Over the last two years both Scott and me have heard several teenagers respond to the what-do-you-want-to-do-when-you-grow-up question with one word: famous. “I want to be famous.”
Apparently we’re not the only ones noticing this phenomenon. The witty and extremely entertaining Scottish writer, Andrew O’Hagan, talked about it an interview he did as part of this year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival. He claims that the majority of the girls he talked to at one London high school said they wanted to be famous and didn’t care how. He imagines them all growing into very disappointed adults and sees their desire for fame as a symptom of moral decay.
I’m not sure.
For as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to be a writer, but I had other passing fancies. For a while I wanted to be a film director. But I never did anything about it other than watch lots and lots of movies. I didn’t get my hands on a camera, I didn’t enroll in courses to learn how, I didn’t memorise the movies I watched frame by frame. I just fantasised about making movies, which in my mind was more like writing a novel than having to deal with hundreds of different people—producers, camera people, editors, actors, best boys, digital effects people—and do all the other stuff movie directors have to do. I think I sussed even way back then that directing films was too much hard work. Especially for the likes of me. Directors don’t get to lounge around in their pjs all day.
I suspect that most of the teenagers saying they want to be famous want it the same way I wanted to direct films. Not that much. It’s a shapeless desire. They’re not interested in putting in the hard yakka to achieve it. It’s something to say while they figure out what they really want to do.
Most people don’t know what they want to do till they’re long past high school. For one thing you don’t have that much of a clue about all the professions and ways to make money there are when you’re in high school. My sister had no idea she was going to wind up working in the digital effects industry. I doubt she even knew such an industry existed way back then.
It’s one way in which I’ve always felt lucky. I’ve always known I wanted to write. Most of the people I went to school with had no idea what they wanted to do and stumbled into various different jobs and professions before they found one that suited.
Some people never figure it out. Or get the opportunity to do what they want to do.
Fame is a safe thing to say when you don’t know what you want to do with your life. It doesn’t pin you down to any specific career path. It’s open and nebulous. It’s also something to say to shut the people up who keep asking that annoying question over and over again.1
I’m not convinced there really are that many people who seriously want to be famous and don’t care how. Once most people think it through and see the side effects of fame—serious fame—they change their minds quick smart. Who wants to end up like Michael Jackson or Britney Spears? Your entire life fodder for the tabloid. Complete strangers speculating about just how crazy you are, knowing what you like to eat, and stalking you with cameras wherever you go.
It’s the very opposite of fun.
Which is why I’m not that worried about today’s youth and their apparent incessant fame desire.
Do any of you desperately want to be famous? Do you know anyone who wants to? Have you come across hordes of teenagers saying they want to be famous and don’t care how? Does this desire worry you? Should I be more concerned than I am?
- When I was in high school I was always tempted to tell people that I wanted to be a monkey. [↩]