When my daughter was younger and was all about the Disney Channel “tween” shows, I came to realize that Disney is very much a “theme” company. Check this:
- Young girls get the “Princess” brands, despite the Internet’s best efforts to get them to knock this off.
- Young boys get the “Cars” brands, despite good taste’s best efforts to get them to knock this off.
- Young and discerning adults get the Marvel and Star Wars brands, which account for 98% of all entertainment on the planet Earth.
- And there’s a cohort of core Disney fetishists out there, who adorn their spaces with Mickey and Pooh and who laugh and say that it’s all in good fun yet do so in a slightly creepy, “don’t be alone with them in a room” kind of way.
What’s the theme of that tween content, then? Celebrity. The Disney Machine is programmed in such a way that they employ kids to star in these shows which pretty much exclusively focus on the everyday lives of kids who happen to be famous — or are trying to get famous. There was Hannah Montana (to its credit, was sometimes really funny) about a pop star who was “played” by a “normal teen”, Sonny with a Chance (also sometimes funny) about a young teen “nobody” who was given a shot at being on a Nickelodeon-type variety show with established celebrities, and I swear to gawd there are others but my brain is walling them off to protect my sanity.
If people believe that Disney is trying to “program” their viewers (and many, many people believe this), then the message here would be “you’re nobody until you’re somebody”. On the surface that sounds like a rather poisonous lesson to impart, because it leads to…well, things like social media grandstanding, Snapchat and Instagram, and live streaming and YouTube videos of kids (and adults) begging for follows, likes, and shares.
If you want to blame someone for this, blame humanity itself. The only thing that modern society teaches us is that we no longer have to limit our outreach in the age of the Internet. I have always believed that human beings have the need to be needed, and that didn’t start with the advent of social media. Think back to when you were a kid, and how the social dynamics of your ecosystem were arranged. Were there social strata in your life? Were you someone who had no trouble making friends, or were you someone who always longed to just be accepted for who you were? Did you ever decide to change who you were in order to “fit in” with one group or another? What did it feel like to be accepted, and what did it feel like when you were rejected?
The need to be somebody to someone is not a feeling we should look down on, because we all have it to differing degrees. In many cases, the snarky outbursts we might see knocking “celebrity” and self-promotion are no doubt directed mostly at the “scaffolding” that attempts to commoditize this need, like Disney’s ham-handed messaging, or the cynical and business-like apparatus that has followed in the wake of the rise of live-streaming. We as average people don’t want to be told that we should hold someone in esteem simply because other people do (aka being told someone is an “influencer”), but we as average people do find people to admire, and in turn do want to be admired by our peers for something: our sense of humor, our knowledge, our insight, our empathy, or even (sadly) our rage.
What do you want to be known for? I think about this all the time, but I never come to a satisfactory decision. I don’t want to be a “celebrity”, and I don’t think the majority of people do, but I also don’t want to be ignored or forgotten or just another face amidst a seemingly endless list. Everyone wants to matter where we want to matter, which is why being thought well of and considered by the people that I think well of and who I consider is important.
“Be honest!” some people might say. “Be yourself!” is the advice our parents give us. Truthfully, that’s not the best advice, because people are terribly complex and everyone has an asshole streak, an empathetic streak, and an indifferent streak, and the dominant personality can change from day to day or even minute to minute based on the weather, the amount of sleep or coffee we get, or even how we feel we’re being perceived where it matters. This is why the whole “anonymous on the Internet” thing is relevant — we can be whomever we want when no one knows who we really are. This allows us to appeal to those we want to appeal to. And before you say to yourself “that’s disingenuous and the you that people like isn’t the real you!”, consider that this is a door that swings both ways: no one is truly honest on the Internet, despite how earnest their bios might claim to be.
For those who consider the problem, we try our hardest to be the put forth aspect of our persons that we can be. We want to be happy, so we crack jokes. We want to be trusted, so we show that we care. We want to be remembered, so we try and be relevant to the conversations we inject ourselves into. We don’t belittle or berate or insult unless we have a juvenile sense of what it means to be liked and how to be liked. Snark and sarcasm are not virtues, and shouldn’t be celebrated. For those who opt to be infamous rather than well regarded, there’s nothing I have to say about or to you.
Wanting to be thought well of is difficult, but it’s not something we should be ashamed of. I feel like I’ve written that before, but it might just be because it’s something I often think of, especially as I get older and realize that some day I’m not going to be here any longer. What will my legacy be, and who will bear it? My daughter, obviously, and that’s an aspect for another day, but even though I’ll be gone leaving a footprint behind does matter. I’m not sure why, or beyond that even how, so the best I can do is work on the present.