Several years ago I came across a site called Stop Trying to be Famous. I couldn’t find the site and I haven’t seen it in a while. I remember thinking it was so ironic that the young man who started the site was getting a lot of publicity and quite a following for a site, which I believe he started in earnest and with a real frustration for people who are famous just for fame’s sake. Since then I’ve seen numerous articles with the title or a near title of “Stop Trying to be Famous.” Some of these articles blame older generations for giving every child on the baseball team a trophy for participation making them value applause over quality… I hardly think that’s the real issue. While others say fame is an escape from disadvantage and poverty; at least there’s a real basis in that argument. My focus is the question of why we are all trying to be famous. I think for me, it started with hashtags.
If you read any article about increasing your following on instagram, there will invariably be an opinion about hashtags. Whether it’s that using them makes your pictures visible to people who may not otherwise see it or whether it’s that hashtags don’t make a difference. For my instagram-addicted-self hashtags did make a difference initially, but now I’m not so sure. Why does it matter, though? Why do I want more people, strangers who I don’t know or — in many cases — even care about to see my pictures? I think it’s because we now live in a world where your social media following, or if something you do goes viral, is an indication of your ability to do other work. I’ve applied for jobs where they want my social media handles to know my “reach,” even when the job has nothing to do with social media. We live in a world where, in some cases, the more followers you have the more likely you are to get certain opportunities, jobs, funding for a project, or chosen for an exhibition. In America, especially, we are obsessed with celebrity. This usually means the more followers or celebrity you have, the less marketing work brands have to do. Essentially, (lazy) capitalism.
The problem with this is that we are now making the assumption that if a person does not have a large following that it’s because what they do, their work, does not resonate with people or is not valuable and necessary. Not everyone is a) trying to reach as many people as possible, and b) not everyone is able to get their work in front of people who truly need to see it or who would be moved by it. This incessant need to be social media famous, for some of us, is just so we can have a bit of access to the resources that will allow us to do the work we truly want to do.
I do not actually want to be famous. I do n0t need 100,000 followers on Instagram if I can get funding to do the work without it. Unfortunately this is not the case. A poet with 50,000 followers is more likely to get a book deal than someone with 500 followers even if their poetry is not particularly more inspiring. The idea is the person with more followers will sell more books, which may be true. But sometimes people just need a platform, to be given a chance. Before social media many artists, activists, and writers were not well known until a publishing house took a chance on them or an organization gave them a platform. Now that social media is here, I know we can’t ignore it. I’m not saying we should. Social media does a lot of the work marketing and PR departments used to have to do. Less work for them, but still more money.
I believe for some of us the desire to be famous or have a certain number of followers is less a need for fame and celebrity, but more the realization that without a certain amount of followers we will be forever struggling and hustling to get funding for projects that we know are impactful and struggling to get paid for work that we know is valuable and useful. The way society is set up right now, people are doing all kinds of crazy shite to get views, using hashtags to get likes, and buying fancy cameras they don’t know how to use to make sure the photos of their #bestlives are the best quality so they can get more followers and features.
I, too, am guilty of some of these things. But let me tell you: if I could do all that I want to do without having a certain amount of followers or any fame at all then I would do it. I don’t want to be famous, scrutinized by strangers, constantly critiqued or have to look a certain way on social media all the time. I just want to do me, support artists and activists and have the funds to do so. Is that too much to ask? Apparently it is. For those of you who do want to be famous, keep doing you — I’m not knocking your hustle, it’s just not my reality.
We are all trying to be famous for validation because we’re told if lot of people “like it” or “follow you” it’s valuable. Well that isn’t true and I refuse to succumb to these digitized-capitalistic, exclusionary notions of value. We can’t all be famous, thank god for that. I do hope, however, that we realize the type of society we are creating where things have to “go viral” to seem interesting. As a true instagram-addict I am not at all saying that having a lot of followers means you are trying to become famous or that your work is not of good quality. For many people, social media is a great way to reach more people and connect with certain communities… I’m all about that life.
I’m saying we have to think about why people want followers and likes, why we believe a higher social media following is equal to more opportunities and how we’ve created a world where this is actually the case. So keep trying to be famous, by all means, but don’t forget ultimately what the purpose of all of this is for.