Doctor, lawyer, YouTube star? If you ask millennials which career choice they’d prefer, hawking weight loss teas on Instagram now ranks ahead of being an MD or an esquire, at least according to survey research commissioned by social talent sharing startup Clapit. Some of the choice findings:
More than a quarter of millennials would quit their job in exchange for fame.
Thirty percent of millennials would rather be famous than become a lawyer and 23% would rather be famous than be a doctor.
One in 10 millennials would choose fame over a college degree.
One in 12 millennials would cut off their own family to become a household name.
At first glance, the results play straight into millennial stereotypes about entitlement and self-absorption, but I’d argue that millennials are being pretty savvy here. Fame, micro or the Hollywood variety, is a bona fide cultural currency. It’s not necessarily tied to talent or merit, but it exists as its own collateral that you can trade for myriad advantages. At one end of the scale, it’s former Bachelor contestants shilling the aforementioned weight loss teas on Instagram or C-list celebs cashing in on their credentials to be a panelist on one of ABC’s prime-time game show offerings. At the other end? It’s leveraging a YouTube channel where you film yourself playing video games into a $15 million pay check in 2016 or, most dramatically of all, riding your reality TV brand all the way to the White House. In a time when we’ve elected a man who has “fired” Gene Simmons and Dennis Rodman on national television to the highest office in the land, complete with all its trappings of immense global power, why the heck wouldn’t millennials prioritize notoriety?
The barriers to “fame” have also dropped in recent years, in no small part due to technology, specifically social media. Fame once required the credibility that comes from appearing in media such as film or TV or distinguishing yourself as a leader in a particular industry. We now have an entire class of “famous” people whose works exist only on YouTube or Instagram, who are virtually unknown to anyone over 30 and who rake in huge paydays from companies seeking to capitalize on their popularity with young consumers. Millennials may aspire to fame because achieving it looks as easy as hitting record on your iPhone.
While Clapit’s survey focused on millennials, other research suggests that gen z’s perception of fame is even more closely tied to social media than their older brothers and sisters. A 2014 survey from Variety magazine found that the five most influential media figures among 13 to 18 year olds weren’t conventional celebs but YouTube stars. Other research from UCLA discovered a link between social media use and the perception of the importance of fame among 9 to 15 year olds. Thirty-three percent of those surveyed said being famous was at least somewhat important to their future success. Of those respondents who said fame was very important, 54% frequently posted photos and updated their social media statuses regularly.
While it’s never felt more difficult to launch a white-collar career that will pave the way to achieving the traditional American Dream, it’s also never been easier to potentially put your work or your face in front of millions of eyeballs with little more than a few clicks. Millennials get this.