Date of Submission
Film and Electronic Arts
Project Advisor 1
Over the past fifty years the “virtues” of self-admiration and self-expression have propelled their way into the mainstream of American Culture. America was always an individualistic country, founded on the basis of personal liberties and freedom from tyranny. However, over the past few decades, there has been a shift in the idea of the American Dream. Having high self-esteem became a key ingredient toward becoming successful. Slogans such as “express yourself” popped up, parents began to spoil their children, and participation trophies were had by all, whether we won or lost.
In 2007, the top three Google news searches were American Idol, YouTube, and Britney Spears. The average American is more likely to read about celebrity news than current events. In 2006, 51% of Americans ages 18-25 said that “becoming famous” was an important goal for their generation. “Human beings have had delusions of grandeur since the beginning of time,” said Robert Thompson, Director of Popular Television at Syracuse University, “but now these thoughts no longer seem so delusional. You turn on the TV and there seems to be so much fame to go around.” Fame and celebrity is literally plaguing society. Reality television has introduced so many temporary celebrities with little talent or achievement into social consciousness, that becoming famous has never seemed more probable. Social media provides additional opportunities for self-glorification. In 1968, Andy Warhol said, “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” YouTube’s slogan is “broadcast yourself” and that is exactly what society has opted to do.
15 Minutes: The Vanity Virus is a satire of society’s obsession with fame and celebrity. I decided the best way to present this obsession was through mocumentary presented in the format of a reality television program. I opted for the stop-motion aesthetic using toys to demonstrate the ubiquitous nature of celebrities or wannabe celebrities. Toys are mass-produced. They are by nature generic carbon copies, yet they are incredibly popular and special to each owner. However, their popularity is fleeting. A toy may be popular to the masses or the owner for a few years (or even days), but eventually, it becomes old and worn out and is forgotten and replaced by the newest “must have” object of desire. The episode traces the trials and tribulations of four characters grappling with the idea of fame.
The first character, Raven, is already a superstar dealing with society’s overwhelming desire to know everything about her; the good, the bad, but mostly the ugly. She is based on Britney Spears and every word she utters is a direct quote of Spears or another A-List celebrity.
The next character, Ron Hanckley Jr, is a man so obsessed with celebrity, Natalie Portman, that he will stop at nothing to win her affection. The lives of celebrities are so public that they practically consume us. We all have celebrity crushes, yet becoming obsessed with a celebrity it still seen as taboo. This character is based on John Hinckley Jr. who was so obsessed with Jodie Foster that he, like Robert De Niro’s character in Taxi Driver, attempted to assassinate a political official, Ronald Reagan. Similarly, Ron Hanckley re-appropriates the plot of Leon: The Professional, an early Portman film, in the hopes of gaining her love. Ron recites Hinckley’s poetry and his final letter to Foster as if it were his own.
The next character is Tiffany, a fourteen-year-old girl attempting to gain fame and recognition through YouTube. She is among the 31% of American high school students who “expect” to become famous one day. Young women, particularly those interested in the performing arts, score highest in narcissism and are most likely to actively pursue fame. Tiffany follows in the footsteps of the subjects in Jake Halpern’s Fame Junkies where the families of young girls willingly pay thousands of dollars to enhance their daughter’s chances of meeting and greeting casting directors and agents. Tiffany’s opinions regarding the way to become famous are based on and occasionally direct quotes from Kim Allen’s essay, Girls Imagining Careers in the Limelight. Girls who come from less privileged, poorer households have the highest hopes that their talent will lead to eventual wealth, success, and fame.
The final character, Madison Marriott, is based on Paris Hilton. Although Paris has become synonymous with unwarranted fame, and is one of the least likable individual ever brought into cultural consciousness, her mass of followers adore her. When she was arrested for driving with a suspended license, a “free Paris” petition was passed around and received hundreds of signatures because “she provides beauty and excitement [in] our otherwise mundane lives.” Paris allegedly received many letters from young girls proclaiming that she was their role model. She is mostly recognized for being rich, spoiled, and “famous for being famous.” The audio presented during Madison’s sex tape is ripped from Paris’ tape, A Night in Paris, accompanied by Nothing in this World, sung by Paris.
While it is easy to judge these characters due to their extreme nature, through 15 Minutes: The Vanity Virus, I hope audiences will look inside themselves and see that they are at least a bit guilty of some of the qualities depicted onscreen. We live in a fame-obsessed society, and this mentality can lead to serious consequences. Frequently when viewers watch reality television, they do so to raise their own self-esteem, confirming that they are somehow superior to the “horrible” and/or “delusional” people featured on the show, that our sense of self is not as warped as these people. Why do we need this constant reminder that we are better than other people? Narcissism is a contagious quality. Even if we do not suffer from full-blown narcissistic personality disorder, we often feel a need to present an inflated persona to compete. Gaining fame and recognition in one’s field is seen as the highest level of success. But if the quest for fame has a 99% failure rate, is our redefined American Dream becoming an American Nightmare?
Cowell, Tony. Is It Just Me or Is Everyone Famous?: From A-list to Z List and How to Make It Yourself. London: John Blake, 2007. Print.
Halpern, Jake. Fame Junkies: The Hidden Truths behind America's Favorite Addiction. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2007. Print.
Holmes, Su, and Diane Negra. In the Limelight and under the Microscope: Forms and Functions of Female Celebrity. New York: Continuum, 2011. Print.
Payne, Tom. Fame: What the Classics Tell Us about Our Cult of Celebrity. New York: Picador, 2010. Print.
Twenge, Jean M., and W. Keith. Campbell. The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement. New York: Free, 2009. Print.
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Goldstein, Gabrielle Sarah, "15 Minutes: The Vanity Virus" (2013). Senior Projects Spring 2013. 260.