Living the Nightmarish Dream
We’ve all had times when we’ve wanted to be somebody else. Somebody cooler, somebody better-looking, somebody who understands physics. Rock stars get doting fans hassling them all the time about being famous. Robert Smith of the Cure wrote a song called “Why Can’t I Be You?” after a fan asked him that very question. It’s actually a perfect pop song: catchy, direct, innocent, and injected with just the right amount of homoeroticism.
Don’t think for a moment that a golden opportunity for connecting with viewers would escape the cultural tractor beams over at MTV. Becoming is the latest show in a series of MTV’s attempts to get fans closer to stars. Except this time they’re not just getting closer, they’re turned into stars—other stars as it were, but stars nonetheless. Every “winner” who appears on Becoming gets to recreate, frame-by-frame, a video from his or her favorite artist. They get the makeup, they get the wardrobe, they get the choreography—everything. Sound stupid? Good, I’m glad I’m not the only one who thinks so.
I can’t quite place what bugs me most about Becoming. It could be the show’s editing, which like the editing on many other MTV programs, focuses way too much on poiseless young people whom I wouldn’t like even if I was their age. These are the people who yammer like that girl talking about band camp in American Pie. They’re the people who, when they’re driving you crazy by starting every third sentence with “y’know” or “bro” or “like,” are flashing a dopey Ritalin grin that would make Gandhi want to slap ‘em.
Take, for example, Kristin, whose main ambition up to this point in her life is to be Britney Spears. Not be like Britney Spears, but actually be her. MTV is happy to indulge Kristin’s fantasy, and over the course of the next 30 minutes, we’re given a peek into the insightful world of a superfan. The reproduction of Spears’s video for “...Baby One More Time” is unnerving for many reasons: for starters, there’s the creepy accuracy of the setting, dance moves, and makeup. But, ultimately, what’ll drive you bonkers is listening to Kristin’s reasons for wanting to be Britney—she’s got the moves, she’s got the pipes, she’s got the clothes, blah blah blah—not to mention her emphatic proclamations, “I look like her!”
You get the same caffeinated enthusiasm from the four guys who are brought together to play Limp Bizkit and can’t seem to get over a) how cool they think they look; and b) how fun it is living like a rock star. Yeah, wait until you get home and mommy grounds you for not making your beds. It could also be the idea itself that annoys me. There is definitely much to be concerned about when the dominant purveyor of youth culture in the United States goes from letting fans interview a celebrity (as in the equally unsettling series, Fanatic) to letting them “become” a celebrity.
Let’s take a look at this in the abstract: Becoming‘s producers take one or more young people, treat them to a mini-tour of the celebrity lifestyle, and then do everything in their power to make them look like the stars of their choice. In some states, this extreme kind of fandom would get you five years for stalking. But in the alternative dimension of cable TV, you get your own time-slot, right after The Real World.
MTV seems to be buying into the decades-old defect of youth guidance and education: individualism bad; conformity good. Becoming is teaching the kids who watch it that one of the highest aspirations you can have is not to be a rock star, but to be a rock star who’s already been a rock star. Why have your own band when you can be the Red Hot Chili Peppers, like Stephan, Carlo, Gerad, and Travis do in one episode? After all, you won’t have to think up any of your own moves and you don’t even need talent once they’re done applying the body paint. The whole concept is just so… so… so drag queen.
But as much as I’d love to take the critical high road and continue pointing out all the show’s unforgivable flaws, I should confess that part of my animosity comes out of pure jealousy. Like the kids on Becoming, I grew up wanting to be a rock star. I still want to be one, but I don’t obsess over it anymore. I don’t play a musical instrument and, let’s face it, I’m not getting any younger or better-looking. But back in the day, I would’ve killed to be on Becoming. In sixth grade, I put together a group that lip-synched the Beastie Boys’ “Fight for Your Right (to Party)” to audition for the school talent show. Naturally, we were the most popular group among our fans—uh, classmates—but The Man (Mr. Ashton in this case) wouldn’t let us participate in the school-wide show because the song mentioned alcohol and pornography. Besides being my first brush with censorship, it was my first taste of rock star dreams unfulfilled (we weren’t kicked out, we just had to change our song to a stupid friggin’ Bon Jovi ballad, and I had to be the friggin’ keyboardist!). I hadn’t thought of it for years, but I guess I never fully recovered.
That’s the main reason why I hate Becoming. It is stupid. It is poorly edited. It is a scientific study in obsession waiting to happen. But it’s also every young person’s dream. I hate it, I hate it, I hate it! But, if anyone from MTV is out there reading, I’d make a really good Ad Rock. Honest.