The Situationist

Archive for October 29th, 2009

The Situation of Fame

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 29, 2009

Hall of FameCNN‘s Elizabeth Landau has written an interesting article, title “How the ‘fame motive’ makes you want to be a star.”  Here are some excerpts.

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As a large silver balloon floated its way over Colorado, millions of Americans spent hours glued to their televisions wondering if 6-year-old Falcon Heene, assumed to be inside the contraption, was alive.

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In the era of reality TV, YouTube, and social media “friends” and “followers,” it seems that everyone wants to be a star. People will perform outrageous acts on camera and revel in the attention of strangers.

But what, then, is driving this need for attention from thousands — or even millions — of spectators?

The desire to be famous comes from a basic human need to be part of a group, said Orville Gilbert Brim, psychologist and author of the new book “Look at Me! The Fame Motive From Childhood to Death,” out this month from the University of Michigan Press.

“It’s a yearning to belong somewhere that causes us to seek the fulfillment of attention and approval of strangers,” he said.

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The desire for attention may date back to the days of early humans, who lived in small groups. Those who were not approved by a group that protected all of its members would genetically disappear and die off, he said.

“You’re left with the population in which almost everybody wants acceptance and approval,” he said.

Wanting to feel special and sensation-seeking are probably top motives for trying to become famous, said [Situationist Contributor] Susan Fiske, professor of psychology at Princeton University.

Getting a lot of attention gives some people a rush of adrenaline, the “fight or flight” chemical, said James Bailey, psychologist and leadership professor at George Washington University’s School of Business. When people experience this “high,” they want to have it again and will engage in sometimes extreme or illegal behaviors to try to replicate the feeling.

This need for recognition isn’t necessarily negative, and studies have shown that everyone has it in varying degrees, although there is some cultural variation, Bailey said. It becomes problematic when the desire for fame becomes dysfunctional and all-encompassing, he said in an email.

The quest for fame may get out of hand when sudden fame — like a sudden chunk of money for lottery winners — has an “intoxicating effect,” and suddenly people can’t imagine life without fame, he said.

“It shifts one’s self-perception of who and what one is and what one deserves, and there’s little we humans won’t do to perpetuate our positive self-concepts,” he said.

Still, some surveys show that it’s a minority of the population that places fame ahead of all other priorities in life.

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A desire for fame may also come from being rejected early in life, perhaps by parents, Brim said. But the problem is that no matter what level of acceptance these people achieve, it’s never enough.

“That need remains unfulfilled and they can’t handle it, and so they turn to trying to become famous as a substitute for the satisfaction for this basic need,” he said.

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Many people whose primary motivation in life is fame are met with much disappointment because they always want more, and few can be recognized as widely as they want, he said.

“It ends up being kind of a damaged life if you seek to be famous because you can never get there, really, and you can never can get rid of it, and it spoils your days trying,” he said.

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To read the article in its entirety click here.  For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Jim Rice and the Situation of Baseball Hall of Fame Voting,” “The Situationist Overwhelmed with Visitors, Return Later if Necessary,” “Are Video Games Addictive?,” “The Science of Addiction, The Myth of Choice,”and “The Situation of Music.”

Posted in Life, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

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