December is not even halfway over, but I already know the big story of the last 12 months: This year will be remembered as the year we sold our souls for fame.
There was the Octomom, whose thirst for attention led her to auction her life – and her 14 children – to the cameras and the Web.
There was the Balloon Boy family – so obsessed with securing a reality TV series that they faked a disaster involving their own son.
There were the State-Gate Crashers, who, with cameras following them right to the door, weaseled their way into a White House dinner.
And we can’t begin to list all the pseudo, wanna-be and semi-celebrities who shamelessly threw themselves into the limelight, from the Gosselins to the endless stream of Michael Jackson mourners to the gyrating, guy-kissing Adam Lambert, who seems to grow in stature with each show that cancels him.
Lambert, an “American Idol” runner-up, is one of Barbara Walters’ most fascinating people of the year.
Really? For what? Trying to catch a Tiger with a tale
Doesn’t matter. We’ve reached the point where the “what” is superfluous to the “wow.” So people flock to learn more about the cocktail waitress who last week claimed to have had a long affair with Tiger Woods, and while Woods is chided for his alleged infidelity, no one seems to question why this woman chose to get involved with one of the most famous married people on the planet. Does it shock you to learn she’s a minor figure on a reality TV show herself? Why isn’t the lust for a headline as decried as the lust for flesh?
It’s as if fame for fame’s sake is now an accepted motivation.
And this is where the world gets dangerous.
Because right now, there are still some people left who remember when modesty and shame kept you from certain behaviors. Still some people who recall when you wouldn’t endanger children, risk security or soil your family name with unflattering attention.
But those people are getting gray and old. And young people today see fame as not only everything, but the only thing.
So YouTube is stuffed with a million videos of people hoping to become household names. And entities like TMZ and RadarOnline, instead of being criticized for invading privacy and peddling the results, grow in popularity with each salacious story. “American Idol” is now almost seen as wholesome, instead of a packaged, calculating money-making machine. And people we once respected for their accomplishments now seem hell-bent on landing a “Dancing With the Stars” appearance. Hamming it up for 15 seconds of fame
Once, as an experiment, I walked around a sporting event with a camera crew. There was no purpose except to see how people reacted when you had a camera. I remember looking at the footage later and seeing people’s expressions change, their smiles widen when the camera caught them. It was like being under the water when Narcissus caught his refection.
I found it scary.
And now I really find it scary. Because we’re heading toward a time when nobody shakes a head or clucks a tongue at this stuff anymore, where today’s kids are tomorrow’s adults who will never have known a world without Perez Hilton or Jon and Kate, where you wouldn’t do anything just for five minutes of attention.
Just as this country was once a place where working people explained unenviable jobs with, “I have to feed my family,” now the thinking is, “I have to feed my fame.” And that can lead you to almost anything: faking your son being trapped in a balloon, giving birth to a flock of babies you can’t take care of, or crashing the security at a presidential dinner.
It’s the Story of the Year. When the Gatecrashers were exposed as posers, Michaele Salahi told the Today Show, “Our lives have been destroyed, everything we’ve worked for. Â For me, 44 years, just destroyed.”
But she was talking into a TV camera.
How’s that for irony?
Mitch Albom will sign copies of his latest bestseller, “Have a Little Faith,” at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Borders in Farmington Hills, 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Barnes & Noble in Allen Park, 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Borders in Brighton, 11 a.m. Saturday at Sam’s Club in Canton and 2 p.m. Saturday at Barnes & Noble in Rochester Hills. Contact MITCH ALBOM: 313-223-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org.