If there's one pop-cultural shift that will most likely be studied long after this decade ends, it is the public shift from viewing fame as a strange sort of entertainment to viewing fame as a legitimate career path.
Everyone is famous; all it takes is one viral video or dumb reality show or talent contest to project an unknown into the weird realm of celebrity, where every move they make is documented and fawned over (or ripped apart) until the public tires of them and moves on to something else. In a way, this has always been the case for celebrity, in terms of having unknowns suddenly become the "next big thing," but the instant access to millions via the internet has enabled everyone to take a shot at becoming a star, regardless of their location, age, or talent level, and the "next big thing" has seen his or her 15 minutes shrink down to approximately 2.8 seconds. Unless, of course, you're Heidi Montag and Spencer Pratt, who will never disappear, because the universe just likes to fuck with us sometimes.
In a world where everyone is a star, it's not surprising that children are looking at fame not as a one-in-a-million shot, but as a right and an inevitability. Kids are always dreaming of the far-fetched, but as Denise Martin of the Los Angeles Times points out, selling the concept of celebrity to kids has become a full-blown business, with children's television shows increasingly focusing on the life of tween celebrities. Martin notes that selling celebrity fantasies to kids is nothing new, "but the genre is stronger than ever now and more fixated on the perks of the glamorous Hollywood lifestyle as Nickelodeon and the Disney Channel compete for the youngest audiences."
Martin interviews several producers, directors, and execs involved in the celebrity kid show genre, and all of them seem to have a "well, it's what the kids want" kind of attitude that completely dismisses the notion that perhaps kids want to watch shows about insta-celebs and famous tweens because it's been shoved down their throat since birth. "If there is anything I've learned about kids today — and I'm not saying this is good or bad — it's that they all want to be stars," iCarly' Dan Schneider tells Martin, "I'm not saying it wouldn't be nice if more of them wanted to be teachers and social workers; it would be. But at least in 'Victorious,' you see a world where they're all working on the talent part."
I don't think anybody expects Nickelodeon or the Disney Channel to put out a television show about a young girl who dreams of being a social worker, but the main issue I have with the celebrity kid genre is that it's so, so boring. It's SO boring! Granted, I'm 28 years old and not the target demographic, but it seems like every show is centered around a singer, or a fashion designer, or an actress who has to deal with the pressures of fame. Where are the Pete & Petes of this generation? The Clarissas? The Hey, Dudes? The shows that are capable of capturing kids' attention and pushing positive themes without drowning the messages in sparkles and plot lines about going on tour or what a drag it is to be famous? Where are the shows about real kids in real situations? Will somebody please think of the children?!
"Every kid thinks they're five minutes away and one lucky circumstance from being famous," Nickelodeon's Marjorie Cohn tells Martin, "We've always responded to what's out there in the cultural zeitgeist and spin it Nickelodeon style." It's too bad that nobody is bothering to take the reins and perhaps change the way kids look at life. It's not that I think kids are idiots and can't just enjoy fantasy programs for what they are, but when the adults of society are also buying in to the insta-celebrity crap, it may be harder for kids to separate reality from fiction. Being famous isn't everything, no matter what the television tells you. If only Clarissa were still around to explain it all.
Child's Play [LATimes]