We live in a society obsessed with popular culture in which social media reigns supreme.
I don’t need to tell you this, it’s pretty obvious. A piece of this obsession is inherent as social media helps us feel connected, we simply like being “in the know.” Personally, when a topic or idea is brought up that I don’t know much about, I have to know more. It’s frustrating to feel uninformed, like an itch you just can’t seem to scratch. We have an innate desire to feel accepted and connected with others, which social media helps satiate to some degree. Whether you track the news through Twitter or simply follow your favorite celebrities on Instagram, you can connect with the world in ways that were never previously possible. It’s cliché and I hate to say it, but the world is quite literally at your fingertips. However, this obsession with social media has led to a number of unintended consequences. We constantly hear stories about suicides rooted in cyber-bullying and internet scams have proliferated thanks to social media. Yet one of the most troubling outcomes that social media has fueled is the ascension of social media celebrities who simply don’t deserve the fame and fortune they enjoy. I’m talking about The Kardashians, I’m talking about Danielle Bregoli (the aka Bhad Bhabie aka the “Cashh me Outsside” idiot), and I’m talking about all the unfunny, talentless people like Jake Paul who are “vine famous.” Social media has allowed for undeserving, talentless individuals to transform into worldwide icons. We must question our conception of what it means to be “famous,” or risk devolving into a society influenced by underserving idols.
What’s the difference between you and me?
I often find myself mindlessly clicking through DailyMails’ Snapchat story, which is cluttered with talentless pop culture “moguls” from Bella Thorne to Kylie Jenner. This “mindless” component is the most disturbing, yet essential part to the rise of these false idols. It is so easy to consume social media mindlessly, it’s almost engrained in our daily routines and we scroll through Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, etc. I understand that it’s hard to constantly ask people to think critically, especially when we look to pop culture and social media as escapes from the pressures of everyday life. However, now more than ever, we need to ask ourselves a couple of fundamental question, why is this person famous, do they deserve such fame, and most importantly, are they HELPING our society?
The answers to these question can be pretty subjective, as I might think a soccer player deserves fame while the next person vehemently disagrees. We all have different conceptions of who deserves fame based on their accomplishments, personal life, etc., but there is a caveat. What did the soccer player do differently than say, the Kardashians? They actually worked to gain that fame, they put in the time, training and effort to rise to that position. The same goes for any skilled actor, writer, director, you name it, they had to put in the time and effort to acquire that fame and idolization. That is the fundamental difference between the fame of “Bhad Bhabie” and Kanye West, one put in the effort to cultivate their music and the other was simply lifted into fame because she acted like an idiot on Dr. Phil. I’m not just picking on Bhad Bhabie, there are countless examples of these people who are famous either because we found them entertaining through social media or, like the Kardashians, they’re simply famous for being famous. This is the problem with reality TV, people who do not deserve fame are suddenly elevated to a platform that reaches millions of people. Simply acting in an outrageous or idiotic manner can now make you a star overnight. It may seem funny in the moment, but when you think about these reality TV and internet “stars,” from Snooki to Scott Disick, it’s really just sad. You may be thinking, “well they’re no longer famous so your point is moot, they’re gone, why worry about it?” The problem is that a dangerous precedent is set when such people acquire fame and idolization. A precedent where others learn that you can obtain fame from simply acting outrageous or ridiculous, and then go out and do just that. It’s a snowball effect.
Now for the most part, overnight celebrities such as Bhad Bhabie and Rebecca Black aren’t idolized. They’re usually just an internet meme or a trend on twitter, which continues to fuel their fame, giving the them the sense that they actually posses talent. However, there is a subset of social media and pop culture celebrities that are idolized by many people, especially preteens and teenagers. The most obvious example seems to be none other than Kylie Jenner. Jenner has the almost 100 MILLION followers on Instagram, an absurd following for someone who hasn’t contributed anything to society. If it weren’t for her family name and the creation of “Keeping Up with the Kardashians,” its quite possible that she would never have crossed into the public eye. The most troubling aspect of Jenner seems to be the conflicting message she sends to her young fans. In the past couple of years, there has been a massive increase in body positivity campaigns, which urge people to love their body as it is, which is heartening. Yet, when you have celebrities such as Jenner that are constantly modifying their appearance (Jenner has undergone a series of plastic surgeries at the young age of 20), it sends a confusing message to young fans. Now, I understand that this topic is extremely sensitive and people feel very strongly on both sides of the argument. That being said, I worry that social media stars such as Jenner, who constantly utilize plastic surgery, send a dangerously contrary message to their young fan base. Many of these young fans look up to these social media celebrities, making the likes of Jenner all the more influential. On the flip side, celebrities who preach body positivity and self-acceptance, from Jennifer Lawrence to Ashley Graham, have that much more power to influence the younger generation for the better.
Aside from Kylie Jenner, there are a slew of other social media moguls who negatively influence young fans across the globe. After the fall of Vine, a number of young Viners took to other social media outlets, hoping to maintain their following (and relevance). Most of these viners are harmless and many seemingly dropped off the face of the earth. However, a few have clung to their fame with stubborn persistence, it’s almost impressive. The most famous of these egomaniacs is probably Jake Paul. Now for the most part, Paul is seen as a joke across the internet and has the 7th most disliked video on YouTube, which is a masterpiece in and of itself. He refers to his fans as “Jake Paulers,” (a true creative genius) and while this may seem too hilarious to believe, he actually has an avid following, many of which are teenagers. His Youtube channel, which I refuse to include a link to because it’s absolutely idiotic, includes everything from publicity stunts to music videos (if you classify Paul’s songs as “music”). Paul has been in the news quite a bit recently due to his childish behavior, which has consistently aggravated his neighbors. In a NPR article about Paul’s antics, one of his neighbors stated that he had essentially turned the usually quiet neighborhood into a “war zone.” While Paul’s behavior is childish and erratic, the most troubling aspect of the article is the fact that “…Paul’s fan urged him not to change.” While brief, this quote speaks volumes to Paul’s influence and the brand of entertainment (or lack of) that he promotes. Paul shows us that being a talentless and purely outrageous can elevate you to levels of fame, fortune (Paul makes millions from his YouTube channel and apparel), and idolization.
The Solution? It’s Unsatisfying
After reading the above paragraphs, I probably sound like your 80-year-old grandpa who just doesn’t understand social media and is mad at the whole thing. Or maybe I just sound flat out condescending, like I’m trying to take a “Holier than thou’ approach.” Again, this is not my intent and I’m just as guilty as everyone else for glorifying these “celebrities.” However, we should strive to be more cognizant consumers of popular culture and social media so that people who are a meme stay as a meme. As for the idolization of social media stars such as Jenner and Paul, there is only so much we can do. Inevitably, individuals are going to support who they want, regardless of the legal, moral, and social problems that these popular culture/social media stars present. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion and as much as it sucks, there really is no solution to the ascension of underserving idols. Social media is engrained in our culture and as long as it exists, so will these undeserving celebrities. We can only hope that they fade out of popular like any other pop culture trend.