opinion

Being famous is not a dream job in 2020. It's a dangerous one.

I believe there’s a woman on primetime TV right now who has brushed her teeth with poo.

Yes. A stranger she married scrubbed a toilet-bowl with her toothbrush and didn’t tell her about it. Now, who else knew about it and for how long and how many germ-borne diseases she may have contracted and whether or not she has sh*t-breath is fodder for public humiliation on a show watched by 1.3 million people every night.

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Meanwhile, on the Daily Mail, a very famous Australian woman who has built a fitness empire worth $50m has been being publicly stoned for weeks. She failed a breathaliser with her child in the car. Almost as soon as she’d stopped blowing into the machine on a Sydney street, it was “revealed” that she is going through a painful split with her husband, the father of her child.

Last week, the world was wringing its hands over the devastating death by suicide of a well-loved, smart and talented TV presenter at the top of her game.

Every day, the gloriously shiny platform of Instagram is crammed with high-profile women being told they are too thin, too fat, too young, too old. Irresponsible. Uptight. A bad mother, a selfish bitch, a money-grabbing such-and-such.

Twitter is a place where one day you are being rewarded for erudite wit and pithy opinions with book-deal worthy follower numbers, but the next you’re getting linguistically kicked to death by an angry mob.

And over in Britain, a Prince is trying to hand back his crown.

Is it time to admit that maybe, just maybe, being “famous” is not a good thing to be in 2020?

Apparently not. Because the poo-toothbrush show (I think we all know it’s called Married At First Sight) which is routinely the target of headlines about subjective editing, bullying, mental breakdowns and gag orders, has never had more people applying to get on it. Fourteen-thousand Australians applied to be one of the 20 people on that show this year. That was 40 per cent up on the previous year, which was 40 per cent up on the one before.

Famously, western kids want to be YouTubers when they grow up. Three times more of them want to be a vlogger than something as pedestrian as an astronaut.

A quarter of all Millennials would quit their jobs for fame, and a third would rather be famous than pursue a previously high-status profession like lawyer or a doctor.

None of this is surprising. In a gig-economy world, being “famous” is a genuine job – that’s what influencers are. And the best way to do it, to super-charge your following to a spend-worthy level, is to go on reality TV.

Fame used to be a side-effect of something else – being an actor, singer, or marrying a royal, say – and now it’s a profession in itself. No judgement on that, it’s just an evolution of the advertising industry, but let’s not pretend it’s a dream job, when the stakes are so very high.

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On the surface of it, who wouldn’t rather be making money taking photos, trialling free products and turning up to events, rather than clocking up four years of eye-watering uni debt or battling through a patchwork of gig-jobs that lower your self-esteem while barely moving your bank balance? It’s a privileged position to be even a little bit sniffy about this.

But if those at risk are the ones who’ve chosen or chased the spotlight, the blame for what happens to them when they step into it lies with the rest of us.

Because we have collective amnesia when it comes to the toxicity of mass attention.

On a global scale, we’re all (and I include myself) happily sitting back scoffing popcorn watching Meghan Markle being hounded and vilified by the press daily when, once upon a time, even the Daily Mail was so shocked by the fate of another Princess in a similar situation that they pledged to stop printing paparazzi pictures.

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And on a local one, every year there’s at least one reality TV star who’s humiliated or harassed to the edge of sanity.

Like Sam Frost, our Bachelorette in 2015: “Everyone was so critical, and the media was critical, and trolls were just horrendous… And I said to [Sasha, her partner], ‘I don’t want to be here anymore. I don’t want to wake up everyday anymore.”

Like Clare Verrall, MAFS Season Two contestant, 2016: “I just wanted a love story and I thought this was the way it was going to happen. I didn’t sign up to have my life completely ripped to shreds. Someone is going to die. That someone was very nearly me.”

Like Abbie Chatfield, Bachelorette contestant, 2019: “I was having a really hard time while the show was airing, with all the negative comments directed to me. Honestly, it got to the point the weekend before the finale aired where I didn’t leave the bed… At the end of the day when you are getting 200 direct messages telling you to kill yourself, you feel like your entire world is negative.”

And there are many, many more. They speak about it, pearls are clutched and we cast around for who’s at fault. Every time, we’re shocked. Next minute, we’re laughing at a woman brushing her teeth with poo along with our 1.3 million friends.

Things have become so scary that in the aftermath of Caroline Flack’s much-dissected death in earlier this month, the UK’s Minister For Suicide Prevention and Mental Health announced an investigation.

“I have decided it is time for us to look deeper into the psychological effect of reputational damage,” says Nadine Dorries. “And what measures the entertainment industry can put into place to protect those who as a result of fame and success, fall victim to loss and grief in a way which can lead to a catastrophic and tragic result.”

Grief. Loss. Catastrophe.

And free things.

Where do we sign up?

Feature image: Instagram/@hayleyvernon_

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Note: Mamamia does not contribute to the paparazzi economy. Our business long ago took a stance to never run images of anyone taken without their consent. 

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