- Blame it on reality TV.
- Blame it on the entrenched loneliness of postmodern Africa.
- Blame it on an educational curriculum that was designed to promote self-esteem but ended up overshooting the mark.
- Pick your cultural poison. The result remains the same: African teenagers of nowadays are fixated on fame. More than a third of them would prefer it to beauty, intelligence or strength.
- Pipe dream or not, those expectations spell big trouble for the culture now and for years to come.
Generally everything in life comes in pairs. Not in terms of opposites but in terms of ensuring balance in existence. Like rights come with duty, freedom comes with responsibility and so on.
The secret is to identify the pairs. Some of them are visible and taken for granted. For some others, you have to play something like a memory game…you have to search out the pair. When any concept is understood along with its pair then it becomes firmly rooted and gives more results than when it is tackled or pursued in isolation.
One such single which is hunting for its pair is fame. Most people seek fame. Some want international recognition and work towards that, some want national acclaim and yet others are happy being the leader in the family circle or the local community. Again the reason for the fame and the talent being showcased can be as varied as flowers in a garden. To celebrate the idea of fame we have also many record books that document the first ever in different fields.
Our quest for fame is perhaps only younger than our quest for truth. Psychologists say that every human being seeks immortality and therefore seeks fame…so that they live beyond their calendar years, at least in name. And that is why there is the obsession to ‘become’.
In touch with reality
Of course, most young people dreaming about red carpets won’t ever walk down one. But their dreams don’t come cheap either.
According to me, posting inappropriate pictures on Instagram/Facebook, broadcasting details of relationships on Facebook, and tweeting every thought and action are just a few of the ways ordinary teens live out their desire for the spotlight. They treat their own life like celebrity magazines treat the lives of the stars, shining the spotlight perpetually on themselves.
In that process, “teens sacrifice appropriate boundaries.” And the more boundaries teens sacrifice, the more they run the risk of being humiliated and exploited “by information that should have stayed private.”
Unrealistic expectations of fame also have consequences that can last long after the demise of Facebook.
Most of us are not called to be great saints, great leaders, and great anything, we’re just called to be ordinary people doing ordinary things — loving our children, keeping our homes in good repair, walking humbly with our God. That’s the way God made us. And he made it so that there is tremendous joy to be derived from the everyday, ordinary world. The more people desire what’s not ordinary — fame, celebrity, instant greatness — the less joy they’ll find in life.”
And the less likely it is that they’ll seek after what will bring them that joy.
“To possess the virtue of humility means to be in touch with reality”. “Ultimately, sanctity is about getting in touch with reality, about understanding who God is and what the purpose of life is,” a wise man once told me.
The danger of seeking after or expecting fame is that it generates and affirms desires in us that aren’t healthy or true. It takes us away from reality. And that reality isn’t a burden. Holiness isn’t a burden. It’s a gift God offers us. That’s the purpose for which we were created. And that is the only way we’ll ever find true happiness, true joy.
Fame brings immediate power. Sometimes the power of fame may not bring any wealth. But it brings honour and respect. What makes the fame lasting? What pairs with fame? Much too often fame is confused with the riches it might bring. It is believed that if money is made, dignity and respect will naturally accrue. That is not entirely untrue. Money does buy many things…but that which is bought, also sells, is it not? As the market decides the price for such things, the hall of fame remains, but the substance that makes it, in terms of adulation and trust that the famous inspire, gets whittled down.
On looking a little closer, one finds that, since the power wielded by fame is derived from it, lasting fame will accrue only when you recognise from whom you have derived that power and invest power back in them or that. Sacred books live eternally because they invest the reader with the power of divine blessing. Leaders derive their power from the people, parents from their children, a cook from the people who savor his food, a designer from his craftsmen and so it goes, in every field of life.
The pair of fame is thus service, which is to be useful. When there is service, fame comes automatically and this fame is rooted in a noble activity. To remember this is the path to the kind of fame that lives after you is what makes you immortal. That is why a good teacher is remembered at all times and is ‘famous’ among students of the school and their families.
Antidotes to the fame bug
Ask a different question: “We spend a lot of time asking kids, ‘what do you want to do when you grow up?’ Instead, we need to ask them, ‘Who is God calling you to be?'” By promoting the idea of vocation and helping children understand the greatest thing they can do is God’s will, I believe parents can direct the innate desire for greatness to its proper end — holiness.
Make kids wait: The allure of Hollywood style celebrity is rooted in its ease. It is described as “winning the lottery but with more glamour.” Accordingly, parents should teach their children that patience, hard work and self-discipline pay off. It’s important to let kids know that we care about them and that we understand waiting is hard. But it’s dangerous to give your child everything they want right when they want it.
Teach children how to make small sacrifices: Whether it’s avoiding sweets on Fridays, forgoing a favorite television show or tithing part of their allowance, small sacrifices teach children that giving up something they want a little can help them achieve something they want a lot. Helping children understand “that sometimes we have to make difficult choices to better ourselves,” helps them develop the self-discipline they need to grow in holiness, as well as develop deep, lasting relationships.
Encourage children to develop talents in service to God: Whether it’s a quick mind, a beautiful voice or a charming personality, all talents are gifts from God and ultimately meant to glorify him. I strongly advise parents to redirect their children’s desire to use their talents for fame and glory to instead use them for God. From singing in the choir to evangelizing on a school mission trip, activities that nurture and direct young people’s talents in that way will “help them become the person God made them to be, and find real satisfaction.”
I see that this problem and the obsession causes it as a sign of the spiritual emptiness of contemporary culture, or as Pope Benedict XVI often refers to it, “the anti-culture.”
There’s something deeply antithetical to culture itself in this obsession. There’s a pettiness, a smallness that works against building true culture, which is about heritage, traditions received and devotion to a way of life.
The more people seek to be fed by mass idols, the more they become incapable of appreciating ordinary culture, of making it, remembering it, loving it. We end up becoming fools of the mass market.
And like all those young people obsessed with becoming famous, those simply obsessed with the famous also end up losing their perspective on reality.
Teenage girls who spend all their time looking at supermodels can no longer appreciate their own beauty, the beauty of an ordinary human body. Men are infected in the same way. If a celebrity’s life becomes your ideal of what a human life should look like, you’ll never appreciate the greatness of the human lives around you, including your own.
People chase things in life for myriad of reasons. It could be what they lacked as a child, it could be what they learned growing up. It could also be what has been hammered into their heads. I think most people naturally want love and respect. How much wealth we chase depends on how materialistic we are or what we are responsible for. Some people never needed much money, but they made a lot so their kids could go to private schools and college. And when that they are grown, all they need is their love and respect.