A Look Behind Who Seeks Internet Fame
If you have adolescent kids, chances are they don’t watch much TV, obsess over movies, or spend time on Facebook or Instagram. More likely they are on YouTube, watching an endless stream of peer generated content. Its reach is way more massive than traditional television, and I wanted to check it out.
So a few weeks ago I took a deep dive into social media celebrity by attending the wildly successful VidCon convention in Anaheim. Like Coachella, I was older than most parents of the kids who were in attendance. The weirdness of this virtual reality, empathy-impaired world was amplified on my way over by an all too real world exchange on the off ramp of the 5 freeway.
I was stopped at the light at Katella, playing blues harmonica to the radio as I sometimes do, when out of the blue I felt a presence off my left shoulder. A panhandler. I instinctively locked my door and kept playing. Then a pang of guilt hit me, because I’ve gotten in the habit of helping strangers. I rolled down my window and summoned him over, an older black man in his 60s. I handed him some bills, he smiled and thanked me. Then I said, this one’s for you, and started to play the harp again. He lit up.
“What key is that?” he asked, a cue he was a musician.
“C. You play?” I asked.
“Sax and bass,” he beamed.
“What a gift,” I said.
“It sure is.”
“They can never take that away from you.”
He radiated, and we shared a knowing smile. I would have liked to have asked more but the light turned and there were people behind me who would never allow a human moment at an intersection.
I continued on and parked at “The Happiest Place on Earth,” then walked to the gleaming Convention Center, where I encountered throngs of teens, live music and food trucks. It was buzzing. There were three ticket tracks. The cheapest was Community, essentially the fans who worship their video idols and had come to see them in person. Creator track was reserved for YouTube stars and up-and-comers, featuring how-to workshops on filming, editing, marketing, and parental controls. The final track was for Industry – the sugary brands who want to reach this audience.
I felt some initial snark at the narcissism on display. Oh these kids, thinking their world view at 18 was so profound it was worth imparting to the world. I attended a few panels and learned some important life lessons such as, “Never order pizza without ranch dressing.” Adolescent kids in the audience sat rapt, laughing at every joke, squealing at every pronouncement, and forming a long line to ask questions of their idols. What was the world coming to, I thought? At a time when Rome is burning, jobs are nearing extinction, and musicians are homeless and panhandling, how could this have any real meaning and value to society?
Then I leaned in. And listened. And observed that a good 75 percent of the attendees appeared to be female. Many of them minorities, in all shapes and colors. And they were dealing with the challenges so many face growing up, like body issues, gender confusion, and self-love. They were the outliers. The panelists spoke about being authentic and honest. One gay teen spoke of the video that launched him – dying his leg hair purple (big applause). That was the moment he became ok with himself, he said.
Fans asked for advice about starting their own channels. The panelists were encouraging.
“Do it. You’re old enough to have an account. Put yourself out there.”
“Your online friends are as important as your real friends.”
“Thanks to everyone on the Internet for teaching me who I am.”
It struck me that these kids develop an intimacy and honesty with their online friends that may not be possible in their judgmental and cliquish communities. As for the threat of online predators, of course it’s real, but isn’t that the world at large? This community polices itself, warning of “catfish”, those who lure others into online romances. They told kids to get their parents onboard. Some parents spoke at a panel and said they wished their child had started sooner.
Yes, it can be sordid and creepy, but it is absolutely here to stay and it takes communication away from corporate controlled media and gives kids an authentic platform to be heard. Pretty cool, and a real jobs category that Trump should get behind.
On my way home I considered the contrast I’d experienced between the kids in the cyber world and the interesting old musician trying to get by in the real one. And how, by birth, circumstance, unlucky twists of fate, he didn’t have a room, a camera, or a YouTube channel. But I kind of wished he had. He had a story to tell. I’d follow him. Maybe we’d be friends.
Billy Fried hosts “Laguna Talks” on Thursday at 8 p.m. on KX 93.5, and can be reached at [email protected]
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