childhood

Generation Fame: Can you Remember my Name?

Sundays were a very special day growing up in my household. It was a day where I got to play board games with my mom and we sang and danced together. There were no cell phone or iPad application games that we individually played for hours on end. We played together strategizing new ways of beating each other.  I couldn’t get enough of Mastermind, Boggle, or Connect Four playing those games hours on end. I loved that those games did not rely on luck or the roll of a dice. They took smarts and planning. They made a child actually think and plan ahead –at least, for the next ten minutes. They were quite forward thinking. Of course, we also had the game of Operation in which we tried to operate by taking bones out without hitting the sides. It was a game that challenged our sense of dexterity and whether we really wanted to be doctors growing up.  Regardless, of our actual skill sets the game got us thinking of our future possible selves. Board games were somewhat deep even though they were mostly fun ways to pass the time.

Did you ever play Chutes and Ladders? It was originally called snakes and ladders presumably because it was originally a board game out of India. The ladders were supposed to represent climbing to new heights of bliss, wit and smarts, while the chutes/snakes represented falling down into the pits of evil. Woa. That is a bit scary. I actually had no idea about that.  Every once in a while when I visited a neighbor I would get to play Candyland. Someone like me that resembles the little sister in Pecker (the one that sleepwalks for sugar) should have loved the game of Candyland. However, I hated it. All you had to do to play it was draw cards and move happily along the path to the next color. There was not much to it at all. It was in no way challenging and was thus not for me.

There was a game called Life that I didn’t play all that much. For me, growing up in the South Bronx was all the “life” games I needed.  Plus, the game of Life, as depicted in that board game, resembled one of two extremes that I just could not relate to at that time: Wall Street or suburbia. In order to play the game, each player has to start off by either going to college or working at a career (note the word career and not the phrase just working).  Then throughout the game, the players either got married, had children and eventually retired. Retirement, I hear that is a lovely concept. I, as well as a majority of my generation, wonder if such a thing will even exist when it is my turn to do so.  Let’s see. Considering that  we can’t even get a government to run and stay open nowadays, retirement is looking murky.

This morning I was watching some Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes again. There was this episode where Anya and Xander were babysitting Dawn by playing the game of life. She was a former demon so she didn’t quite get what all the board life trappings were about. She did understand that getting more money was good. She didn’t realize that having children in the game was a good thing and that she was thus winning. At one point she excitedly asked if she could trade the children in for more money. In watching that scene I was trying to remember what I thought of the game while growing up. I seriously can’t remember it very well, but I am pretty sure that back then, unlike many of my peers at that time, I would have wanted to trade the board game kids for more money as well.

At the same time that I was discovering these board games, I also came across the tail end of the television show called Fame.  In elementary school, we were taught to sing and perform to the lyrics of the Fame song. Who doesn’t know the lyrics nowadays?

(Fame) I’m gonna live forever
I’m gonna learn how to fly (High)
I feel it coming together
People will see me and cry
(Fame) I’m gonna make it to heaven
Light up the sky like a flame
(Fame) I’m gonna live forever
Baby, remember my name

Fame was an American television show that ran between 1982 and 1987. The TV show was based on the 1980 motion picture of the same name-you know, the one with Irene Cara.  It was the Glee of yesteryear, except it was grittier set at the New York City High School for the Performing Arts. Such a school didn’t exist per se but there was Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts in New York.  Oftentimes, now called the Fame school. While the show was called fame, it was not all glamour and fun. The teenager characters had to work hard and go through many travails and disappointments. There was a sense of honor and true grit to the fame seeking path.

Fast forward to the year 2013. Fame can come in a six second vine video or as a result of having a large family that is either willing to release sex videos or roll around in butter before a child’s beauty pageant occurs. Just this past week, CNN ran a headline that stated “Vine stars get 15-minutes of fame, 6-seconds at a time.”  Oh, that ubiquitous all-consuming search for one’s 15 minutes of fame. Look what Andy Warhol did to us all in 1968 when he uttered his now infamous “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.”  When he uttered this phrase back then, he was waxing philosophical about the abolishment of hierarchy and thus “everybody,” could be famous as a result of that hierarchy abolishment.

Unfortunately, that phrase has permeated our skin, our consciousness and our souls. Television shows catering to teenagers are oftentimes about fame-seeking. I think many have heard of the show Hannah Montana. Apparently, she is dead now.  There is also Austin and Ally, a singing and song-writing duo. Specifically, this very much 21st century show targeting kids is about a 15-year-old songwriter named Ally and her friend Austin, a singer who becomes an instant celebrity after posting a video online of himself performing one of Ally’s songs. The show is such the American Teenage dream. Have you caught iCarly or Victorious? They are very much cleaned up, instant celebrity versions of the ‘80s Fame show.

There is even now a new board game called Life: Fame edition. Whereas the previous Life board game got people thinking (admittedly not too deeply) about how you were going to get a home mortgage, where to buy insurance, and what qualities your future husband/wife would have the new  Life board game is all about how you will reach your celebrity status and who will get you there. The advertisement notes “Get an agent, a stylist or a personal assistant, and they will get you money, fame and access to the best events!”  This is what we are now teaching the youth of America. Of course we still have Chuck E Cheese –whose tag line is- “where a kid can be a kid.”   Although do note that even this kid’s utopia funland, you can get special rock star treatment.

Fame is all about one’s name being remembered. However, lets see if why one is remembered ends up mattering. Harkening back to Warhol’s fifteen minutes of fame, nowadays every little step one takes is ripe for attaining celebrity status. Why else would the internet have so many baby videos?  I must say I do not want to be in the workplace when that generation enters the workforce. By then, they will probably have had multiple fifteen minutes of fame and will be absolute terrors of ego. Here is hoping that Mastermind –where perhaps you can become an evil genius—makes a board game comeback and that Hannah Montana stays dead.

9 replies »

  1. I loved that show (Fame). As I think back, I can only remember one character, Leroy, who was the first time as a child (I was sheltered in the midwest) I’d seen someone clearly gay and not have that as the main plot device. I think Fame made me a more tolerant person, so that’s a nice side effect of an otherwise annoying cultural trend. Of course, as you say, the TV show wasn’t really about or like the modern version of fame-seeking folk.

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    • I thought Leroy was so cool, as well as the curly hair piano player (I cant remember his name for the life of me). But now that I look back at it all, I think it is so weird that my school teachers wanted us to perform that song on stage. I wonder if they thought that it would inspire us poor south Bronx kids to aim higher. lol.

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  2. Believing that we are (somewhat) “products of our environment”, I can’t help but wonder if our (?) “fame-seeking, alter-egos” are (weren’t) born from our “home-life” environment.
    Being raised in a neighborhood probably not too far from your own.. yet, most likely, worlds apart.. no one I can possibly think of from that era in my life, had any “15 minutes of fame” desire.
    Perhaps… just different generations.. different outlooks.. different wants/desires.
    PS… Riverdale not-withstanding.. isn’t the entire Bronx now considered “South”..?? 😉

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    • Yeah, my generation didn’t seek “fame” so much. But it is a definite part of the current growing up experience. Sigh. As for the bronx, I don’t know. I think Fordham and the more eastern part are definitely still separate from the overall south bronx image. Poor place. Still waiting to see what it becomes 🙂 Have you read the book random family? Its a fascinating book chronicling a family in the Bronx from late 80s on. Would love to hear your take on it.

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  3. Never watched fame, but I loved Buffy. My favorite characters were Anya, Spike, and Cordelia – the ones who saw their world in a more ironic (and dare I say twisted) way than others. Same with Warhol – he did nothing to create the current obsession with fame, he simply saw what it would be like. Even more worrisome, in light of the closing of the American mind, was his quip that ,”Someday, everyone will be thinking exactly what they want and it will be the same thing.”

    PS. My favorite board games were Clue, Risk, and Monopoly. Also, thanks to a fun uncle who led me astray, I enjoyed poker as a kid.

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    • I am a huge buffy fame. Truly my favorite show. Loved those three, as well as Oz. love that warhol quote- it captures contemporary America so well. Im just learning poker. How lucky you got to learn it so young!

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  4. I don’t even know what fame means anymore…with the internet and our short attentions, especially in my millienial generation…I forget the majority of what I see or disregard it entirely as something not worth my time.

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