The Generation of Fake Reality
The internet’s been abuzz these last couple of days with the story of Karen Klein, a 68 year old bus monitor whose experience with taunting was videotaped and posted to facebook by one of her taunters — a middle schooler.
You can watch the video and read up on it here.
When I first took note of this incident and took to twitter with my thoughts, someone asked me “why didn’t they put a more intimidating monitor on the bus?” I surmised that at middle school age, kids still, generally, revere adults. So simply placing an adult on a bus typically solves any behavior problems because kids fear being reprimanded. However it appears that in this case the kids had come to learn that she wasn’t to be feared and so they attacked her.
But that still leaves the question of why. Surely not just because they could, right?
In a separate article, one of the taunters’ fathers is quoted as saying he was surprised to find out his son had treated another human this way and I got to thinking…
Kids in middle school, depending upon the grades that exist, can run in age anywhere from 10 – 14 years old. That means the youngest kids in the building were born in 2002 and the oldest kids were born in 1998. They have quite an interesting frame of reference for popularity.
Go with me on this…
Fame is just the grown up version of popularity and increasingly talent is less and less a factor in this grown up version of popularity. All you need is a memorable act, on youtube or twitter or maybe even a reality show to garner fame. These days fame is truly fleeting and it seems fewer and fewer people look to have it for the long run — just long enough to get money.
And if we trace this idea of fame that results from just one “by chance” act back to its more recent origins, I point to the year 2000. Maybe its because we survived Y2K or because we were in a new millennium or because boy bands had made a strong comeback, but something about that year made us look at things a lot differently. Take for example the series Survivor which crowned its first winner in the year 2000, Richard Hatch.
Now, Richard went on to achieve this new form of fame in part because of his underhanded way of winning, but also because of some other suspect things he involved himself in. However, the point remains that he came to our attention because of a reality show, not so much because he had any great talent.
Survivor was not the first reality show. I remember folks pointing out that MTV had been giving us The Real World since 1992 but none of those cast members had become break out stars and so while it would reason that perhaps something about Survivor (maybe its wider reach audience wise) or maybe something about Richard Hatch would explain his fame, I posit that no — we had just had some sort of shift in our social sensibilities and a new way to become famous made its debut.
Kids in middle school in 2012 grew up after the switch. This concept of being on tv but not being famous is foreign to them. Everyone who makes it on tv or gets over 500k hits on youtube or has more than 50k followers on twitter is famous. Translate that to their world and anyone who can put up something on facebook that gets 50 likes is popular…
And this brings us back to these kids on this bus who taunted a poor lady to tears. How could they? The video first came to people’s attention because it was posted on facebook. One of these boys thought so little of her and so much of what he had done that he posted this mess on a public social network and I bet he did it to achieve enough likes to be popular…
You see, peer pressure has always been a very real thing and we’ve all, no matter our age, experienced it and many of us probably gave in once or twice. These days the pressure to stand out and be seen and be recognized follows kids everywhere. It’s not enough to be recognized in the classroom, they need to be recognized on the field, at home and on the internet. They need the likes and the comments and the tags. And if in the grown up world it only takes a flash in the pan — a funny video or a funny tweet or whatever it is — then it shouldn’t take much more in their world.
And it doesn’t just follow kids. I remember the first video a now very popular vlogger did that got over 500k (maybe even over 1M) hits. I won’t link or tag or mention his name, but I’ll say this: he had done several videos prior, mostly just about his thoughts on things in his life and this particular video that went viral was in that same vein but with a lot more emotion and intensity. It was truly funny and truly entertaining. The video he posted right after, however, was this mixture of explanation and apology. He told his viewers that the video they’d seen wasn’t really his style. He talked about how he had just had a bad day and vented and while he meant what he said, expecting all of his videos to be that way would be a bad idea.
It didn’t take him long to realize that if the people wanted intense and emotional he had better figure out how to do it and he now regularly gets plenty of views, is a YouTube partner and like I said, is a very popular vlogger. He snapped for one video and remodeled everything about his presence on YouTube. Can we really not expect kids to modify their behavior for just one video to achieve their own version of fame?
Sure, some of these boys are probably just bad kids. They probably lack home training and are probably always taunting somebody but I bet you that one or two of them just wanted to be seen. They didn’t think about the monitor’s feelings because their eyes were on the prize. Fame… or popularity, as it were.
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