro themed blog to tell you the kind of twisted message these shows send to our kids. It's baffling to me because I don't think there's been another time in history when the idea of celebrity is less appealing. Before the Internet and the proliferation of entertainment news shows, we didn't always find out about a movie star or singer's bad behavior, but the Internet has made exposing the downside of fame incredibly fast and widespread. When Lindsay Lohan is arrested for DUI, we know about it in a nanosecond, and it's immediately picked up by every major news outlet. I'm less than impressed by much of the behavior I've seen coming out of Hollywood in the past ten years; why the hell would any parent want their child to be exposed to it? 

Many of today's children also cannot seem to handle rejection well. The schools give out gold stars and awards to everyone with the convoluted thinking that it builds self esteem, when in fact it's just setting kids up for disaster when they encounter the real world. When Howard Stern refused to allow a young singer to go onto the next round on America's Got Talent a few weeks ago, it made the news because the boy broke down in tears on stage. Another girl who lost on the show could be seen crying, "You promised!" to her mother as she went to comfort her. WTF--the mother promised her daughter she would win the show? 

I've tried to figure out what is causing this unhealthy thirst for celebrity. I think a lot of it goes hand in hand with our obsession with acquiring material possessions and wealth. What faster way to put money in your bank and your child's bank account by making them a star? I also think there's a lot of parents with low self-esteem who are living vicariously through their children.

Getting back to the TV graphic--growing up, I only remember three talent shows on TV: Star Search, The Gong Show (which we so desperately need to bring back) and a local Boston weekend show called Community Auditions. With the exception of The Gong Show, I found these programs incredibly boring; Community Auditions always seemed to feature the same girl with the flat voice belting out "Tomorrow" from Annie week after week, without fail. I'm just keeping my fingers crossed that eventually, everyone will find out that they cannot all be famous, and we can call it a day on these talent shows and put some original programming back on the air.


  1. I miss the Gong Show, too. Just an incredibly messed up assault on the game show genre. Paul Reubens and Steve Martin both were contestants (although Mr. Martin was already well on his way to success). chuck Barris' "autobiography" 'Confessions of a Dangerous Minds' contends that he was a government spy/hit man while running the Gong Show, true or not the book is a hoot to read.

  2. Excellent piece, Pam--I've been thinking the same thing more and more, but maybe the trend is dying down. I just read that American Idol's season finale was their lowest rated one ever, and that show makes a good example. For all the great talent that appeared on that show in the last decade, how many achieved real, lasting fame?

    But it does seem like a lot of kids today not only want fame but actually feel they're ENTITLED to it. My 7 year old niece rehearses Taylor Swift songs in her room, not for fun but in preparation for her "big break". I love that little girl like none other, but I think the kid is tone-deaf!

  3. If these shows were the worst than we would be in good shape. What about shows like big brother or beauty and the geek?
    I can understand that a person want to live their passion or their art, but how is it that the main passion today is fame?
    Its not that kids want to be singers - they want to be famous....Its all part of the fast, throw-a-way culture we live in.

  4. Regularjoe - I saw "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind." I enjoyed the movie; not so sure I believe Barris' claim to be a spy, but who knows. Kevin Spacey tried to get on the show as a stand-up comic.

    Doug - Thank you, and you raise a good point about how many American Idol winners are still in the regular spotlight today. I know Katherine McPhee is on "Smash" (because I love that show) but folks like Clay Aiken have become a joke. And sadly, that's true about kids having this convoluted thinking that they're entitled to fame. Hopefully your niece will find something else that she realizes she's naturally talented at.

    Ruth - the shows I mentioned were listed because the post is about children wanting fame, but the adult reality shows like the ones you mentioned are no better.

    JZ - Great point about these types of shows being cost effective to make. Why spend millions of dollars on a well made drama, when a network can have five reality shows on for the same cost? Re: Lindsay Lohan, she actually used to be a child actress and had some talent and potential at one point, but addictions got in the way. Now she's more famous for her downward spiral. Paris Hilton is another person whose fame really gets my goat--she isn't famous for anything.

  5. I know that I'm a bit late (by five years) in commenting on this post. I actually once saw a bumper sticker on a car that said "My child was student of the WEEK at -- --
    school." What a laugh, even though this was a serious bumper sticker. As a culture of celeb worshipers we believe that ANYONE can be famous, if only they get discovered on YOUTUBE or some other social media site.


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