The word celebrity used to hold different meaning to the connotations affiliated to it now. Before the advent of reality television, celebrity was a consequence of public achievement, and represented a status that was earned through endeavours in film, television or literature. Actors who had starred in numerous feature films were defined by their career achievement, and celebrity was a following corollary of their deeds.
In today’s age, this has changed. Rather than celebrity being an effect of a person’s ability or career, it has become a direct aspiration to an entire generation. Youngsters growing up throughout the world no longer desire to be famous actors, writers or sportsmen, but instead yearn for fame and the perceived ideals of a celebrity status. People are now able to leap from anonymity to celebrity without anything tangible to bridge the cavernous chasm.
Celebrity and Reality Television
The increasing desire for celebrity status has coincided with the dramatic rise in reality television programming. Reality TV itself is a fairly new phenomenon, where producers are able to create cost effective programs that portray ordinary members of the public, either through the trials of their daily lives or in a recreated and faux scenario. These shows save both time and money for producers, perfect in a recession or through the steady progress through economic recovery. The extremes of celebrity and reality television have formed factions of a vicious cycle that has repeated for over a decade now.
Reality shows are created as an exercise in frugal programming, which then appeal to certain sections of a de-motivated society who aspire to something vague and easy to attain. Increased demand then encourages schedules and producers to create more and more examples of reality programming. There are two potential issues with this. Firstly, writers and actors are finding decreasing opportunities for work, and secondly there is a danger that young adults are being exposed to less challenging and intellectually stimulating programming that encourages their thirst fore celebrity.
Creating Interest or Apathy?
Many writers and actors undergo specialized education and training in order to perform their craft. Unfortunately, such talents do not come cheaply, but producers are no longer in a position to compete for participants in their projects and commit funding to actors and writers salaries. This rendering many talented individuals without employment, as unscripted programs air in their thousands throughout the US. This is where the concern around celebrity and our next generation becomes uncomfortably pertinent.
Young, impressionable television watchers are being taught that it is not necessary to pursue a skill or vocation to find fame and fortune. They are encouraged to believe that they are more likely to work in lucrative roles or appear on television programs if they are average or dysfunctional than they are if they are skilled, and that any investment in specific education is futile and a waste of their young lives. This is a serious issue amongst older children and young teenagers, who are finding themselves directly influenced by programming and reality stars who have become celebrities without any application of skill.
Of course, this is assuming that these impressionable viewers are encouraged to aspire to anything at all. The cheap and unstructured nature of reality programming does little more than reflect and example of real life or people, and arguably lacks any semblance of intellectual or aspirational value. By watching television programming that does not successfully evoke emotion, awareness or discourse; its viewers are gradually exposed to increased levels of apathy and empathy towards real life situations and scenarios. This issue can manifest itself in daily instances and create undesirable behavioural trends.
Delusions of Grandeur
While the problems are clear, the resolutions are less so. We live in age where celebrity has had its meaning and significance altered by the primary type of television prevalent today, leaving many young adults and teenagers aspiring to be famous rather than aspiring to achieve something where fame is a secondary consequence. This is dangerous, as it creates a generation of people who seek reward without the necessary toil, and also leaves them devoid of security and inspiration in later life.
There is little if anything that society can do in the wider context, as reality television and the fixation on celebrity has become so prevalent and convenient for producers that they simply suit too many requirements. However, as guardians and individuals we have the opportunity to regulate our children’s and our own television exposure, ensuring that suitable and intellectual programming can be sought and enjoyed. By understanding that we are all influenced to some degree by what we read, watch and hear, then independent members of society can help maintain their levels of intellectual stimulation and development.