When I was a little boy growing up in Queens, New York, in the 1970s, my career aspirations inevitably focused on who got to drive the biggest truck.
Early on, I wanted to be a garbage man because that truck was loud and crunched things. The allure wore off in first grade when I realized garbage was generally heavy and smelled like, well, garbage.
After that, I went through a bus driver phase and then a firefighter phase. Again, talk about enormous, cool vehicles. Mixed in was an obsession with Julius Dr. J. Erving — maybe I could grow a huge afro and be a basketball star — and a long stint hoping I would one day become a plainclothes police detective like Robert Blake on Baretta.
How did I end up here? That’s a long tale of dashed dreams and a column for another day.
The reason I mention this is a Harris poll that came out the other day depressed the hell out of me.
To mark the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 carrying man to the moon, Harris surveyed 3,000 kids between ages 8 and 12 years old, asking them what they want to be when they grow up. The most popular answer among the American children?
A YouTuber, chosen by 29% of kids in the United States.
Teacher was second at 26%, and then came pro athlete (23%) and musician (19%). Down at the bottom? Just 11% of American kids today dream about becoming an astronaut.
YouTubers, for those of us who have a life instead of spending all day online, are people who become celebrities for posting videos on YouTube.
The most popular of these “famous for being famous” vloggers is a 28-year-old Swedish moron who goes by the name PewDiePie and who posts lots of f-bomb-laden video game and meme reviews.
His most popular video? A two-minute Eminem-style rap rant entitled “B---- Lasagna.”
That video has been viewed about 208 million times, helping PewDiePie amass more than 98 million subscribers to his YouTube channel. His earnings for 2018? About $15.5 million, according to Forbes.
For comparison’s sake, astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins each earned about $17,000 annually back in 1969 — military captain’s pay.
According to the space chronicle “Moondust,” the trio also received a per diem of $8 a day for the Apollo 11 mission — before deductions for “accommodations,” i.e., the spaceship bed provided by NASA.
Astronauts nowadays seem to be relics from the distant past, not unlike Fonzie from “Happy Days,” or Evel Knievel jumping his motorcycle over a line of buses.
It’s no wonder, really, that kids don’t aspire to walk on the moon or pilot a spaceship, not when you can pilot an Xbox controller and make an absurd living playing “Minecraft” or “Overwatch.”
Yes, I do realize I sound like a stereotypical old man, ranting about “those damn kids.”
A caveat: I don’t so much feel awful about them as I do for them. Childhood back in the day seemed to include more dreams about doing things and fewer about being things or watching things.
When I imagined myself as a garbage man or a fireman, the vision was about action: driving the truck, flipping aluminum cans to the curb, putting out a blaze, climbing a ladder toward the sky.
Maybe these are merely quaint old memories now, the stuff of Super 8 home movies and the occasional documentary.
Maybe 98 million PewDiePie fans would have been bored senseless. Maybe they’re happy playing games all day and videoing themselves playing games all day. And maybe we’re all the poorer for it.
David Leibowitz has called the Valley home since 1995. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org