On Nov. 2, while simply doing his job bagging groceries, Alex Lee, a 16-year-old from Texas, became an Internet sensation.
The viral picture of Lee was first snapped a week before the incident, while he was working at the Target in his hometown of Frisco, Texas. Then, a young British girl stumbled across the picture and shared it on Twitter.
Within a matter of hours, “#alexfromtarget” had become a trending hashtag and Lee went from a mere 144 followers on Twitter to over 550,000.
Lee found out about his new celebrity status during his afternoon shift, when his manager pulled him aside and showed him the picture.
One of Lee’s media debuts was on the Ellen Degeneres Show.
“Well, there’s been a few (pictures taken) that I have noticed, but apparently there have been more that I haven’t noticed,” Lee said during his recent interview with Ellen. “I was just really confused. I can apparently bag groceries really well.”
In his recent article in the New York Times, reporter Nick Bilton explained that Lee has received marriage proposals, numerous offers to do TV interviews and many offers from movie and modeling agents. He has made it a point to turn down a majority of those offers.
The #alexfromtarget phenomenon says something about this generation and our society’s dependency on social media.
“It’s become socially-acceptable to base everything just off of looks, and that’s sad,” Emily Johnson, a radiology major at Weber State, said. “It makes me wonder about entertainment. We are entertained so easily now.”
Breeanna Huntsman, a junior at WSU, added that thanks to social media, nothing is private.
“Your whole life is documented on the Internet that anyone can access,” Huntsman said. “You have to be so careful about what you do, especially in public. Nothing is safe anymore.”
Huntsman also mentioned that when looking for a job, employers can build a first impression of a future employee based solely on what their social media presence is like.
Lee expressed his anxiety about going out in public. He has had many encounters with the paparazzi, and he can’t even make it down the hallway of his high school without being stopped to take selfies with fellow classmates.
That is the least of his problems, however. Lee and his family have been victims of marketing scams and even death threats.
“I may be old-fashioned, but this is a total invasion of privacy. It could easily be the other way. It could have easily been a bad picture,” Cheney Wheelwright, an adjunct English instructor, said. “We are an appearance-driven world. Even in presidential elections and things like that, appearance is so important to us now, and not so much the other things.”
WSU students said that they would have the same worries if they stumbled into celebrity status.
“I would have a panic attack,” Johnson said.
Huntsman added that she would be afraid to do anything, or say anything, for fear that someone would take it and use it against her.
“Younger generations don’t feel the same about privacy as my generation does,” Wheelwright said. “The walls are changing, the lines are changing. Privacy is being redefined.”
For now, Lee wants to focus on being a normal teenage boy, going to school, going on dates, hanging out with friends and working at Target, albeit in the back rooms until all the fuss dies down.