Introduction: An ancient tale
From the ancient tale of King Midas to the modern era, the pursuit of unlimited wealth has inspired cautionary tales throughout history. Years ago, I published a short retelling of the story of King Midas. In my version, Midas was given his gift by his childhood friend, Artemisia. I showed Midas’ desire to protect his daughter behind castle walls. Her beauty was so radiant that there was a near riot on the steps of the castle when she came of age.
Men from all over the world were relentless in their demands for an audience with Midas to propose marriage to the young woman. She was the innocent victim of her father’s greed. Midas paid the ultimate price for material wealth: A catastrophic loss, pain, constant threats to his security, and profound isolation.
Sounds familiar? Perhaps there is someone you know who like Midas, got exactly what they wished for. Then, you might have seen them suffer the unintended effects of their wish. We can draw valuable lessons from a new cast of characters whose quest for external validation has led to their undoing. And, as we contemplate the allure of attention, we will consider the role of the media, and then reflect on how introspection can help us find true fulfilment.
The allure of attention
The myth of King Midas teaches us that fulfilling our unchecked desires can lead to unwanted consequences. Midas nearly starved to death because his touch turned his food to gold. To live, he had to change his mind. His own life was too high a price to pay for unlimited wealth.
And now, I pose the question, “Can you be starved for validation despite possessing mesmerising beauty, global fame, and the envy of millions?”
The pursuit of fame itself can be a natural and valid aspiration. In many cases, being famous gives you a cloak of protection, trustworthiness, and desirability. However, relying on others’ opinions and recognition for a sense of self-worth creates an unstable foundation for happiness and personal fulfilment.
Our new cast of characters share Midas’ insatiable hunger for external validation as they pursue wealth and prestige. To attract both, they look for fame. But after achieving this goal, they still fail to acquire enough wealth and prestige.
The truth they failed to grasp was that the attention they courted would lead to intense public scrutiny. Whenever we see these characters in public, they telegraph stress, anxiety, and a distorted sense of identity.
Blinded by the headlines
In our present day retelling, the media plays a significant role. They are the magic behind Midas’ “golden touch.” Their objective is to amplify stories that generate public interest and attention. Certainly, our characters’ actions are fascinating to audiences everywhere. As a result of pressure to remain the subject of conversation, they engage in image management. But what they do to gain control over what is said about them by the media seems staged or fake.
Noticing this, some members of the media urge our characters to reassess their priorities and stop “looking so miserable.” But we can’t ignore that the media’s attention is primarily focused on creating content which maintains high viewership or readership. Moderation is their message, but the spotlight remains on the characters chasing it.
Media outlets hold immense power in disseminating information. Initially, they promote our characters’ desired public image and message. Blinded by flattering headlines and superficial praise, the characters think they are free to rewrite reality.
The high price of attention
Not satisfied with the attention and prestige they already have, they pursue even more. However, as controversies arise, the media’s role shifts towards exposing the inconsistencies in our characters’ stories.
Our characters contradict themselves often. Then, they retreat in silence when evidence points to a different reality. Unfortunately, this gives the media, magical fame dispenser that it is, more time to do “investigative reporting and fact-checking.” Once criticised for enabling self-deception, the media can now say they are exposing the truth.
This is why some supporters of our characters argue that they are unfairly targeted. Truly, negative attention and harsh public scrutiny significantly undermine our characters’ well-being.
For supporters, I have a question: How will our characters truly learn from these experiences if they are cast as victims of their own fame?
Beyond the glare: Myth to reality
Maybe they don’t have to learn anything. In both the original myth and our present day retelling, we are the ones called to witness the consequences of arrogance and unchecked self-belief. These stories emphasise for us the importance of introspection in our own lives. Midas nearly starved to death before he realised that he had everything he needed.
Attention, purely for its own sake, is a meaningless thing. While our present day characters may never learn from their own mistakes, their notoriety is a magical mirror for us. Through it, we can reflect upon the myths we create for ourselves and focus on our personal growth. When we see them in the news, we should recognise the cautionary tales they offer us through their stories.
Outro: Look inward
The pursuit of material wealth is an age-old desire. It is illustrated through the mythical story of Midas and replays in news headlines. As we observe events unfolding around us, let us look inward with empathy and compassion. If we seek recognition, we should take care to avoid the pitfalls, and find meaning in a life beyond the glare of the spotlight.
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