Wealth with no Production—the New(er) American Dream
Perhaps Solomon had it right.
Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits lacks sense. Proverbs 12:11
If I could start a Youtube channel or an Instagram account or some other forum and record myself doing…stuff…then I could get views! And maybe, just maybe over time, I could get subscriptions!
The brass ring: I could have so many views and subscriptions that people, either the platform itself such as Youtube or Instagram or a vendor, would pay me to do stuff or to use their stuff as a marketing tool! I could get paid just for recording myself doing…stuff.
There exists a Youtube channel to suit any endeavor but there exists an equal number that support absolutely no endeavor. People film themselves doing whatever, being cute or ironic, acting goofy or silly, being themselves…and other people watch them by the millions!
My sons are infatuated with a handful of you-tubers who do such profound things as stay all night in the McDonald’s playground, do flips at the local trampoline park, or make forts of toilet paper rolls at Sam’s Club or Walmart until they get kicked out. These are fairly PG rated but others delve into more risque content even to the point of generating controversy.
But that’s not the point. The point is they produce, generate, and create absolutely nothing. They contribute nothing to society.
But that’s not the point either. Millions of Americans spend millions of hours tuned into this mind-numbing, soul-eviscerating form of entertainment.
But that’s not the point either.
The real issue is the captured aspirations of legions of young men, a seductive side-effect of such endeavors.
Origin of the Dream
MTV debuted The Real World in 1992 to minimal fanfare.
The first reality show I remember, it centered around placing a group of 7 to 8 young people from different backgrounds and different demographics in the same home and filming every aspect of their interaction, which often became volatile and increasingly sexual over the years. Initially described as “painfully bogus” or “too phony”, the show ended up running for 21 seasons with great commercial success.
Though the cast members received a small stipend, the show often served as a springboard for greater success. Many went on to careers in entertainment, journalism, and other fields.
Yet, it was initial notoriety from merely existing, and filming that existence, that spawned their success.
An industry was born, reality television, which gave rise to a wave of people who were famous merely for being famous. Ever since we’ve been flooded with Hiltons, Kardashians, Honey Boo Boos, Real Housewives. And of course we were introduced to the Jersey Shore. Excuse me while I vomit a bit in my mouth.
Yet, everyone understood that this wasn’t us. These weren’t actually real people. They couldn’t be and even more, I could never be one of them.
The internet and social media changed all that. Young men now have the opportunity, in their minds, to be exactly that, famous for being famous.
Anyone can start a Youtube channel, an Instagram account, a Twitter account etc. and anyone can become the next Logan Paul or Roman Atwood or Eh Bee Family or any one of the countless other people who have become famous for being famous and generate absolutely nothing.
It’s tempting to enter the generational fray.
My friend’s son is 24, lives at home, and makes money by selling hand-painted video game controllers on the internet. It would be tempting for me, as a form of generational contempt, to declare him a slacker for 1) not leaving home and 2) not having a real job.
Yet, as the world changes, why would our manner of generating revenue not change?
But he doesn’t go anywhere to work. He doesn’t clock in. He has no, gasp!, schedule. To my generation and I’m sure the older generations, this type of existence seems shiftless bordering on lazy.
He is artistic and leverages that talent to create, to produce. He is entrepreneurial, leveraging technology and the passions of others (video games) to generate revenue. He is diligent as he works another retail job to enable this passion.
Let us not allow differing views on the suitability of work to drive contempt or lack of regard.
A Pendulum too Far
My father is the hardest working man I’ve known.
Raised the son of a bricklayer, he entered the nuclear industry without a college degree sixty years ago and through sheer hard work over time (decades) became a leading guy in the field. He even patented several items—articulating dingle arms, flux capacitors, and so forth.
When it came time for college, he informed me matter-of-factly that he would pay for me to attend college but I was not going to get some wishy-washy, touchy-feely degree in basket-weaving or political science or communications. I was going to get a degree in a hard math or science or something that would ensure me employment in the future.
In hindsight, I respect his intent, but what happens is a shift in the pendulum too far whereby we declare all pursuit of dreams as invalid.
“Stick to the plan son, you’re not going to be an actor.”
The desire we should feed is the desire to generate, to create, to produce. Okay, have a backup plan in case your artwork doesn’t sell, but if you have a passion, kindle it, fan it, stoke it.
The desire we should crush is the desire to be rewarded absent the above.
Aspiration once involved production. Ambition involved generation.
Men were concerned with substance over style, function over form. They sought to create things, to build, to produce things. There is intense joy in creating, in doing, a satisfaction of the soul in introducing something into existence that never existed before, of shaping raw materials, whatever they may be, into a new form. And I am speaking of equally of all acts of creating: writing poetry, building a custom car, establishing a business.
Such endeavors requires skill, perhaps necessitating training or education. They demand hard work, discipline, creativity, ingenuity, fortitude, a willingness to fail.
The reward is in the production or the end-item itself. Compensation is ancillary and even if it becomes a priority, it never outpaces the intrinsic value of the creation and the associated efforts.
But what if the compensation came absent the effort?
This desire is symptomatic of a deeper flaw.
Intense narcissism feeds this desire for wealth and fame and all of the trappings associated with status merely for who you are, not for what you produce, not for what you create, not for what you’ve done, but just by your sheer existence.
It’s like entitlement on steroids.
Not only am I entitled to my free cell phone, my health care, my college education…but I am entitled to prosper, to achieve renown and regard again, just by being me. It’s amplified self-esteem, anathema to the core underpinnings of the Gospel.
Yet, it demands a piercing question. Who taught these young men where to find their value anyway?
Author - Founder
Soldier, Pastor, Author – Bradford stays busy, with his wife Ami, raising their 9 children, serving the nation, pastoring, preaching, and writing books (#3 is due out October ’17).
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