We’re Still Obsessed With Fame, But Its Definition Has Changed


Last night, I watched the first episode of New Zealand’s Celebrity Treasure Island. Mostly because Matty McLean is my whole heart and quite frankly I’m worried the other contestants are going to pick on him.

Aside from all the usual observations that come with watching public figures camp on a tropical island, I was so disorientated by how many “celebrities” I had literally never heard of. There was a young woman called Rosanna (who seemed lovely by the way) who was referred to by the hosts as “a media personality with a derrière so famous it has its own Instagram account”. Shooketh! Later that night I found her profile and she currently has over 4.5 million followers. Then, off the back of my realisation that I’m not as in-the-know as I thought, a girlfriend of mine shared an article from the New York Times titled ‘You’ll Never Be Famous – And That’s O.K.’ The piece, which was first published in 2017, stated: “Thanks to social media, purpose and meaning have become conflated with glamour.” It went on to remind it’s readers that while a lot of Gen Z’ers currently approaching graduation will fixate on how they can achieve greatness, a meaningful life is actually found when a person connects and contributes to something bigger than themselves, in whatever humble form that may take: “The most meaningful lives are often not the extraordinary ones. They’re the ordinary ones lived with dignity.” But try telling that to a 17-year-old who has grown up on a diet of Instagram celebrities and YouTubers like Logan Paul who’s viral (and often racially insensitive) pranks have amassed him a net worth of US $14 million.

In 2019 there are so many breeds of fame. There’s Insta-famous, MAFS-famous, Tumblr-famous, YouTube-famous, Love Island-famous and, evidently, derrière-famous. There’s also a thing called Depop-famous, according to a New York Times article published last month titled ‘Shopping Can Make You Famous’. 23-year-old Bella McFadden, who’s fans know her as Internet Girl or iGirl, has amassed over 500,000 followers on the social shopping app where she sells clothes that will help young girls dress like “90s cult-film characters from films such as Clueless“. Depop recently revealed that Internet Girl is their No. 1 seller worldwide in terms of gross merchandise volume and dollar sales. All of this despite the fact that most of McFadden’s Gen Z fans weren’t even alive when Clueless first came out in 1995. So of course it’s easy to be seduced by fame when it can come from something as simple as finding a cute top in a thrift store and selling it for profit.

But what’s more interesting to me is what millennials and Gen Z’ers seeking fame are actually looking for. Back when society associated fame with Hollywood, the most attractive trappings were money, power, sex and a table at the world’s best restaurants. But I’d argue that this generation doesn’t give a sh*t about those things. Instead, we’re fixated on that immeasurable desire to be known by strangers. To walk into a room and feel seen, to have random people care what we made for lunch or whether we lost the baby weight or what we bought from Zara over the weekend.

Sure, social media fame stokes a specific kind of narcissism, but, at its core, modern fame is simply the pursuit of social acceptance and the great lengths some will go to get it.

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