Posted on January 22, 2008
Filed Under Culture & Technology |
CNET News.com’s Caroline McCarthy has written an interesting (if not entirely enlightened) article and for somebody who “believes that, despite popular opinion, the Web can actually help your social life,” Caroline, surprisingly, comes closer to getting it right than I thought she could.
Her article is inspired by the case of Corey Delaney, a 16 year-old Australian who got in big trouble for throwing a wild party and proceeded to become yet another Internet celebrity when a video of his ridiculous television news interview spread virally through the legions of YouTube time wasters. His now-famous line, “I’ll say sorry, but I’m not taking off my glasses” has now been turned into a t-shirt. Just what the world needs.
We’re the Naked Generation, and we’ve forged quirky shamelessness and the potential for viral buzz into weapons for success. In just a few short years we’ve become experts in self-branding, using the tactics of celebrity exhibitionism with a heaping dose of clever irony as a means to propel ourselves to the top. We’ve accepted that pointing cameras at our faces is geeky and awkward, but that’s all right, because we embrace all things geeky and awkward.
But every generation of trend-setting youth hits a moment when it devolves into self-parody. We came dangerously close with the too-Ivy-League-to-be-true Aleksey Vayner and his YouTube resume last year and came even closer with the “Halloween fairy” incident, in which a young man in the finance industry was caught red-handed faking a sick day when Facebook photos involving cheap beer and a Tinkerbell costume showed otherwise.
I would argue that this notion of “YouTube celebrity” devolved into self-parody a while ago and the only people who haven’t gotten the memo that it’s not cute are the narcisssitc Millennials who think they’re special.
Despite the fact that Caroline recognizes that “the avowed transparency that has shaped Generation Y can veer into a staged act,” she still misses the point by equating “fame” with “success.” I don’t know where she gets the notion that such shameless exhibitionism has propelled people to “the top.” Perhaps in the warped, small world many Millennials live in, the front of YouTube and the 15 minutes of fame it brings is “the top,” but for the average mature adult, I think “the top” means something completely different.
Of course, we’re still trying to figure out what to do with the potential for self-propelled viral fame. Look at the difference between two of online videos’ first big stars: the Internet fame of the “Star Wars Kid,” who first emerged on the Web in late 2002 as the result of a nasty high school prank, resulted in lawsuits and therapy. Two years later, Gary Brolsma’s “Numa Numa Dance” video spiraled into a much bigger success than the teen could have imagined, and what happened? Media appearances, stories in The New York Times, and video contests sponsored by StupidVideos.com.
In between was 2003, the year of the Paris Hilton sex tape. It was also the year of Old School, when the drunken faux-pas of Will Ferrell’s “Frank the Tank” became fraternity legend. (”We’re going streaking!”) This was the year that being Naked, whether intentionally or unintentionally, didn’t just become acceptable; it became social capital. Last year, 18-year-old Caitlin Upton, better known as Miss Teen South Carolina of viral-video fame, parlayed her apparent lack of brains into a modeling deal with Donald Trump’s agency. Bet those “U.S. Americans,” as she put it, aren’t laughing at her now. OK, maybe they are, but their ridicule is making her famous.
Again, Caroline misses the point. “Fame” does not equal “success” and “fame” at the expense of your own dignity is a hollow victory. In the words of Jay-Z:
And I ain’t even want to be famous
N***** is brainless to unnecessarily go through these changes
And I don’t even know how I came to this
Except that fame is the worst drug known to man
It’s stronger than heroin, when you can look in the mirror like “there I am”
And still not see what you’ve become
I know I’m guilty of it too, but not like them
There was once a time when those seeking fame and fortune sought to accomplish it by demonstrating some sort of real talent. The fact that Millennials seek fame through a demonstration of shameless stupidity, and are sometimes given it, is emblematic of the decline of our culture. Far too often, ambitious Millennials with big dreams would rather be Paris Hilton, a trashy heiress who offers nothing of value to society, instead of Oprah Winfrey, a self-made woman who has essentially built her own empire. The former probably grabs more headlines than the latter but is not nearly as respected.
The “fame” attained through a demonstration of stupidity is usually quite fleeting, often merely an illusion and should be distinguished from the type of fame that develops from respect. For instance, in the case of Caitlin Upton, whose only claim to “fame” is her ignorance, probably isn’t getting the last laugh. If Caroline knew anything about the modeling industry, she’d realize that getting signed by an agency (especially Donald Trump’s) means nothing. This does not guarantee Caitlin any deals; modeling agencies don’t know what to do with 95% of their girls. Caitlin most likely will fail to develop a real modeling career and will fade into the same oblivion that most models do. It’s probably all too often the same for most Internet celebrities: there is no real long-term success (financial, professsional, etc.) achieved when everything stems from others recognizing and becoming amused or enchanted by your stupidity.
Caroline goes on to further lose the plot:
Some naysayers (you know, from older generations) continue to tell us, that our breed of ambition won’t cut it in the working world. The Corey Delaney video reopened all sorts of nasty monologues about the obnoxious narcissism of Generation Y and how all these darned under-30s are going to have to grow up and turn off their cell phone cameras, stat.
That’s not true. Corporate recruiters for historically not-so-creative companies are turning to virtual worlds and viral video sites to find their next great minds (Aleksey Vayner notwithstanding). They know we’ve got potential, and they’re hoping that our success in generating mass buzz through social media will translate to the boardroom. If we can make ourselves look good and pull in a following, they reason, we can do the same for their companies.
This is pure bullshit. I’ve yet to see anyone but Hollywood agents and TV producers scouring YouTube for “talent.” When the CIA starts recruiting its next batch of field operatives on YouTube and Goldman Sachs starts leveraging (no pun intended) MySpace to find the next generation of analysts it can entice into slave labor, then we can talk. Until such time, the statement “They know we’ve got potential, and they’re hoping that our success in generating mass buzz through social media will translate to the boardroom” is little more than delusional, wishful thinking on the part of a Millennial. Note to Caroline:
- Companies are about more than buzz. While most companies want to look good (the buzz), they’re in business to make money (the substance). Filming yourself doing stupid, narcissistic things and getting it on the front page of YouTube is not a career skill. Given the increasing number of young people who have lost a job opportunity because of things they posted online, I think it’s actually safe to say that the Corey Delaneys of the world are not doing themselves any favors by broadcasting their stupidity. When a company finds that a potential employee lacks good judgment, it moves on to better candidates; it doesn’t beg them to take the job because it finds poor judgment cute. Time to return to the real world.
- Millennials don’t belong in the boardroom. The sooner these spoiled brats with entitlement complexes recognize that you typically have to climb the mountain to reach the top, the sooner they’ll be able to come to grips with the fact that they’re probably not going to be running the company before they turn 25.
The most unfortunate thing about Caroline’s article is that instead of lamenting the fact that the Internet celebrity phenomenon is a blight on our culture, she laments the fact that there’s just a whole lot more “fake” stupidity now (as opposed to “authentic” stupidity, right?). Fortunately, she almost recovers by ending the article with this:
“Being earnest, I think it’s going to make a comeback soon,” Van Veen told me. “You can only pile on so much irony until you’ve lost what you were talking about.”
I would comment that when it comes to all of the narcissistic behavior being promoted by Internet culture, the only thing we have to lose is our collective decency because we are not talking about anything meaningful in the first place.Print This Post