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Hunger for fame at any price another trend adults have foisted on this generation

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We got freaked out by kids sexting.

We were shocked when some high school football players ordered prostitutes with their smartphones.

And now, some ambitious members of Generation Text have taken the sex/technology nexus to a new low by producing and distributing teen porn in Northern Virginia.

 

Police locked up three boys -- two 16-year-olds and a 15-year-old -- from West Springfield High School last month for their alleged attempts at becoming the Mitchell Brothers 2.0 -- porn kings of the burbs.

The boys made the sex videos with at least six teenage girls from their own school and two neighbouring high schools. The boys, all sophomores, have been charged with possession and distribution of child pornography.

This is a story about teen sex and underage drinking. As every parent knows, these have long been part of the perils of adolescence. But the twist here is the camera lens. Or, more likely, the cellphone lens.

It's a whole new level of degradation and compromised values when videotaping and distribution via send button are factored in.

This is the generation that has been born, fed, diapered and directed on camera. While my generation's childhood memories come down to a shelf of photo albums or a cardboard box of faded Polaroids, Generation Y has been documented since birth with thousands upon thousands of digital images. They are the real, live Truman Show.

And growing up in front of a camera has planted the seeds of some seriously scary consequences.

What do you think kids want most in life today? Money? Marriage? Adventure? A cool job? Spiritual fulfillment? Nope.

"Quantitative analysis revealed that fame was the number one value, selected as the most important value for participants future goals," according to a study done by psychology professors at the University of California at Los Angeles.

In other words, what kids want most is to be as famous as Beyonce or Justin Bieber, even if they can't sing.

According to a similar UCLA study, the top five values emphasized in television shows popular with children in 2007 were fame, achievement, popularity, image and financial success.

In 1997, the top five were community feeling, benevolence (being kind and helping others), image, tradition and self-acceptance. In 2007, benevolence dropped to the 12th spot and community feeling fell to 11th.

This is echoed in studies done by psychologists and pollsters across the country.

It can be summed up in that Mercedes-Benz Super Bowl commercial, where geeky boy makes the cover of Vanity Fair, gets a date with Kate Upton, is mobbed by screaming fans and pursued by paparazzi, all because he drove that car. Fame -- that's all anyone wants, right?

And what better way for boys to get famous on campus than by making sex tapes?

This is, after all, the Look At Me Generation. They grew up on Facebook and Twitter, far more hip to the potential of social networks and ablaze on them long before their parents could even figure out how to rotate their profile pictures so they weren't perpetually headstanding.

We had Three's Company, they had Survivor. Our parents watched Beverly Hillbillies, Generation Texters had Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. Swamp People, Gypsy Sisters, Honey Boo Boo -- it's a nation of ordinary people who can get famous with no talent, no skill, no achievement. All it takes is exposure -- the more the better, apparently.

Exhibit A of this ethos is Snooki. Her own father is flummoxed by her fame. At one of his daughter's events, Andy Polizzi said he wanted to ask her fans: "What is it that draws you to my daughter? Be honest. Because it's very hard for me to see what it is. She don't sing. She don't dance. I don't want to say she don't have talent," he told the New York Times in a 2010 interview.

Add the hunger for fame at any price to another trend new to this generation -- the widespread and rampant availability of online porn -- and it's a wonder more kids aren't making sex tapes. Or maybe they are, and we just don't know about it.

For parents -- who may have thought that talks with their kids and a good Net Nanny on the home computer is enough -- controlling the flow of online porn on phones, tablets or laptops is daunting.

The Junior Pornographers made an impact. It appears they are famous, in their minuscule world.

"Pretty epic. These kids will be legendary at West Springfield for years to come," a commenter with the handle Jesus Phreak wrote on the raw and sometimes nasty Fairfax Underground, a Web site with forums that make The Washington Post's comments section look like civil discourse.

The forum dissecting the porn arrests was on fire last week. Someone identified as "durden" made a pretty astute observation about the social media life of high-schoolers today and what it means.

"Twitter is necessary to fit in and thus have at least some sense of being important/famous even if only with a circle of losers," durden wrote. "If you aren't important you aren't alive. Everyone trades giving others attention to get some in return. It's a big circle of trade to not sink into obscurity. Normal life is no life at all in today's value system. What we are seeing today is going to be tame come 10 years from now."

As far as the girls go?

This one doesn't change with time. The boys might become micro-famous for a while. But for the girls, infamy is all that awaits them.

 

Petula Dvorak is a Washington Post columnist.

 

--The Washington Post

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 9, 2013 J6

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