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“I Want a Famous Face”: Y?

April 14th, 2004 · 3 Comments

Dean Esmay’s comment last night on The effects of fantasies reminded me of a snippet I’d heard on NPR Monday afternoon: TV shows feature plastic surgery. I think I was driving somewhere at the time and forgot to pursue what I had heard after I got home. What triggered the memory for me were Dean’s words:

Here’s the really interesting thing: what’s life going to be like in a few decades, when it’ll probably be affordable for most people to alter their appearances medically? Think what nanotech, genetic surgery, cosmetic surgery and increasing wealth at all levels of society are likely to do.

One of the shows mentioned on NPR was “I Want a Famous Face” and the website for this MTV production was difficult to read. By that I don’t mean it contained complicated vocabulary or encrypted syntax to decipher. What I mean is that it was difficult to read about these people and not feel sad to see men and women whose main desire in life is to resemble someone made-up on a movie screen.

I suppose if your career is in impersonating recording artists then plastic surgery could be helpful and practical for paying the bills. I guess I’m glad to hear that some feel foxy and ferocious! after the alterations, but I’m not convinced that going under the knife is the best way to improve confidence. In my opinion, some of the people look less like a star afterwards. Not everyone will be able to afford surgery to transform into a celebrity. I believe that self-acceptance is more accessible – and powerful. Why try to buy someone else’s face and body? The hardest case to read was the one of the two twenty-year-old twin guys – Mike and Matt – who each longed to resemble a different version of Brad Pitt:

MTV: What would you say to teens reading this who are thinking about getting elective plastic surgery?
MIKE: Those who are down on themselves for a fault in their looks, if you know that surgery will make you happy, go for it. It will change your personality, the way you act and carry yourself forever. I never knew that I could be as happy as I am right now. I feel on top of the world by the few tweaks that I went through. Go through with the surgery now because you don’t want to go through life always feeling down with the way that you look, or just accepting the way that you look, that there is nothing that you can do to look better. I am…happy for once.

MATT: Why are you waiting? If any part of you drains all your self esteem, then why live like that? The longer you go on living like that, the more it’s going to affect you, and bring you down There is something you can do about it. It will change your outlook on life, and make you a happier person There’s nothing to be scared about, just push yourself out the door and stop making excuses. If you don’t believe me, then prove me wrong!

MTV: What’s the best thing about plastic surgery? What’s the worst?
MATT: Plastic surgery gave me my life back It’s a different kind of cure. When those blinds were pulled up from my eyes, I saw everything in a new light, and now I walk with my head held high The worst thing was waiting for the minimal swelling to go down I just wanted my face to be healed right away, but it takes time, and it’s frustrating when you’re not a patient person

MTV: Has the surgery helped you to get girls?
MIKE: The surgery has helped me get girls. Every time my twin brother and I walk down the mall or at our shopping center, girls seem to do the double look and begin to chat with their friends. I notice the eyes on us. Girls tell us all the time that we look “really” good, that we are beautiful and that our smiles are paralyzing.

MATT: Now with all the healing pretty much down, and our complete makeover, it has definitely helped me get more girls I’ll walk and gezt that double take from girls, and hear the whispering that follows And what I’ve been waiting to hear was the comment that I am beautiful I’ve had such a dramatic change, that girl friends I hadn’t seen in a while couldn’t stop staring, and said that they wanted to cry! If that doesn’t make you feel good, then what would?

Matthew Gilbert, writing for the Boston Globe in ‘Famous Face’ is not a pretty sight critiqued the show:

But “I Want a Famous Face” takes fame-a-holism to a whole new level of pathology, as it celebrates young people who are trying to erase their individuality permanently.


But the most pathos-steeped episode follows ordinary twin brothers from Arizona, Matt and Mike, who submit to assorted facial reconstructions in order to look like Pitt. And their fetish is quite particular, too: One brother wants to become Pitt circa “Meet Joe Black,” the other Pitt circa “Legends of the Fall.”

With their narrow, acne-pocked faces, the boys are looking for a confidence transplant, and more dates with girls as a result. “We are ugly, and we want to correct that,” one of them says. At the end of their long recuperation from surgery, of course, they don’t look even slightly like Pitt. Todd Rundgren’s second cousin, maybe.

What distinguishes “I Want a Famous Face” from “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” or even “Extreme Makeover” is that it doesn’t profile people creating better versions of themselves; it’s all about those who are annihilating themselves in order to become someone else. Certainly, Matt and Mike need help in realizing their potential; they seem like an alienated pair who could use sessions with the Fab Five, as well as with a good therapist. But clearly the solution to their problem is not married to Jennifer Aniston.

Jay McCarthy today quoted an interview with Gen-Y author Marty Beckerman ( previous post) (from a link by Just a Gwai Lo Richard)

The numbers of self-mutilators, the numbers of suicide attempts — which is now 10 percent — why are these people so f***ing sad and crazy, and have so many emotional disorders, and so scared of emotional attachments? The thing we’re lacking is identity. No one has a sense of self, and no one wants to have a sense of self, and people need to have a sense of self. You know, you reach out to Abercrombie, put their brand name across your chest and now you have an identity. There’s no passion, no sense of self, and that’s leading these people to be f***ing crazy, because they don’t have the basic things that human beings have always had.

Thinking tonight about “I Want a Famous Face” and Beckerman’s words, an R.E.M. song came to mind, one that was popular during the summer I spent as a college intern teaching high schoolers years ago. Perhaps we Gen-Xers were into “Losing My Religion”. But perhaps what is happening with Generation Y is that they feel they have nothing to lose.

And they have nothing to save. Not even their own faces.

Tags: culture

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 enoch choi // Apr 15, 2004 at 1:02 pm

    Culture and taste change. God’s love for us doesn’t. God bless these kids when the winds which determine what’s in style change direction…

  • 2 Chris // Apr 15, 2004 at 6:44 pm

    Good writeup. I guess I’m from Generation Y, though personally I hate that branding. You had the baby boomers, you had Generation X, and then you have the lost souls – Generation Y. We can’t even point to ourselves, our namesakes, and be proud. What do we have?

    Good article. Honestly raises points I hadn’t thought about in a short space.

  • 3 The Binary Circumstance // Apr 17, 2004 at 5:38 am

    Putting a New Face on Self-esteem

    Julie Leung writes about people who have plastic surgery to look like celebrities and links to the site for the MTV program I Want A Famous Face. She quotes Mike and Matt, two quite unattractive twin brothers, who supposedly had