Inspirational

Fame Messed Me Up More Than Porn Ever Did

fame

In 2016, I was doing research for my book “The New Lonely” by going to various high schools, churches and conferences to conduct surveys. One of the questions in the survey was “How important to you is fame?” Responses varied, but I’ll never forget the answer from one tenth-grader who wrote in, “Fame is everything to me. It’s my number 2 goal.” (Sadly, he did not mention what his number one goal was, so let’s assume it’s getting a really good perm.)

We have a culture of children whose heroes are the Logan Pauls and Selena Gomez’s of the world, and I have figured something out about this new fame operation system. It begins with a confession: I like Logan Paul.

A few months ago I went to see what all the hype was about with this YouTuber, and I honestly got hooked after the first video. He was hilarious, charismatic and entertaining. One thing I realized about his video style, though, is that you don’t feel like you’re one of millions of viewers tuning in to watch an uber-famous vlogger vlog. In the past, ‘famous people’ were those in the motion pictures. The ones you had to pay five dollars to see in the theater, and there was an obvious difference between their lives and mine.

You watch Clint Eastwood shoot the outlaws and Leo swoon over Rose on the Titanic, and no part of you thinks, This is attainable for me. I can do that too. 

The difference with today’s Hollywood is that you watch a good YouTuber do their thing and you feel like you’re a pal. You’re in the circle. You’re riding dirt bikes around their mansion with them, or racing Lamborghinis on the PCH.

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I think it’s this inclusive nature that makes fame seem so much closer than it ever was before. They don’t seem like famous people. And to some extent, that’s true. That’s actually the story of the Paul brothers who were midwestern nobodies from Ohio until their Vine accounts blew up, which led to YouTube superstardom.

Watch one of their videos and you’ll soon forget that you don’t have millions of dollars to throw on the world’s largest pumpkin, or a customized Fortnite gaming room in your crib. The fact that this lifestyle is just a viral video or two away means that many of us have taken the bait. It means we’re recording everything we do and tweeting every thought in our brains thinking that something will eventually catch, and we’ll be on our way to LA next week.

Problem is, every alluring promise of fame turns out to be hollow. Their checks will always bounce.

Three years ago I was named the sexiest man on earth by CBS. Then I was asked for dating advice by both GQ and Cosmo magazines, and MTV called me ‘stupid hot.’ I was hit on by Luis Vuitton’s shoe designer (he even offered to fly me out to Paris for a private weekend) and the followers flooded by the thousands.

I thought I had finally crested that glorious plateau of fame from which there is no descent, and for a delicious month, I had.

But then the calls stopped coming. The TV interviews slowed down and my follower number actually began shrinking. Three years later, I’ve probably lost more followers than most people will ever have. It seems like a pointless number, but can you imagine what that does to your psyche? To think that thousands of people don’t want to hear what you have to say or see what you’re doing with your life?

The thing is, most people (fortunately) won’t know what it’s like to come down from that because they’ve never gone up. Many people long for fame and influence without realizing the repercussions of their desires. They don’t know what it’s like to be hated by thousands of angry internet-people (once it became public that I was a Christian, thousands of strangers suddenly started sending me hate messages and writing terrible articles about me) or feel like you always need to please them all without offending any of them.

There’s a word for what I experienced, though some of you may protest: trauma.

It’s weird to think of myself as the victim of a trauma, because my life has honestly been pretty pain-free. Without delving too much into the philosophy of comparing sufferings, I think that’s an adequate term for what someone experiences as a has-been internet celebrity.

When a counselor first told me that I had experienced ‘trauma’ in the experience of my viral video, I protested because I felt guilty. I had not been assaulted or abused. But looking back on it three years later, I’m realizing that ‘trauma’ just may be a fitting word. After all, how many celebrities end up killing themselves? We can all name a few who took their own lives just this year.

Despite the staggering tragedy-like elements of the lives of many famous people, it remains something many of us seek as a high[est] priority. We probably feed ourselves lies like,

Naw, that won’t happen to me.

I’d be happy with just a thousand more followers……then a thousand more…..

My brain wouldn’t be messed up by millions of adoring fans; I’m sure it would feel great!

The thing I’ve told everyone who asks me about the experience of being famous — and I never ever swear — is pretty simple:

Fame f’s with your head.

Other side effects which you may not have thought about are things like:

Commitment issues: Since you know everyone is throwing themselves at you, no one is ever good enough. Found someone who likes you? Well, there are probably better-looking ones out there among your horde of thousands of followers. Ever wonder why the celebrity divorce rate is so high?

An ever-growing feeling of inferiority: Your last Instagram post didn’t get as many as the one before it? Uh-ohhhh…someone is slipping quietly into obscurity. There are 100 people who will take your place tomorrow.

Comparison and envy: You may have gotten 5 million views yesterday, but Jim just dropped a new video and it already has 7. Now we hate Jim but we also wish we were him. Returning to the attention of the public becomes an obsession.

Shame: In addition to mean articles and hateful comments about you, you become even more of your own worst critic. You beg yourself questions such as, Why would anyone follow me anyway? I’m worthless. I don’t have as many followers as Catelyn and she’s skinnier and had better hair and I’m not talented like her and…….

Your fame becomes your identity: Three years later, it’s hard to not try to associate myself as ‘the shirtless jogger.’ That’s the reason people started to care about me, so that must be all I am. That must be the only thing to give me value.

Pride: In psychology, it’s called the Spotlight Phenomenon. You think everyone is talking/thinking about you every second of every day. Forget intimacy when you have ego.

Fake friends: Everyone suddenly wants to be associated with the ‘famous’ person.

In light of the title of this blog, it’s true. Fame messed me up pretty bad, and I wasn’t even famous famous. I was just viral for a few days. And ironically, all the messing with my head worsened my struggle against porn rather than help it get better.

Don’t long for fame. Don’t long for your head to be f’ed with. Recognize that you’re already loved and accepted by the only One who really matters; the only One who will never click Unfollow. The One who died just so He could be with you for all of eternity.

May we be people who remember that. May we be Christians who astound the world with our peace and identity whether we have 8 followers or 8 million. It’s harder than it sounds, but be content with where you are. With who you have. Life will be better.

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Ethan Renoe
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Ethan is a speaker, writer, and photographer currently living in Los Angeles. He has lived on 6 continents, gone to 6 schools, had 28 jobs, and done 4 one-armed pull-ups. He recently graduated from Moody Bible Institute. Follow him at ethanrenoe.com or check him out on Facebook

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