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The Art of Getting Attention: Has Attention Become Our Most Valuable Commodity

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by Daniel Wigmore Shepherd

Here are a few ways you can get immediate attention from those around you: read Fifty Shades of Grey out loud in a public place. Read Fifty Shades of Grey out loud in a public place whilst impersonating David Attenborough's voice. Get on public transport, reach into your bag to bring out a raw potato, eat the potato. Dress up as a giant chicken, buy a chicken in Tesco, at the checkout scream at the cashier "What have I become?!" Assault someone. Perform a sex act in public. Be racist, out loud. Use parkour to get everywhere.

Of course, none of these methods sound like the most desirable way to spend your time. Yet attention has become a valuable commodity, especially its hairier cousin, fame. We live at a time where mass communication is ubiquitous, so getting people to notice you is easier than it has ever been. But despite the well-known phrase, not all publicity is good publicity.

The importance of recognition and fame has dramatically increased in our society and this has been reflected in, or perhaps caused by, the change in popular media. One study done by researchers at the University of California, analysed the content of the two most popular TV shows for children aged nine to 11, once a decade from 1967 to 2007, and how these related to the societal values of that particular demographic.

Apparently the value kids placed on fame and achievement skyrocketed between 1997 and 2007. In 1997 the most popular show for kids was Sabrina the Teenage Witch, which emphasised values such as loyalty to your family, responsibility and taking advice from a cat that looks like Scratchy's voodoo doll. In 2007 the most popular shows were Hannah Montana and American Idol, which promoted the importance of recognition, fame, and, in the case of the latter, judged by a man who takes Viagra to grow taller and requires laxatives to speak.

The year is 2013 and the media's promotion of fame has gone even further. You will notice that the methods I suggested for getting attention fall into three categories: talent, weird behaviour and bad behaviour. Programmes like American Idol and its British counterparts may feed our obsession with attention and create artists with the lyrical variety of Hodor, but at least this attention is earned with talent (or in many cases the severe lack thereof).

With the emergence of Jersey Shore, Desperate Scousewives and The Valleys, the emphasis is on earning attention through outrageous and often horrendously bad behaviour. This is unsurprising seeing as the 'stars' that organically emerged from reality TV in the 2000s were the loudest, most sexually explicit, cruellest and most obnoxious contestants. The most famous Big Brother contestants are a prime example: Kinga became famous for the bottle 'incident', Nasty Nick enjoyed substantial media coverage due his manipulations of the other contestants, and Jade Goody, perhaps the most famous BB contestant, became famous for being loud and obnoxious and then even more famous for being loud, obnoxious and racist.

The other big medium, the internet, is more of a mixed bag. Looking at the most viewed YouTube videos of 2012, the list is composed of videos that showcase talent, such as Lindsey Sterling, the humorously weird, like Epic Rap Battles of History, and the amazing, such as the space jump. Interestingly, videos in which bad behaviour is punished are also incredibly popular on YouTube, the prime example being Chav Kicks Wall or the below video, Facebook Parenting:

Twitter also seems to dig the weird. Even on a website which boasts many established celebrities regular people such as Jason Sweeny or Jason Scott have caught the attention of the world with their funny and strange posts, netting almost 1.2m and 1.4m followers respectively.

Of course people do use the internet to get attention in less creative and more naked ways. Both Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton were on the fringes of fame before their sex tapes got 'leaked'. Conveniently both stars launched their reality TV shows, The Simple Life and Keeping Up With the Kardashians, the same year their respective tapes were released. And, slightly more depressingly, those whose fame is declining are following this example and using sex tapes as a last ditch attempt to enhance their careers. Dustin Diamond, or as you may know, Screech from Saved by the Bell, released a sex tape in the hope it would re-launch his career. Unfortunately it did not work, probably because most people would rather watch five hours of Gordon Brown attempting to do stand up comedy, than five minutes of Screech trying to expel his insecurities through his dick-hole.

These people, the reality stars and internet stars get our attention, but they generally do so in a passive capacity. We silently judge Mike 'The Situation' Sorrentino, and laugh from our sofas at the epic rap battle guys. They only hold our attention in our boredom and at the most inspire us to merely watch another episode, rather than actually do anything. However, there are people who have managed to both gain the public's attention and then motivated them to act.

A recent example is Mohammed Bouazizi, a disenfranchised Tunisian who set fire to himself after being humiliated by an abusive police officer and ignored by the provincial officials. His self-immolation sparked protests across Tunisia and eventually across most of the Arab world, which became known as the Arab Spring. Other people such as the Tank Man in Tiananmen Square and the two African American athletes who raised their fists in defiance during the 1968 Olympics (right) gained world-wide attention for their bravery and were both immortalised in film.

So there you have it. If you want to get attention on a level beyond your immediate surroundings either be a sorry, randy excuse for a human being, talented, hilariously untalented, funny in a weird way, or somehow make a meme out of yourself. Or you could be massively brave and self-sacrificing, but that is a lot of effort. Probably more effort than you, who are likely reading this in order to procrastinate, are willing to invest.

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