Lust for fame seems to be a human phenomenon that goes as far back as recorded history. In ancient Greece and Rome, people created their gods as very human-like beings, complete with character flaws.
Celebrity in Rwanda has always given youths an outlet for their drastic imagination, just as the gods and demigods of ancient Greece and Rome once did. Celebrities are our myth bearers; carriers of the divine forces of good, evil, lust, and redemption.
Alexander the Great (356BC-323BC) was the first famous person in a modern sense, according to Leo Braudy, author of The Frenzy of Renown. “Not only did he want to be unique, but he wanted to tell everybody about it, and he had an apparatus for telling everybody about it. He had techniques for doing famous things. He had historians, painters, sculptors, gem carvers on his battles.”
In the contemporary world, this urgency for fame is being facilitated by the media. By performing such functions as status-conferral and agenda-setting, they have the power to set agendas on issues and confer status on personalities. Today, young people are exposed, to an immense range of influential figures through popular culture, television and radio, print media, and the essential evil, internet.
Unlike the past centuries where youth could seek guidance from their elders and discover their talents, today's youth, however, are being influenced more by technology. For them to be aligned with today's dramatic world, the youth have been dragged into a quite showy digital culture, freely influenced by the copycat syndrome.
Copycat-syndrome can result in them wallowing in a dream world, believing themselves to be mediocre, non-starters. This self-defining prophecy has greatly hindered their compelling role in building our country as well as their own futures.
In Rwanda, and indeed parts of Africa, the phenomenon of celebrity culture which from all indication is a western cultural experience, is fast spreading the mainstream cultural system of these societies. At the turn of the century, Rwandan media produced quite a great number of celebrities arising from the multiplicity of popular media. These celebrities have also had their lifestyles hyped and glamourised in the media, resulting in a recent explosion of attention given to these media figures.
As a university student here in Rwanda, I see firsthand the manifesting of a culture by the youth who have innately convinced themselves that they have to pursue a certain entertainment genre. However, in an effort to achieve that, they decide to bask themselves in destructive imaginations. In other words, exuding behaviors they would have done when they have already attained fame, after painstakingly working on their grit to finally be cheerful in a field they would have wished to be one of the shining stars.
There is a misconception that celebrity life is only tailored to having the trending hairstyle on the head, ever dressing to impress, living a pretentious life no matter what and regardless of lacking what it takes. A covering that never really sensibly defines what being a celebrity is. There is actually less effort employed to work on a talent that needs honing. And because of this, even some youths in Rwanda who actually have not realised who really they are supposed to be in a life based on a talent they think they tote, have forced themselves into entertainment. Even if they lack the basic prerequisites to fit in. But anyway, it’s all about the free-entry-free-exit policy for one to indulge in a certain realm of the entertainment genre. So they all jump in. And suddenly exit.
A noticeable problem is trades (like tailoring, catering, hairdressing, agriculture, plumbing, architecture among others) have only been labelled low profiled endeavors, and have largely been left to be pursued by elders. But again what really pains me is that much as many youth in Rwanda have prioritised harnessing entertainment and forging careers in it, they have again wrongly thought that for them to become successful in their careers, they have to associate their struggles with indulging in self-detrimental and negative behaviours: doing drugs, liquor, and to some extreme extent, practicing voodoo.
There is a general lack of rational career guidance in schools and even within the homes. The school curriculum we are clutching onto, is one that only looks up to grooming traditional professionals. Yet as times have evolved, some traditional professions have lost the remarkable esteem that used to be attached to them. With the new careers in place, much as they have not been recognised, have come with so many gains like freedom from conservative neo-liberal precepts, madly paying, very convenient, personal freedom, and many others. So, because the new unrecognised professions have been criticised by old school parents, never given room by the traditional schools, millennials have creatively molded their contemporary arts with little informed guidelines since the knowledgeable people of society have treated the new professions with mock.
How beautiful would it be, had the sagacious men and women of the Rwandan society dialogued with their children to rethink the old professions!
It is actually the main reason why the biggest portion of the youth has got their attention glued on only entertainment, even though some aren't fit to be slick entertainers. They've ended up being mediocre artistes or one may even call them the misplaced lot in the entertainment industry.
I can astutely introduce our youth culture as an aftermath of colonialism and globalisation of this part of the world by, especially, the West. Youth are the part of our nation that is most likely to engage in a process of cultural borrowing. This is a disruptive reproduction of traditional cultural practices, from modes of dressing to language, aesthetics , and ideologies. From Japanese punk to Australian hip hop, youth subcultures are seen as being implicitly rebellious, born as much from a desire to reject the generation that went before them, as a form of identification with what they have become.
Where once the famous achieved an almost godlike status, one that seemed impermeable and historical (consider Masamba, 2 Pac, the Kardashians), today celebrity exists for and by an information age. In our global and atomized world of bits and bytes, where information is instantly available and massive in its quantities, and as perishable as an electronic image, celebrities help personalise that information. They put a human face on it. However, they are diminished in the process. The trouble is, so are we.
Increasingly, our national passions, cultural watersheds, sexual mores, gender and racial battles, and political climate are viewed through the ever-shifting kaleidoscope of stories about people. As a result, our whole culture has come to be defined in terms of the personal, as seen through the celebrities of the week or month.
Fame, has become so immediate that it has lost its historical bearing of achievements. We have a growing sense of impermanence. With the media, we have the sense that our entire definition of true fame is visibility. We eat people up a lot faster. There is a need for a paradigm shift in the thinking that only certain professions in society can see the youth into the limelight. Due to the trivial behaviours of some youth, they only clamour for professions that are hyped for being more stardom-leading or fame attracting.
What now as a society we treat as disgraceful works of art should be given more attention as they've led to making people honoured in other societies of the world. The late Steve Jobs, Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, Richard Branson — all creatives of the West — notoriously ventured into trades that were never the much-admired ones of society back in the day. As most of them were and still are creatives of technological software, engineers as opposed to today's craze of almost every youth being exposed to only thinking of being famous before working to support the futuristic much needed life of stardom.
Parents should be the first inspiration to their children, providing guidance that caters to provide instruction to what their children feel they have as innate capabilities, not what stimuli tend to provide. In so doing, as a country, we will have unmatched potential in almost all professions of our society. While without proper guidance, many youth are bound to bask in vainglory of only becoming dreamy celebrities in the mind and behaviour yet outcasts in society.
The writer is a public speaking trainer, leadership coach and student at the African Leadership University