Did you hear about the Minnesota couple fixated on becoming YouTube stars who got their wish … but wish they hadn’t?
Pedro Ruiz III and his girlfriend, Monalisa Perez, filmed a number of pranks in an effort to attract a YouTube audience. In their final video, she fired a bullet at a book that he held, thinking the bullet wouldn’t make it through the thick volume. The stunt went predictably wrong, and now she’s been charged with manslaughter.
“I really have no idea what they were thinking,” Sheriff Jeremy Thornton of Norman County, Minnesota, told the New York Times. “I just don’t understand the younger generation on trying to get their 15 minutes of fame.”
What promise of an online following would prompt the couple to try such a risky prank? Did they think they would attract hundreds of thousands of followers? Millions? Sadly, even after news of the tragedy directed digital rubberneckers to their YouTube channel, their traffic was just a small fraction of that.
Even more sad, the most popular of those videos took the audience to a doctor’s office for a sonogram that revealed that they were expecting a boy, their second child. Now two children will be growing up without a daddy, and perhaps without a mom if she loses custody.
Stories like this highlight a growing trend of people looking for fame through YouTube videos and other digital activities. In a celebrity-crazy culture, the attention and significance many people are desperate for seem attainable through fame.
Kids and young adults are growing up in a very different world than their parents and grandparents, who grew up with only radio and television. For the current generation, life is at their fingertips and the world has become as small as the device they can hold in their hands. They’re part of a global community, and while digital tools offer the potential for widespread fame, a person with a small following can feel insignificant amidst a worldwide web of billions.
In contrast, their parents and grandparents had a list of friends that probably numbered in the dozens. The people they knew were the ones they saw in their church, their high school, their neighborhoods. People with whom they spent real face time on a regular basis.
Today, FaceTime is a mobile app, and teens are likely to have hundreds of friends or followers on Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat, and Twitter. Yet they only see a fraction of these friends face-to-face.
Connection to the global community also puts them in contact with a growing multitude of people who seek attention and fame. Many share the highlights of their virtual lives for everyone to view and compare.
A recent survey on fame found that one in four Millennials say they would quit their job for notoriety. Nearly 10 percent consider fame a more important goal than a college degree or relationship with family. The desire to be known is often more important than the desire to be successful.
Being spotted in a crowd
Millennials have also grown up under the influence of the reality show culture. Hardly had the calendar page turned from 1999 to the new millennium than TV viewers saw an explosion of reality television programming—of regular, real people doing unreal things. It began to offer a measure of fame for the everyman. Consider some of the landmark shows.
Fear Factor (debuted 2001). People were willing to do all manner of dangerous stunts and other unthinkable things to win their 15 minutes of fame and a few thousand dollars in cash. The show piggybacked on the popularity of Survivor, which started just before the turn of the new millennium.
The Bachelor(ette) (debuted in 2002/2003). Grandma and Grandpa may have watched beautiful people win and lose in love through their favorite soap opera characters, but in the new millennium, it’s real people in real time.
The Apprentice (debuted in 2004). Think about it: even this generation’s president is a former reality star.
Keeping Up With the Kardashians (debuted in 2007). Here’s a show essentially started by a woman who wanted her family to be famous. Now it’s a long-running cultural obsession about everything these sisters say and do. It’s not because Kim and company are especially skilled or wise or anything like that. They have just managed their following well.
Shows like these reinforce the idea that “anyone can become a star.” Newer digital tools allow people to create videos or podcasts that could potentially reach large numbers. Many have created video channels or blogs in order to benefit others. But more frequently the content is just a means to the ultimate end of being known.
Fewer face-to-face conversations
And while online relationships have become a focus of the virtual culture, live relationships have taken a back seat. A recent Pew research study found that more than half of respondents will text a friend daily, but fewer than a third have regular face-to-face conversations on a regular basis.
According to a recent article in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, connecting via social media doesn’t provide the meaningful connection of live conversation. In fact, it may have the opposite effect. Those who spent more time connecting online perceived greater social isolation than those who spent time with fewer people face to face.
Those who seek fame are focusing on just one aspect of interpersonal connection. The allure of the world and its approval is as old as mankind. Jesus taught us not to worry about what we don’t have that others do, but to put our priorities in line.
As Matthew 6:31-33 tells us, “Do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
Created to connect
But there’s a deeper need for connection in each of us. The desire to be known and acknowledged is built into our very makeup as human beings. God created each person with unique gifts and abilities—some that are valued by the culture and others that aren’t.
We may be tempted to reject our gifting if it’s not valued by the culture or our peer group. Some people cannot recognize their gifting because they are too busy trying to emulate someone with different gifts or abilities. Or they’re trying to impress others by being someone other than who they authentically are.
Psalm 139 makes it clear that God knows and cares more about you than you do about yourself. Knowing the One who created you, and developing a personal relationship with Him, helps free you up to be yourself and to make contributions in the lives of others. Seeking fame for fame’s sake is like trying to get rich off the lottery—you’re likely to invest way more than you will ever get back.
Proverbs 22 also gives a lot of perspective. It begins and ends with admonitions to focus on who you are and what God created you to be. That’s what will get people’s attention and cause them to remember you.
A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold. … Do you see a man skillful in his work? He will stand before kings; he will not stand before obscure men. (Proverbs 22:1, 29)
The ultimate goal in life is not to be remembered. It’s to walk with God and enjoy His approval. Any 15 minutes of fame pales in comparison to His eternal reward and hearing Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:23).
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