As I spent Christmas morning calling family members, sending warm holiday wishes and opening gifts, I had a chance to really reflect and find gratitude. I reflected back to my years as a typical middle class kid blazing through wrapping paper, anxiously looking to see what I was going to get. Each time, even if it was what I wanted, even if it was something I yearned for for months...once I actually obtained it, the thrill was gone. It was almost as if the chase was more appealing then adding more toys to my toy box. I believe this vicious cycle of yearning and dissatisfaction with ourselves and our lives is 99% of what makes capitalism and the entertainment industry thrive. We spend hundreds on material objects all for the sake of "love". At the same time divorce rates are sky rocking and suicide rates are climbing--mental health problems are a new norm. Many of us are aware that money doesn't buy happiness yet we use money to build our entire world. Money decides the quality of life we have, money decides what presidential candidates make it on the ballots, money allows some of us to lead lives of extravagance while countless others struggle to survive. We put celebrities on a pedestal but they experience the same human emotions we do. Yet, we decide to give them our praises, our likes, and most importantly our money. This is not the first article to discuss fame culture and its toxic effect on our self image. It's been circulating around in medium articles, documentaries, on the sociology shelves at your local library...and yet, with the growth of Instagram, YouTube and Facebook the standards for "normal people" are twice as high. We all want to be "insta-famous" we all want to be liked, admired and watched for better or worse. Many instagramers would argue that social media is the best thing that's ever happened to them. Their posts may be filled with elation and hype but how long does this insta-happiness last?
When a picture is taken, in that moment we smile. Why? Because we care about our self-image. We may be having a bad day but there's always pressure to "smile". Next time you're taking someone's picture, pay attention to their face after the picture was taken. Many people will give a huge smile and as soon as the photo is taken they're "back to normal". Smiling seems to be no one's normal expression. Sometimes normal is neutral, sometimes it's a frown, sometimes it's anger or frustration. The truth is that no matter how many smiling photos we have, we know that these photographs are only tokens of who we are. They are moments of time and when we smile in that moment we may be happy, or we may be trying to convince the world that we are. Do we need photos to remember how happy we were? Or will the happiness of that memory record itself into storage space in our minds? Photos are beautiful and the way we use them these days can be inspiring but sometimes troubling. They, much like clothing or material items can be temporary by-products of our need to control how we are perceived by others. A photograph can be a message to the world about who we are. We can use images like selfies to control our social status. We get selfies with celebrities so we can bask in their glory. We hang out with attractive friends to be associated with their attraction. We do things that are insta-worthy. We do things that are tweet-able. What if we just did the things we loved without the need for anyone else's approval? What if we found ways to share our experiences without ranking them into likeable and unlikable but human? There's value in seeing each other for who we really are and appreciating that. Unfortunately, we are manipulated by Hollywood and capitalism to be obsessed with instant gratification, fame, wealth and commercialized visions of beauty. True beauty has nothing to do with this insta-gratification energy and so we are lied to and lie to ourselves about what makes us happy. Why though? Based on my observations, I believe that most of us are unaware of the extent to which we are being controlled through Hollywood and systems like the government and education. The elites behind those systems want us to like things that fit their agenda....not ours.
In the documentary Starsuckers director Chris Atkins (who is ironically now in jail for financial fraud) exposes the inter-workings of the great Hollywood machine. Despite the controversy surrounding the film, it brings up a lot of valid points and forces the viewer to come to terms with their abusive relationship with the entertainment industry. Abusive may seem like a harsh word to place on an industry that brought us some of our most prized entertainers and stars but I believe that because this industry is a business aligned with capitalistic interests, it serves our best interest to truly observe it, to analyze it and to question it. If we don't take the time to challenge our relationship with the media, we fall prey to it's seductive lies...which ultimately leaves us sick and them rich. I will outline a few of the main points in the film that I believe were awakening and all the more chilling to come to terms with. The film discusses a series of "lessons" which are more like strategies the industry uses to obtain social and political control.
One of the first strategies Starsuckers points out is that advertisement agencies attempt to get kids hooked on fame culture by not only advertising to them but exploiting kids on reality shows, scouting for fresh "talent"and perpetuating the myth that "anyone can make it big". As a child I can relate to this experience as I went to a "talent search"once. I wanted to audition and be apart of showbiz. People always told me I'd be famous one day because I had a immense love for music and learning. Some people said I had talent but I think that it was just passion and devotion for something I loved. The more that people projected the idea that I was "going to be famous someday", the more I believed in their visions not mine. So, I began striving for it. I remember thinking about auditioning for American Idol, which at the time was popular. There was a point at which my parents were against it. They told me they wanted me to live a normal life and wouldn't want me to get caught up in the pursuit of fame. At the time I was upset, but looking back I'm thankful that they were discerning in regards to that. Later, I got to a point where I realized that it was all just a joke where only Hollywood gets the last laugh.
The success stories of Hollywood are fabricated and manipulated to make the masses feel that they have a chance at what we in the west perceive as happiness (fame, wealth and worship). The documentary suggests that reality TV supports the idea that our value is based on external factors like how much entertainment, attention and money we can create not our internal values like honesty, kindness and cooperation. Our entire culture is very individualistic and capitalism thrives on our need to assert our ego-self. Our ego self is not our true self but the facade that we project to the world to be accepted as a "normal people" in society. While the documentary did not discuss social media, I believe social media is an extension of reality TV. Like reality TV, the focus in social media seems to be on asserting our social status and manipulating the ways we are perceived through hiding behind the convolution of our perfected selfies and posts.
Once we have been conditioned for achieving fame, and maybe even experienced fame on some level (great example would be in the case of child actors, or YouTube/instagram sensations) it becomes like a drug that we need more of. We work harder each day to achieve more likes, to climb the social ladder and to get closer to the famous. Just by watching celebrities we feel an intimate connection with them. Media is designed to make us feel that we "know celebrities". We talk about them and make them the main topic of conversation. We discuss their personal lives based on what the media has told us about them. No matter how much we think we know, this (like many other things in Hollywood) is deception. It's part of the master plan to as Starsuckers says "captivate, distract, misdirect and control". The industry tactics are compared to techniques that casinos use. America is really just one big casino if you think about it. We prop ourselves up to be a land of opportunity and power; not a land of peace, cooperation, love or understanding. We are the land that sells the idea of fame. Like a casino, our chances to win depend on how much of our time, money and energy we are willing to spend chasing the dragon.
On platforms like Facebook, algorithms provide a formula which allows us to receive varied likes and responses. How many times have we had a post that randomly receives a lot of likes but a similar post receives very little? We may spend time rehashing our decision by trying to figure out what we did wrong and why it wasn't as likeable. What we fail to consider is that we should be looking at social media platforms and mass media as we would a casino. It is all a spectacle for deception and misdirection. If we are focused on likes we won't be focused on fighting social issues or working with others especially if we are positioned in society to see our friends as competition. The current image of Hollywood suggests that only the chosen succeed. Similar to the lottery or slots the chance of winning is what entices us to keep playing. Many people can admit to having some kind of addiction to attention via social media and like-culture because it's almost impossible not to with the prevalence of technology and social platforms. Instead of truly connecting us, these platforms just exaggerate the myths of society that we operate on. For example, the more glamorous posts a person has and the more it fits and aligns with the images of Hollywood, the more credibility, attention and likes it receives. We as humans ignore that which we find unattractive. What we don't often understand is that Hollywood embeds the idea of what "attractive" should look like so that we are attracted to their stars. This is one way they maintain control and remain the gatekeepers of the upper echelons of society. What we are attracted to is influenced by what we learn through social media, TV, Movies, Billboards etc. We are bombarded with so many Hollywood-approved images that one could consider this a form of propaganda. We as consumers are baited with the image of fame and beauty. For example we see a billboard for a perfume ad with a model who is attractive by Hollywood standards. She is literally "larger than life" which makes her appear to us as significant, important and sought after. This leads to a vicious cycle of imitation and striving to be just like her. The problem with this attitude is that it has nothing to do with the things that truly make us beautiful (wellness, wisdom, and self-love). We are convinced that buying the right beauty product, or the right cuff links, the right car, or the Hollywood-approved boyfriend or girlfriend will afford us a life of happiness. At least that's what Hollywood would like us to believe... The media creates a value system which influences the way we measure success. We base our every action around our need to reach the measure of success that the entertainment industry churns out 24/7. The big question is...are we happy yet?
Another aspect that the Hollywood Machine uses to it's advantage is evolution and the biological drives we operate on. Basically, we are social creatures and depend on our connections with others. Starsuckers discusses the biological factors that make us more susceptible to advertisements and lead us to believe that we must copy the successful to obtain success. By allowing these companies to influence us we allow them to control what we buy, who we talk to, and even what we think about them. For example, given that I am a women of color, I often feel that my true feelings are ignored or rejected in place of the projections of the outside world's perception. That perception and projection is created by the stereotypes present in pop culture. Even in a calm state I'm still perceived as an angry black woman. Despite my intellectual abilities, many people focus on the attributes which align with Hollywood's depictions of black women. People notice my strength, and my musical abilities but not my intellectual ones. This is the problem with stereotypes-- they perpetuate myths about groups of people and reduce their complexity to categorized assumptions. What's missing is a nuanced observation: a blank, clean lens of non-judgemental perception.
Hollywood's fun house mirror of who's hot and who's not can leave us attached to the idea of being famous and we may start to try associate ourselves with celebrities to enhance our own self-image. A study was done on a phenomena known as"basking in reflective glory". This phenomena involves us empathizing and associating ourselves with a group or person to whom we can relate to. We identify with this person/group and so we boost them in an effort to manage the impressions we are making on others. For example in the study individuals were given a story about an infamous villain in Russian culture Rasputin. The study found that people who were given information which showed Rasputin's birthday matching their own, empathized with Rasputin and boosted him despite the audacious things he did. They were more likely to rank him as less dangerous while those who did not share his birthday ranked him as less likeable. When we see characters in TV shows, or even reality TV that are like us we start to project ourselves on to them and while watching TV we are immersed in their world. Suddenly their problems become our problems. We wonder and worry what is going to happen next in their lives in an effort to escape the dissatisfaction we may have with our own lives.
Were we happy after creating a culture based in greed? A culture in which we spend hours inside fictional stories about characters who are designed with an agenda of consumerism and social control? What do we learn by giving our money to the same 5 companies, listening to the same 5-chord pop songs, watching the same 5 TV channels, and the same cliche movie tropes that give us the same message over and over again? We learn what we should focus on according to the elites. We should want to be them. We should want their lives. We should do everything in our power to become as good as what is advertised to us. We should feel pride in having more than others and we will be happy having more power than others. Even those who are famous or wealthy are being controlled by this system, which explains why there are many unhappy people who have wealth and fame but not peace of mind. The catch 22 is that by operating under this belief system they (big media) are actually in control not us. We are in control when we dissociate from these beliefs and figure out what kinds of media we want to consume and support. While the drama, the violence, the sex of our culture can be intriguing, entertaining, and provocative, the most amazing experience we're afraid to buy into is our own lives. We do not need the spectacle that is Hollywood if we can shift our perspective to the beauty that lies in front of us, the beauty in the mirror, the beauty in our friends, our lovers and the beauty of our natural world. Our life is already the most profound movie, but when we are the ones observing and not acting, we miss out. It is my belief that we would all have a better chance finding happiness with less distractions, with fewer bombardments and fewer "things". We need more creativity, more appreciation for who we are organically. We do not need to genetically, emotionally or spiritually modify ourselves to survive the toxicity that is lurking beneath American culture. We need to stop using toxicity as a norm of our process and allow our lives to grow naturally with the resources we have been graciously given by the great mystery. Then we can grow into pure existence which believe it or not, can be a form of happiness. So given all the social media, drama, materialism, capitalism the racism, the sexism, the nihilism, the classicism--the question still remains...are we happy yet?
Lin, L.y., Sidani, J.E., Shensa, A., Radovic, A., Miller, E., Colditz, J.B., Hoffman, B.L., Giles, L.M. and Primack, B.A. (2016), ASSOCIATION BETWEEN SOCIAL MEDIA USE AND DEPRESSION AMONG U.S. YOUNG ADULTS. Depress Anxiety, 33: 323-331. doi:10.1002/da.22466
131 Cialdini, R. B., & Finch, J. F. (1989). Another indirect tactic of (self-) image management: Boosting. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 15(2), 222. doi:10.1177/0146167289152009
Haiphong , Danny. “The Role of US Corporate Entertainment in the Social Control Element of Imperialism.” The Role of US Corporate Entertainment in the Social Control Element of Imperialism, 4 Aug. 2014, www.blackagendareport.com/content/role-us-corporate-entertainment-social-control-element-imperialism.
Evans, Tracy. “Https://Courses.lumenlearning.com/Culturalanthropology/Chapter/Social-Control/.” Lumen Learning, courses.lumenlearning.com/culturalanthropology/chapter/social-control/.
Atkins, Chris, director. Starsuckers. YouTube, 4 Aug. 2014, youtu.be/u5QROudsojA.