What Miley Did, Part II: What TV Did To Us

The very first post I ever posted here, in 2005, was about celebrity.

I have written about fame/celebrity several times since:

Last month, I wrote “What Miley Did”.

Miley should give her publicist a raise. She is still The Hot Topic. Their strategy of inappropriate behavior at inappropriate times has worked. Of course, the New York Times foresaw this three years ago in the  article, “‘Glee’ Photo Flap is Latest in Image Spin Cycle”. They noted that:

“If a young female performer with a relatively straight-laced image wants to take full charge of her brightest future, she apparently has to do some time on the pole.”

“And neither [Glee star who posed provocatively] is overcoming a background as candy-coated as those of Miss Cyrus”

“But it’s worth recalling the superficially apologetic, supposedly abashed aftermath of the 2008 Vanity Fair picture in which Miss Cyrus, then 15, was topless, though the angle didn’t actually expose anything. She claimed that she’d more or less been duped; the photographer, Annie Leibovitz, dutifully said she was sorry.

And a year later, Miss Cyrus was pole-dancing — literally, and by all appearances volitionally — in boots and hot pants at the Teen Choice Awards.”

“…flesh is the fastest and most attention-getting route.”

70 years before that, C.S. Lewis saw it coming. In 1942, in his satirical novel, Screwtape Letters, he noted (as a senior demon writing to a junior tempter):

‘All is summed up in the prayer which a young female human is said to have uttered recently: “O God, make me a normal twentieth-century girl!” Thanks to our labors, this will mean increasingly: “Make me a minx, a moron, and a parasite.”’

(In 1942, “minx” meant: A promiscuous woman.)

So… Miley’s behavior is not new, is strategic, and is a bit sad (certainly not deserving of idolization, or adoration, or celebration).

Does anyone want to make bets on what Miley will do next time her popularity fades?

Because it will, and she will have to make headlines again. Fortunately(?), she won’t be the first down this path. Miley can look to any of the hundreds who went before her. (Revisit the NY Times article. See also my article: “The Future of Entertainment”.)

  • Will she go the tried-and-true route of: engagement, and celebrity wedding?
  • Will she go the tried-and-true route of: songs and actions that are even more sexual?
  • Will she go the tried-and-true route of: outlandish behavior and rehab announcement?
  • Will she have to use all three?

We can be sure of this: her celebrity will fade, and she will do something to get some of it back. Whatever she does, we will have see it (too many) times before.

What we haven’t seen before:

Over the past 12 years, television companies have promoted fame as the most important value so that they can sell you not only the TV show, but also an endless pile of merchandise with the “famous” person on it. Researchers at UCLA have been studying this.

“Fame is the No. 1 value emphasized by television shows popular with 9- to 11-year-olds, a dramatic change over the past 10 years, UCLA psychologists report in a new study.”

“On a list of 16 values, fame jumped from the 15th spot, where it was in both 1987 and 1997, to the first spot in 2007. From 1997 to 2007, benevolence (being kind and helping others) fell from second to 13th, and tradition dropped from fourth to 15th.”

“Popular television shows are part of the environment that causes the increased narcissism,

“The rise of fame in preteen television may be one influence in the documented rise of narcissism in our culture,”

For the first time ever, “kids want fame more than anything“. And there is no getting around the fact that the primary force behind this is TV. And that it is intentional.

TV has contributed to the dramatic rise in narcissism and the “dribbling off of empathy”.

Children are necessarily impressionable (how else would they learn how to walk, talk, eat?), and people in media have shamefully, dangerously exploited that. All studies, in and out of the media, show that media is one of the most powerful influences. Advertising, subtle or direct, works.

This means that at least some, if not all, of Miley’s fans were manipulated into worshiping her. Conned. Brainwashed. Conditioned like Pavlov’s dogs.

The same is true for everyone who was raised on TV and idolizes celebrity.

And it is worse than we realized.

In 2007, journalist Jake Halpern did a survey of 650 teens from New York for his recent book, Fame Junkies. His careful survey found this out about the teens:

  1. I’d rather be Famous than Smart…
  2. I’d rather meet Jennifer Lopez than Jesus… or Einstein…
  3. Forget being President of Harvard – Make me a Celebrity Personal Assistant… It’s worth noting: Research psychologists, like Robert Cialdini at Arizona State University, have long suspected that people with low-self esteem are the ones most likely to “bask in the reflected glory” of others. This appears to be true here. For example, among girls who indicated that they received bad grades in school (i.e., C’s or below), the percentage who opted to become assistants rose to 67%. What’s more, among both boys and girls who got bad grades – and who described themselves as being unpopular at school – the percentage who opted to become assistants rose further to 80%.
  4. Black Kids Are More Desperate for Fame…
  5. Teens who watch TV and read “glam mags” want and expect fame the most…
  6. Heavy TV-watchers are especially likely to believe that fame will improve their lives…
  7. Lonely and depressed kids hope that fame will solve their problems…
  8. Lonely kids are also more likely to follow the lives of celebrities…
  9. Lonely kids preferred 50 Cent and Paris Hilton to Jesus…
  10. Kids Believe that Celebrities Deserve their fame…

Read the details of the conclusions, and of the survey here. (Click “A survey on fame among teens”.)

Not convinced? Last year, I shared a video in which a man pretends to be a celebrity to see what would happen. (Spoiler alert: people worshipped him even though they had never heard of him.)

The reality is, of course, that you cannot become a celebrity. This is actually good news. You can forget about fame (or money) and live your life.

My conclusion: I am angry. How dare TV studios destroy the beliefs and perspectives of children to get more money out of them. For those who claim that it is the parent’s fault for not monitoring what their children watch, you make a good point. Parents must be vigilant. Ideally, parents will model purposeful, joyful living.

But remember: it has been repeatedly proven that media is a more powerful influence on children and teens than their parents.

Piss off, TV. Piss off, Celebrity.

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2 comments

  1. wow… beautifully, passionately written by a young man who (with his brother and sister) escaped the trap of television and media-spinners… As young children, they grew up without a TV. What did they show interest in? Being creative, writing, drawing, working on projects; devouring books from the library, as well as the encyclopedia, and the classics of literature. They became thinkers, and enjoyed meaningful social relationships; unhindered by media influence. They are treasures and are making a difference in many lives. Oh, by the way, they chose Jesus along the way…. Thank you, Mr. Huhn

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