The Social Impact of Instant Gratification: Interview with Mia Golden
OVERSATURATED is a 6-part interview series by independent filmmaker, Ashley Good.
Through a series of interviews with individuals in front of, chasing, or inspired by the limelight, OVERSATURATED will explore a ménage of topics including: self-commodification, the chicken and the egg situation of the teenagers influencing celebrity culture and celebrity culture impacting teenagers, and the use of celebrity stories as a political distraction.
After interviewees Sean Gehon and Matt James both hinted towards teenagers being the main proprietors of over the top celebrity fandom, I wanted to speak with a social worker who routinely deals with children, to see what their thoughts were. Mia Golden was the perfect person for me to discuss this topic with, as she not only has been a counselor and parent worker for over twenty years, but she is also an actor with her own silver screen ambitions.
Disclaimer: This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
As a counselor, actress, and mother, you have an unique insight into how the idea of celebrity impacts kids.
One of the things that I [am] starting to notice is, and it’s really just been over the past few years, is how it (pop culture) is really affecting youth. We (society) have always been interest by pop culture. It has always influenced how we dress, the music that we listen to, all of those sorts of things… But [not] to this degree. Television had its impact for sure, but now with the internet… Oh my god I sound like a grandmother now, like “Oh that internet!” *Laughs*
I mean, I love the internet but I’ve really noticed how it has changed [the] youth. And not only youth, but young children. We’re seeing behaviour in children that I don’t think many of us were prepared for, or any of us expected. So now we have young young kids [who], rather than thinking about [their] education [and] career paths, now they all want to be YouTube stars or gamers. We’re losing some of the fundamental traits that help us to become [people]. Things like discipline, impulse control. Instant gratification is such a thing now. … We are seeing [social media addiction] in younger and younger and younger children, and how that affects everything. It affects connection, it affects attachment. And then to compound that, the accessibility — and I’m not a prude — but the accessibility of porn and what that’s doing to youth. We have children under ten that are showing signs of porn addiction.
We get a lot of sex assaults on my case load. [One thing I have noticed] is that the base line of “typical sex” has changed from when I was a kid, and I’m assuming [from when] all of our parents, grandparents, all of that [were kids]. It came to my attention when we were interviewing a couple of youth … that had been assaulted by [their] boyfriend. One of them was a virgin when she first started dating him, and what came up was that he was choking her until she passed out. She said, “He did this X amount of times,” and we [asked] “He choked you X amount of times?” And she said, “Oh no no, he choked me all of the time, but X times I passed out.” And in her mind… She thought that was typical.
After that I started having conversations with other youth, and violence is a pretty standard thing in sex for them now. And these are 14, 15, 16-year-old kids. There has always been communities [practicing this]…like BDSM communities… But these are young kids and this is [their] norm.
So what I started realizing was the accessibility of pornography — they’re watching it all day, every day… This wasn’t like with our parents where they had to go to a backroom and rent a VHS for the day, [they have] 24/7 accessibility. It has really changed how the brain responds. … It is changing the baseline. It’s like Pavlov’s dog. … I feel like now, we are all that dog, and whether it’s porn or just, the internet, Facebook, [etc]… The internet represents the ringing of the bell, and we are all that dog.
Do you think children are doing things for “likes” on social media because they just want to be famous, or do you think they’re trying to emulate somebody that they respect?
I’m not sure, I think it is a combination… Now there is so much put on external validation. In psychology there is this thing called “Locus of Control.” What you want is to develop as a person so that you have in internal locus of control, which means that your behaviour is motivated by internal things, like if you help somebody help, you’re doing it because you have empathy, it makes you feel good to help somebody. If you paint a picture, you do it because it gives you joy. Where as people with external locus of control, it’s all for external validation. I feel like more and more people now are shifting towards that external validation. All of the likes, all of the followers… It’s shifting happiness, because you need to have an internal locus of control to be happy.
I think that there is something ironic about being able to go online and actually pay money to sign up for a course on how to be happy.
Is that a thing?!
Yeah, I saw it on Coursera. It was $50 so that you can get that certificate and show everyone “I now know how to be happy! I am happy” and to teach others to be happy… *Laugh*
*Laugh* And before we would just play, and go and do stuff.
Do you think it’s related to social media itself, or do you think that the external draw is related to our capitalistic society? Or…?
[Capitalism] is not a new system. But I think now, the idea of “rugged individualism” is a big thing. Again, we have 10 year-olds thinking in those terms. And the internet is a vehicle to boost that. It’s also able to boost socialism and altruism and all of those things…
Perhaps social media can be a change for good, but maybe younger kids aren’t developed enough to understand that part, so they just parrot?
The brain isn’t fully developed until you’re 24, 25. … [Repetition] creates pathways in the brain so if [your brain is] being exposed to something repeatedly that’s negative, it can have a negative impact on your development.
One thing that’s come up between a few of the interviews I have been doing is that the most rabid fans are usually kids. I think it’s interesting how we listen to children to be our “taste-makers.”
They’ve done research on the brains of youth, and [their] emotion centers experience emotions to a much higher degree than adults, so when they experience joy, they experience JOY and when they experience rage, they feel out of control, when they experience sadness… So [that’s] why teenagers respond so extreme[ly], it’s actually a physiological thing for them. … Whenever I work with the youth, I explain that to them, because they feel out of control and they will think “Oh there must be something wrong with me.” No, it’s just your body adjusting! So, you take that brain, and you mix it with pop culture, and people that they (kids) idolize and you’re going to have extreme reactions.
And then you have the companies that are like “Score! Young brains to market to!”
That’s exactly right, the brain is hungry for anything slightly stimulating. I think it would be great, if you ever got the opportunity to interview someone who creates content that is specifically target at youth, to see what kind of research they have done to target specific emotions.
So I have to literally find Satan?
Do you ever hear kids talk about “their personal brand” and “influencers?” Do they use language like that?
Oh, all of the time.
Do you think that there any positive celebrity role models, or is that sort of an oxymoron?
It’s not black and white. There’s a lot of grey. Even the Kardashians, they show how important family is. They show how important communication is. And, to some degree, they show body differences are okay… Ish.
When you describe them like that, it almost sounds like you’re describing an old family sitcom. Like the Kardashians are filling the modern role of “All in the Family” or something.
They definitely have their ridiculousness, but they also [offer] a fair bit of sound advice. It would be interested to sit down and [ask] how much they are instructed to play a certain role. … The advice that they give to each other is actually sound.
I actually watch [Keeping Up With the Kardashians]. When I first started it was by accident, and then I started to tune in more and more. I don’t watch it religiously, but when I do watch it, it’s like “Oh, that is actually good advice.” But [celebrities] that are specifically “for good?” I would have to think about that.
Now, you’re an actress yourself. Let’s backtrack a little bit. What inspired you to get involved in entertainment?
I have always liked acting. All through out school, I took drama… And I also liked writing, so I would write stories. And then my mom said “Acting is not a career” so I dropped that thought, and I went to college. Then went to university, got married and had babies. Then when I got divorced, I was like, “But I really love acting!” So I auditioned for a play, The Vagina Monologues. Got a part, and then the writer/producer of the first short film I was involved with and he asked me if I would be in his short film, so I said yes. Then I helped him produce it because I realized he needed some help. I had never produced before. But I just love acting and writing. I love it so much. … I can’t really describe it. For me it’s just more about just getting the opportunity to act. Non-actors are often like, why? But I really just love acting.
Have you watched The Disaster Artist, or read the book?
I watched the movie.
There’s that one scene with the actors at the table and Greg Sestero’s character asks them, “Why are you all here?” And they were just like “We’re actors, it’s what we do!”
It’s a hard thing to describe but I just love it so much.
I guess there’s something about being a creative — you just have to get it out.
My day job I think has really helped my acting, because I am observing all of the time. I have been able to see people experience the depth of something so low and also the highs.
Based on your experience as a social worker, do you feel like early childhood trauma actually causes people to be more fame hungry? To search for fame and validation?
Early childhood trauma puts you at risk for so many things, like dissociation and dissociative identity disorder, and attachment [issues]. It would be good to look into this more. But for people with depression, or if there is an attachment issue, I would think that you may see that you need that need for external validation. There are so many comedians, and funny hilarious comedians, who struggle with mental health. Robin Williams is a perfect example. We all loved him, he was an amazing comedian and actor, but apparently such a wounded soul. … The thing too, with fame, you are getting external validation without having to attach. Humans like to attach to one person. It is the back and forth validation. When you are getting validation from people you don’t know … you’re going to constantly try to get filled up, but you’ll never [really] be full.
I think you really touched on something regarding the idolizing and throwing away part of celebrity culture. Maybe it’s because we’re not looking at celebrities as humans, we’re looking at them as things to emotionally fulfill us, until we get bored.
It’s like a drug! Like, the first-time people take cocaine, it’s like “Ahhh,” and then they need more and more because it’s [no longer] filling that need. … Like with idolizing [someone], you want more of them. That’s how you end up with people that become stalkers. They watch [these people] on TV, but it’s never enough.
I’m one of those people that don’t like to complain unless they’re trying to fix the issue, so I keep wondering, how do we fix this? It sounds like we need to talk to our kids early on about respecting people and teaching them that the people they see on their phones are people just like us.
We need to have this conversation [of respect], not just about the people we idolize, but with about our peers. Humans need a foundation to live their lives on, and if they don’t have that, it’s like feral people just walking around.
What are your thoughts on Instagram influencers that have a really strong presence because they want to use it go on and do other things? Like people on reality shows that audition so they can get noticed to further their career.
I mean, I understand it. I would say a couple of things [though]. I would wonder if their locus of control is more on the external side, for one. And because sometimes acting is about getting that validation, even for me, when I perform I want to know that I’ve done a good job. And I can usually feel if I have done a good job or not, but it’s nice to hear. I think sometimes people are more motivated around the fame as opposed to the creative process. … There’s the creative process, there’s success, and there’s fame. Success is financially doing well and being able to get whichever role you want, that kind of thing. … Fame is you’re a Kardashian, you’re just famous for who you are. And then there are people who are just happy to act.
It almost sounds like “likes” are the digital equivalent to applause. You just have to be careful not to get too addicted to the applause — don’t forget your art.
Is your art changing because you’re noticing the applause is coming for certain things as opposed to other things? And that’s one of the things I see especially with young girls, showing so much of their body at young ages, because they’re getting more likes for that than just pictures of them laughing with friends.
Maybe they’re trying to label themselves… To put themselves in a category, inauthentically. To be who they think everybody wants them to be.
And that’s [how] some of the negatives or dangers of social media play out for youth. … And for adults too.
I guess it’s important then, if you are going to put yourself out there, to know who you are as a person first.
To get to know yourself, and to ask yourself, “Why am I posting this photo?”