A Reflection: teen issues and the celebrification of celebrity
Last night I was on Twitter when everyone started tweeting about the news that Whitney Houston had died. Suddenly everyone went from promoting their books or being funny to being shocked and saddened by the news that a popular talent from their childhood had passed away, and at such a young 8. Everyone on Facebook was talking about it as well. And this morning as I read the posts I kept thinking about the celebrity culture that has come to permeate America (maybe other countries too, I don’t know).
You see, I am the mom of a preteen girl and almost every. single. show. marketed to her demographic has one single message: You must be famous. Being popular isn’t even enough anymore, it’s all about celebrity. I get why the shows do this, it is just additional revenue for them as they sell albums to go along with all their other merchandising: clothes, pillows, blankets, oh my! But I worry about the message and the long lasting influence it will have on today’s tweens and teens.
Think for a moment about the shows you watched growing up: The Cosby Show, Growing Pains, You Can’t Do That on Television, the original Degrassi. Let’s not forget the show where the talented Mr. Johnny Depp got his start, 21 Jump Street (I own it on DVD, just saying.) They were about family and being a teen. They contained characters that you could in someway still identify with. (I realize many of you reading this are younger than me, let’s not stop and do the math mmmkay. Just go with the message.)
Today, however, almost every show is about being some type of a star. On iCarly that our Internet comedy sensations. Bit Time Rush, How to Rock, Hannah Montana, Victorious, etc. – fame and celebrity is the goal. Perhaps one of the few notable exceptions would be Good Luck Charlie, sometimes singing is involved but the lead female, Teddi, is also very studious and hardworking and the real focus of the show is just being a kid/teen and being part of a family.
Perhaps this is one of the reasons that Teen Fiction is still resonating with our teens – they can relate. Although there are fun exceptions, think The Secrets to My Hollywood Life, contemporary teen fiction is about teens doing the things that teens do and navigating those important life questions. Who am I? What do I believe? How to I become my own person? And it deals with the reality that teens are in fact living: bullying, body image issues, family problems, drugs and alcohol, sex and sexual identity.
Every teen will pick up their hairbrush and dream of being a singer, but few will ever take it to the next level. Even I, without a single lick of actual talent, spent a few months in high school in a “band”. I went with a friend to a modeling call audition at the mall. I tried out for the school play or a solo in the choir. The desire to be bigger than yourself, to have meaning is a natural part of life. We all want to know that our lives have meaning. But what about the importance of science, of math, of being the type of person who can touch a life and make a real difference? What about the importance of just being a good person? The truth is, at one time or another we will all have the opportunity to at least touch one life. What will you do, who will you be, when that moment comes to you?
As for celebrity, well, I don’t think it is all that is cracked up to be. I can’t help but notice how many big name celebrities die early – often through drug and alcohol use or suicide. I just worry that we are selling these kids a bad bag of goods when we tell them that this is a good goal. Can’t our message be more balanced? And perhaps a tad more realistic? What about the actual lives many of these teens are living – where is that being represented in the media? The answer, of course, is in books.
So I am thankful for people like John Green and Chris Crutcher and Sarah Dessen who tell teens that no matter who they are or where they are in life, there is hope and their life has meaning. And I am thankful for every single author who writes for teens, no matter the genre, because they are telling teens to wish and hope and dream and inspire and BE. Be who you are supposed to be, live your purpose in this world and make your life your moment. And I am thankful to every teen librarian who works tirelessly to get the right books into the hands of the right teens so that they can take a moment to read those words and let them work within their spirit the way they are supposed to. The right book in the right hands makes all the difference.
Love Karen, who was devastated when River Phoenix died but, sadly, I have seen so many celebrities lives end too soon in my life now that all I can think is that maybe celebrity culture itself is the real tragedy. May we all find love and happiness in our lives wherever it is meant for us to find. RIP Whitney Houston.
Filed under: Teen Issues
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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