Let me tell you what I think: The Snooki Complex

Teresa Sheffield

Clearly, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow hadn’t met Snooki when he said, “Fame comes only when deserves.”

In this day and age, where all it takes to be famous is a webcam and no shame, for many stars, notoriety isn’t based on accomplishment; it’s based on how many people see your face.

American humorist Erma Bombeck once said, “Don’t confuse fame with success. Madonna is one; Helen Keller is the other.”

I’m not going to knock Madonna because I think she has talent, but I find Bombeck’s quote waggishly pertinent in 2011. There is a stark difference in “Nelson Mandela fame” vs. “Snooki fame”: one has been earned by striving a lifetime for the equality and the betterment of mankind, and the other by liking to fake bake.

When it comes to stars like Snooki, the casts of the Real Housewives of whatever, Paris Hilton, and most reality show contestants, the only “Situation” here is why are they famous?

I’m not saying these people don’t have their places. We all need our share of brainless television after a long day of work, and I hate to think what theme parties would be like without Jersey Shore. But we’ve come to the point of being famous for being famous. It’s as if “15 minutes of fame” has been contorted into paltry, quasi-celebrity careers.

Benedict Carey in his New York Times article entitled “The Fame Motive” said that in a recent study, about 30 percent of American adults regularly daydream about being famous, and more than 40 percent expect to get their 15 minutes of fame in life.

Tim Kasser, a psychologist at Knox College in Nashville, Tenn. said, “It’s a distinct type, people who expect to get meaning out of fame, who believe the only way to have their lives make sense is to be famous. We all need to make meaning out of our lives, and this is one way people attempt to do it.”

The only reason I’ve been thinking about this topic is because of a recent conversation with an 8-year-old boy who goes to the elementary school where I volunteer. I asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up and he said, “Famous.” I asked him what he wanted to be famous for and he said, “I dunno, just famous.”

Is fame now a profession? Is this considered venerable work? What happened to doctor or teacher? What happened to being famous because of excelling in your field of work or making the world a better place?

It’s as if fame has become a right and not an anomaly. In a country where more people voted for the 2006 American Idol than the American president in 2004, you have to wonder where our priorities are.

It’s been a sort of running joke that Americans know celebrity facts over basic civics ones. Take for instance the segment Jay Leno does on The Tonight Show where he asks random people on the street rudimentary civics questions and gets some bafflingly dim-witted answers. Some gems include:

Q: “Who were Lewis and Clark?”

A: “Superman.”

Q: “Where is Iraq?

A: “I dunno, like South Europe?”

Q: “How many continents are there?”

A: “52?”

Q: “What is the women’s suffrage movement?”

A: “I dunno, being with men?”

Funny? Yes. Representative of America? Probably not. If Jay Leno doesn’t seem like a credible polling source, let’s try Newsweek.

Newsweek conducted a well-publicized survey where 1,000 Americans took a citizenship test given to immigrants before naturalization. The results: 38 percent straight up failed. 70 percent didn’t know the purpose of the Constitution, 73 percent didn’t know why we fought the Cold War and 29 percent didn’t know who the vice president was.

America is the home of the free, the brave and now the celebrity. I’m not asking for CSPAN to institute a takeover of all channels, and I’m not asking for the abolishment of all shows that aren’t the most enlightening (that would be cruel to VH1). I’m just asking that we keep those in this world with Snooki Complexes under control, and recognize shoddy fame for what it is.

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