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Risk and Reward Has Become a Kick in the Head
Last month, when a train conductor in Peru kicked a 22 year-old, Canadian backpacker in the head, he probably believed he was teaching the young man a valuable lesson: Don't stand so close to the train tracks when a train is coming through.
As it turns out, that wasn't at all the lesson learned by the backpacker, whose name is Jared Frank. What Frank took away from the experience was that stupidity pays.
Frank, who captured the incident on video, posted the 9-second clip on YouTube. It quickly went viral, and has already been viewed nearly 27 million times.
Apparently, video clips that become smash hits on the Internet quickly catch the eye of numerous companies wanting to sign licensing agreements to monetize them for television broadcasts. Earlier this week, Frank signed with Jukin Media (a California-based firm). CBC News reported that including YouTube royalties, Frank could make as much as $250,000 from the clip.
As a capitalist, I certainly don't begrudge Jared Frank for taking advantage of his 15 minutes of Internet fame. However, it's stories like this that serve as a disturbing reminder of how the good old-fashioned concept of risk and reward has been perverted by the social media culture.
I can't help but look at the Jared Frank phenomenon and worry about the message that it's sending to the young people of his generation. It used to be widely recognized in the Western world that the path to fame and fortune was built upon hard work and achievement. Along that journey, one finds that taking risks can lead to great rewards. It seems to me that a lot of young people only understand that second part - or at least, they think they understand it.
One only has to spend a few minutes on YouTube to realize how overly-eager young people are to engage in dumb, dangerous acts in front of video cameras and smartphones, simply for a little bit of Internet notoriety. Instead of risking capital on a venture that can potentially earn a great living for themselves and their families, they're putting at risk their personal safety (and in some cases their lives) just to become a short-lived Internet celebrity.
Virtual fame is not what the concept of risk and reward is supposed to be about. You'd probably have a hard time convincing a young person of that, however, once they've learned that Jared Frank could potentially earn a quarter of a million dollars for his stunt.
Ask yourself which message probably makes more sense to a young adult who hasn't quite entered the real world yet: Work your butt off for a long time and get rich, or Do something dangerously stupid in a 9-second video and get both rich and famous? It's difficult to see how Frank's example will do anything but encourage more people of his generation to search for success in reckless lunacy.
I should clarify something: I don't believe for a second that when Jared Frank stood so close to that oncoming train in Peru for a video-selfie, he was vying for a big pay-day. He was likely just looking to impress his friends back home. His reaction to getting kicked in the head, however, makes my point crystal clear.
The words that immediately left his mouth weren't, "Wow! I shouldn't have stood so close to that train! I could have been killed!" They were "Wow! That guy kicked me in the head! I think I got that on film!"
I think I got that on film. That was the reward he recognized for needlessly risking his life. And by compensating him handsomely for that act of sheer stupidity, our social media culture has only emboldened many others to set their aspirations equally low by following in his footsteps.
This is what risk and reward is starting to mean in the modern era, folks... And I'm afraid we might have to get used to it.