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The Things We Do For Fame

MitchDecember is not even halfway over, but I already know the big story of the last 12 months: 2009 will be remembered as the year we sold our souls for fame.

There was the Octomom, whose thirst for attention led her to auction her life -- and her 14 children -- to the cameras and the Web.

There was the Balloon Boy family -- so obsessed with securing a reality TV series that they faked a disaster involving their own son.

There were the State-Gate Crashers, who, with cameras chronicling them right to the door, weaseled their way into a White House dinner.

And we can't begin to list all the pseudo, wanna-be and semi-celebrities who shamelessly threw themselves into the limelight, from the Gosselins to the endless stream of Michael Jackson mourners to the gyrating, guy-kissing Adam Lambert, who seems to grow in stature with each show that cancels him.

Lambert, an "American Idol" runner-up, is one of Barbara Walters' most fascinating people of the year.

Really? For what?

Goodbye modesty

Doesn't matter. We've reached the point where the "what" is superfluous to the "wow." So people flock to learn more about the cocktail waitress who last week claimed to have had a long affair with Tiger Woods, and while Woods is chided for his alleged infidelity, no one seems to question why this woman chose to get involved with one of the most famous married people on the planet. Does it shock you to learn she's a minor figure on a reality TV show herself? Why isn't the lust for a headline as decried as the lust for flesh?

It's as if fame for fame's sake is now an accepted motivation.

And this is where the world gets dangerous.

Because right now, there are still some people left who remember when modesty and shame kept you from certain behaviors. Still some people who recall when you wouldn't endanger children, risk security or soil your family name with unflattering attention.

But those people are getting gray and old. And young people today see fame as not only everything, but the only thing.

So YouTube is stuffed with a million videos of people hoping to become household names. And entities like TMZ and RadarOnline, instead of being criticized for invading privacy then peddling the results, are growing in popularity with each salacious story. "American Idol" is now, incredibly, almost seen as wholesome, instead of a packaged, calculating money-making machine. And people we once respected for their accomplishments now seem hell-bent on landing a "Dancing With the Stars" appearance.

Hello narcissism

Once, as an experiment, I walked around a major sporting event with a camera crew. There was no purpose to the filming except to see how people reacted differently when you had a camera. I remember looking at the footage later and seeing people's expressions change, their smiles widen, their eyes grow interested when the camera caught them. It was like being under the water when Narcissus caught his reflection.

I found it scary.

And now I really find it scary. Because we're heading towards a time when nobody shakes a head or clucks a tongue at this stuff anymore, where today's kids are tomorrow's adults who will never have known a world without Perez Hilton or Jon and Kate, where you wouldn't do anything for five minutes of attention.

Just as this country was once a place where working people explained unenviable jobs with "I have to feed my family," now the thinking is "I have to feed my fame." And that can lead you to almost anything: faking your son being trapped in a balloon, giving birth to a flock of babies you can't take care of, or crashing the security at a presidential dinner.

It's the Story of the Year. When the Gatecrashers were exposed as posers, Michaele Salahi told the "Today Show": "Our lives have been destroyed, everything we've worked for. ... For me, 44 years, just destroyed."

But she was talking into a TV camera.

How's that for irony?

(C) 2009 BY THE DETROIT FREE PRESS DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.

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