John Green, Balloon Boy, and Our Need for Fame.

In an attempt at full disclosure, I am a Nerdfighter.  I know for some of you (anyone?  Bueller?) reading this that might not mean much.  What it does mean is that I am a huge fan of John and Hank Green.  I watch their Vlogbrother’s videos on Youtube, listen to Hank’s music, read John’s books, and follow them on Twitter.  And it was  John’s latest video, continuing his discussion on all things Balloon Boy and our society’s deep seeded desire for fame, that inspired me to write this blog and respond in full to his non-rhetorical question of why we seek fame?

In the video John addresses the three broad categories that his viewer’s thoughts on fame fell into.  The first is that people seek fame to live forever (cue theme music now).  I buy this to some extent.  I would think John would even agree that the idea that his books and words will out live him is a pretty awesome concept.  So, I agree that this point does have some validity.  I remember reading Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar in high school and thinking that it was pretty amazing, then realizing this guy’d been dead for 400 years, making it that much more amazing.  It was at that point that I wanted to create something, imagine something, and write something that would outlive me.  BUT…I don’t think it’s why most people feel the need to be famous, have their moment in the sun, or their 15 minutes.

The second suggested excuse for people wanting to be famous was “being famous allowed you to get rich without working hard.”  Yeah, I don’t agree.  I think some people have lucked into fame and become rich not doing much, but for most – even though it might not be typical work – it’s still work.

The third excuse offered up by John’s viewers was that attention feels good.  And here I think some of John’s viewers were touching on my opinion with this concept.  Attention, fame, and being noticed does feel good.  And it is that feeling I think, more than the money and everything else associated with fame, that drives celebrities to stay famous.  However, I’ll get back to that in a sec.

John then went on to explain his thoughts on why people want to be famous, thinking it is genetically encoded in all of us to seek out the respect from those whom we respect.  And here I think John came even closer to what drives us all to seek out the attention of others, often as many others as possible.  I believe John’s right in that this need of ours is genetically hardwired, but not to seek out someone else’s respect.  No, that’s just the intellectualizing of something much more base than that.

Remember, we’re all just animals.  We have not evolved that much to have out grown something so innate, so inherent, in our make up.  We like to think we’ve grown and developed far beyond the animal kingdom, but every day while watching the news I’m reminded that we really haven’t evolved that much.

But, back to my point, an animal’s success is measured in off spring and reproduction.  Animals live to propagate.   That is their sole job, to continue the species at all costs.  Many different animals have developed very complex techniques and methods for capturing the attention of potential mates.  And, I think, that is where our need for fame originates.  Stick with me on this…This hardwired drive to be noticed, to impress, to succeed in front of our peers stems from that inherent need to find a mate and reproduce.  Imagine back to when humans were nothing more than slightly smarter monkeys, living in groups, and nomadic.  The best hunters, the best gathers, the most physically fit, and possibly smartest individuals garnered the most attention from their daily exploits to impress possible mates.  This then allowed them to choose the best mates suitable for them.  As society and culture evolve what constitutes “best attributes” has changed, but those same basic needs, drives, and desires remain the same.  Be noticed.  Be noticed by as many potential mates as possible and when you are noticed, impress the be-geezus outta them.

Whether you’re a bird of paradise, African lion, or an investment banker your success, in terms of biology, is in acquiring a mate and producing offspring.  So, how do you do that?  Well, with the birds of paradise evolution has evolved complex courting displays and plumage to attract possible mates.  Oh, wait, or was that the banker?  Nevermind, back to my point.  African lions win their mates my taking over and maintaining a pride of females through sheer physical dominance of other male lions.  And Bankers, well they do it my displaying the sheer size of their investment portfolios.  Luckily, in my case, I wooed my wife with my spectacular plumage, and even more luckily she stuck around after said plumage faded…

But what happens after you have kids, or have a mate, etc, etc?  Well, I think that because the desire is hardwired there is no “off” switch.  And this is where our “evolved state” comes into play.  We can, even though we might not always choose to, think.  We can focus and imagine and create, and so we do.  We still have that need to be noticed, but we apply it to other areas.  Those of us who enjoy creating write, or paint, or find another outlet and medium in which to create.  Others find other means of satiating that desire, and some create ginormous balloons and perpetuate hoaxes on a national scale.  To each his own.  The overall need or reflex or desire has evolved, with us, over time, but I do think to answer John’s question as to why we seek out fame, we do need to trace it all the way back to our origins in the animal world.

But we do, in the end, seek out each other’s attention – for good or bad – because it does feel good to be noticed, respected, appreciated, and desired.

For those of you who’ve stuck with me through all of this I want to recommend you check out John and Hank.  They are informative, talented, fun, and hugely entertaining.

You can find them at the following sites:

Twitter:  @realjohngreen and @hankgreen.

Youtube: vlogbrothers.

Websites:,, and


About markfreeman

This blog is the result of when a geek and dad has a penchant for writing.
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