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Musical-comedian Bo Burnham gained notoriety singing tongue-in-cheek songs that poke fun at things like the pretentiousness of being an artist and the absurdity of YouTube.  Recently his show, Zach Stone Is Gonna Be Famous, concluded – and was unfortunately cancelled – after its first season on MTV.  The show introduced us to Zach Stone, recent high school graduate, who – rather than going to college – decides to hire a camera crew to film him everyday to document his life in hopes of reaching wide spread fame. There isn’t anything particularly entertaining or compelling about his life that would warrant documentation; rather, the cameras capture mundane daily activities such as having breakfast at home with his parents and working at his part-time job.

Citing some of his artistic influences as Kim Kardashian and Lou Ferrigno (presumably for his work on Celebrity Apprentice rather than as the Incredible Hulk), his life is about as eventful as any other reality show. The notable difference is that Zach has no fame, no particular talent or skill, and no audience.  Nonetheless, Zach equates rising fame with relentless showcasing of his everyday life. As he explains at the beginning of episode 2, “So it’s week two of me becoming famous by shoehorning cameras into my life.  Am I more famous than I was last week? My heart says yes.”

This is not to suggest that there is anything inherently wrong with the pursuit of lifelong goals or even fame. Rather, Zach Stone is Gonna be Famous highlights the common issue of pursuing a conditional sense of self-worth.

In a recent episode of the You Made it Weird podcast with Pete Holmes, Burnham explains:

 I thought I was going to go into it bashing Zach – but it isn’t … there’s nothing wrong with dreaming or wanting more than you have or wanting more than you’re even capable of… especially when you’re young. I mean that’s part of being young. It’s the idea that these regular impulses of children are now being funneled into these terrible mediums … I just mean, like to pursue the approval of strangers rather than even the approval of yourself is insane.

Consistent with Burnham’s statement, there are brief moments of genuine vulnerability where we can see Zach’s underlying struggle for self-worth, despite the arrogant, boisterous persona he maintains throughout the majority of the show. For instance, toward the end of the series, when asked by a newscaster why he wants to be famous, Zach gives an uncharacteristically sincere response: “Because if everyone’s looking at you, you gotta be doing something right with your life.”

Although not everyone shares Zach’s goal of becoming a celebrity, he is not alone in how we attempts to define himself.  That is, like Zach, we often tend to make our self-worth contingent on our accomplishments or external goals. We tell ourselves, “I’m not good enough unless I have a certain job… unless I’m married… unless I look a certain way.” At times, we end up perpetually seeking these external forms of validation to let us know, as Zach puts it, that we’re doing something right with our lives.  It is due to this conditional perception of our self-worth that, renowned psychologist, Dr. Albert Ellis has described self-esteem as “…the greatest sickness known to man or woman…”

In response to this common mentality, in the afterword of David Mills’ Overcoming “Self-Esteem,Ellis suggests:

…give up all your ideas about self-esteem, stick only to those of unconditional acceptance, and choose to accept your self, your existence, your humanity whether or not you perform well, whether or not you are loved by significant others, and whether or not you suffer from school, work, sports, or other handicaps… As David Mills aptly points out, you can recognize that your absence of self-image is possible and is, in fact, preferable to frequent anxiety and inhibition. Your goal can be to enjoy, rather than to prove yourself, for the rest of your unself-esteeming life!

photo credit: splitsider.com