Want to Live Forever? Star in a Reality Show
What Netflix’s “Worst Roommate Ever” and A&E’s “60 Days In” tell me about the desperation behind bland, ready-made fame
The Kanye West docuseries Jeen-Yuhs is the best explanation of the jilted megastar’s warped persona and is easily a film of the year. Although its less splashy vintage star is now more myth than icon, the Biggie documentary, I Got a Story to Tell, mines similar turf. In each, the childhood friends of eventual celebs, Clarence “Coodie” Simmons for West and Damion “D-Roc” Butler for Wallace, respectively, patch together the kind of pre-social-media home movie footage that feels warm and relevant mostly because we know their subjects will be important. It’s the kind of filmmaker foresight that mystifies in hindsight. The magnitude and reach of their friends’ talent sprouts wide and tall even in the early days, meaning the clairvoyant coverage impresses appreciably as we near the arc of fame. We’re newly invested in the run-up to Grammy speeches we’ve seen a thousand times before.
The two documentaries represent the best possible version of constant filming: a steady climb to victory with bits of false defeat to punctuate a bubbly success story. Yet, here and now, with exhibitionist galleries like Instagram, career voyeur feeds like LinkedIn, and conspiracy nut relics like Facebook, we’ve exhausted our capacity to witness everyone’s every thought and moment. Especially when it comes to “micro-influencers,” who’ve parlayed a need for attention into quasi-fame, broadcasting a pared-down version of life where defeats and depression offer a window to captioned wisdom or planned “breaks” from the stage.
Reality shows complicate the purgatory between true fame and temporary visibility. The line between instant star and celeb has increasingly thinned as paths to stardom have broadened and muddied. In the past few years, I have been pitched to write on a reality show about a state’s top realtors and seen friends become the subject of viral videos. They’re then solicited by TV execs and production companies. Andy Warhol’s future of ubiquitous 15-minute fame has arrived. It’s been the air we breathe for a decade. But its intrigue stutters because the programs, heroes, and villains fit a repetitive format. We’ve seen…