#Obsessed With Fame

 The idea of fame is so alluring that many young people would rather be near it than achieve their own success in other realms.

Yellow Dog Productions/The Image Bank/Getty Images

You just commented on a pic of @KylieJenner’s lunch and follow Harry Styles’s sister on Twitter. Is it all innocent fun, or has celeb-mania gone too far? 

It was a breezy, busy morning in New York City as tourists and shoppers edged their way around the loud mass of teens filling the street. Security guards worked to clear the sidewalks as girls with perfectly straightened hair looked nervously to the front of the line, frantically checking their phones for updates, bags under their eyes from barely sleeping on the sidewalk the night before.

In just a few short hours, the security guards would cut the line in half. Those who got cut would put up a fight, cry, or sulk. Those lucky enough to stay would have a chance at everything they dreamed of and more: 30 seconds with Kendall and Kylie Jenner.

“I’m pretty much their biggest fan ever. I’ve met them a million times,” said Michal, 17, who still had six hours to wait until the Jenners’ 5 p.m. arrival.

“I think they’re beautiful,” said Sebastian, 15, who was celebrating his birthday and had brought two friends along. “I just wanna get to see them.”

Michal called Kendall and Kylie entrepreneurs—and given their fashion line, they are. But the real question is this: Even though the Kardashian-Jenner clan is everywhere now, can any of us remember why we started caring about their lives (and the lives of so many other famous people) in the first place?

The Famous Person Next Door

Super-fandom, like the scene at this NYC store, is certainly nothing new (ever hear of Beatlemania?), but celebs used to be glamourous and inaccessible, adored for their talents and completely out of touch with their fans. Now there’s a weird familiarity. We care about stars who are famous just for being famous, we call Selena and Niall by their first names, and, thanks to social media, we know what they all ate for breakfast.

In fact, stars sometimes feel like our BFFs. But is this mostly one-way relationship a harmless hobby, or a problematic diversion that is making us take our own dreams and ambitions less seriously?

“In high school, people are bored with their lives, and it’s exciting to live vicariously through the lives of others,” says Veronica, a 17-year-old from just outside New York City. “But people our age know more about celebrities than they know about the news.”

She’s right. In one survey, 64 percent of people knew who Beyoncé is, but only 15 percent knew the name of the majority leader of the U.S. Senate. (FYI: His name is Harry Reid.) And it’s probably telling that one of these people introduces us to serious issues, while the other offers an escape from them.

Celebrity Crush

Teens are clearly extra-crazy about celebs, but why? Because Hollywood gossip is everywhere these days, stars give us common ground with just about anyone. “Celebrities are something we can bond over,” says Veronica. “People like to gossip, and celebrity culture lets us talk about people we ‘know’ but can’t hurt.”

Celebrity obsession also offers a way to express ourselves: A Belieber and a Little Monster are not one and the same, and a poster of Shaun White sends a very different message than one of Peyton Manning. But what happens when White gets arrested, or Bieber is accused of starting fights everywhere he goes?

Stars are real people, after all, and when they fail and disappoint us, it can be crushing—if we are too wrapped up in their lives. At the same time, the level of perfection they sometimes seem to achieve is not a fair standard to measure ourselves against. Remember, they have a makeup team covering up every zit and expensive trainers to help them sculpt a ripped bod.

That’s exactly why Ava, a 14-year-old in Texas who dreams of being an actor, says she doesn’t look at most celebs as role models, but she does find actress Jennifer Lawrence’s attitude refreshing.

“She’s not afraid to be weird or unladylike, and she always reminds her fans to love their bodies no matter what,” says Ava of the Hunger Games star. “That, in my mind, is the best a celebrity can be.”

Seeking Star Status

Even if you don’t have aspirations of being a serious actor as Ava does, you might dream about walking a red carpet one day. If so, you’re not alone. One survey found that a quarter of teens say they don’t just want—but expect—to be famous by age 25. And it’s not surprising, since many teens have skyrocketed from obscurity to fame as fast as you can say “upload to YouTube.” After all, if “Fred”— aka the young actor Lucas Cruikshank, whose video series catapulted him straight to Nickelodeon—can do it, why can’t you?

In the age of both “going viral” and the Kardashians, it may seem like people become famous with minimal effort, says Jean Twenge, a psychologist at San Diego State University and the author of Generation Me. But “statistically, it’s very rare to become famous, and most of those people work very hard to get there.”

Still, the idea of fame is so alluring that many young people would rather be near it than achieve their own success in other realms. Jake Halpern, author of the book Fame Junkies, asked hundreds of teens what they most aspire to be: head of a major company, a Navy SEAL, a U.S. senator, the president of a great university, or the personal assistant to a celebrity. Among girls, the most popular choice, by far, was the last one.

Getting Real

Shortly after 5 p.m. that evening in New York City, the first hardcore Jenner fans were already filing out from the store, signed posters securely stashed beneath their arms as they tweeted away: Best day ever! @KendallJenner @KylieJenner. They smiled and stayed glued to their phones, waiting for the faves—from friends and fellow fans alike—to roll in.

According to one study, the more you use social media, the more you might value fame. You might also value it for the wrong reasons, adds Halpern. “Social media creates this sense that we’re starring in our own reality show, and that people should pay attention to us, even if we haven’t done anything noteworthy.”

Who can blame us, though? When stars like Kylie and Kendall exist—famous, most of all, for just being famous—celebrity life, with all the nice cars, fun parties, expensive clothes, and wordwide travel, seems like something we need too. “Even secondhand, the celeb lifestyle feels like the perfect medicine for everything that’s difficult about being 15,” says Halpern.

However, life in the spotlight can be temporary (Paris who?) and harsh (meltdowns are the norm). So the best prescription might be to follow stars for fun, without letting their filtered versions of the celeb experience distract you from things that are more meaningful than fame, like what kind of person you want to be and what you want to contribute to the world.  

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