Jon & Kate and the balloon boy hoax are the latest in what is growing into a disturbing, albeit ever-expanding list of fame addicts; people who become famous, simply because they crave fame. I’m already beginning to miss the tabloid-hell days of Paris Hilton and Brittney Spears. We have hit a new deranged zenith when it comes to fame addiction. This is a strange malady. The most bizarre aspect of this addiction is that fame, in whatever form it comes, is the objective. It used to be that fame was the desired byproduct of a triumphant career. You became famous because you were a successful actor, or you recorded a hit song, or created a unique new product. Now fame, in and of itself, is truly the name of the game.
How did we get here? From my perspective it goes back to the O.J. Simpson murder trial. That was perhaps the first true reality show. A real life trial became a form of entertainment, beating the ratings of most daytime shows that went head to head with it. We then had a flurry of celebrities-gone-wrong tabloid stories. These celebrities gained media coverage for their notoriety not for their talent. Paris Hilton then took the forefront, becoming internationally famous for, well… for being Paris. Next came the true seismic shift, as reality TV began to make its mark. People began to see that they could become famous not for their talent, or their art, but for the simple act of humiliating themselves in front of the world. Apparently for many that’s a trade-off that is more than worth it. Not only are there people who are willing to go to these lengths to grab attention at any cost, but that there is a vast audience willing and eager to watch them do so.
Then there is the business angle, the dollars and cents reason these people exist. We have a voracious 24/7 news cycle. Along with the networks and cable, we now have blogs and social media sites. For years now, the news has been more entertainment-based than news-oriented. But, more importantly, (going back to my O.J. theory) after producers saw the numbers generated by the O.J. trial, light bulbs went off from coast to coast. What if they created their own sensationalistic programs? What if they did away with actors, writers, directors, did away with production values and had people humiliate one another on national TV? How inexpensive would it be to produce a series of flavor-of-the-month reality shows as opposed to trying to launch another ER, Friends or Boston Legal? But, would anyone watch? You bet!
It is all a piece, as I see it. You have people who otherwise would have no chance at media exposure, who now dominate the spotlight. You have production companies and networks that realize the value of this type of fame-addicted media personality and you have a public that is being conditioned to watch human train-wrecks as entertainment. So, we end up with The Bachelor, Wife Swap and The Real Housewife’s of Atlanta as our entertainment and metallic hot air balloon hoaxes as the lead stories on the evening news. I suppose we’ve earned it.
Copyright © Anthony Mora 2009