“You’re not anyone in America unless you’re on TV”. In one fell swoop, Nicole Kidman proffered a sad indictment of a culture on the brink. As the consequences of ‘celebrity’ metastasise day by day, we wallow in a mire of intellectual degradation. Leave your dignity at the door, and enter if you dare. In the age of celebrity for celebrity’s sake, it’s less a case of what’s in the public’s interest, than what’s interesting to the public. And we’re hooked.
It’s about time we went cold turkey. Twitterati illuminate the blogosphere like countless moths orbiting a light bulb, radiating their toxic gibberish, contaminating the rest of us. Enough is enough, don’t you think? Their noxious gases infect the morality of an increasingly globalised world, not to mention the money and time celeb-junkies waste to get their latest fix.
If one of your family members is a drug addict, you’ve got two options. Either finance the habit, or send them to rehab. It’s not a matter for easy ways out. Weaning society off a destructive addiction will by no means be child’s play, but it’s a necessary step to avoid us careering off the straight and narrow. Stand back for a second, give yourself some perspective, and then tell me that a 13 year-old girl waxing lyrical (quite literally) about the end of the week isn’t a touch crazy – especially when we give her VIP status. It’s clear that media and consumer alike have transformed an arena for worthy recipients of our plaudits into a show of circus freaks. We’re well and truly out of control. But there’s not just One Direction.
While injunction compunction sets in amongst the ‘all-star elite’, the strewn debris of the wreckage can give us a clue as to how to go forward, if we choose to take it. The damage wrought to Ryan Giggs’ reputation as a result of celebrity boom and bust demonstrates the notion of boundaries. When paparazzi go gaga for our favourite stars, we have all-the-greater responsibility to curb its tendency for extremity. Do we really give a damn how many women he’s been having it away with, where he’s met them, or how his wife’s coped? Must celebrity shenanigans have a monopoly over British news? If we simply extend our narrow field of vision, poverty, disease and tyranny reign – but, of course, those piffling problems are trumped by gossip column-filled tabloids and magazines. “Deal with it”. Try saying that to the victims of deprivation.
But this one example is representative of another point that has become endemic to Western society: celebrity invasively seeps into every orifice of our culture. We can’t dissociate ourselves from the news-hounds’ prying eyes. Even as the junk we’re being force-fed turns rancid, obscuring far more edifying pursuits, we’re not spared a moment to consider the virtues of what we’re doing; it’s been that way for as long as we can remember, so why change? But the argument is flawed, the question null and void. Giving a wide berth to celebrity culture in the name of the free market has led solely to obsession and excess.
And with those come daydreams of emulation. Opening such a can of worms has impacted society detrimentally. The tremendously insightful English moralist, John Locke, was bang on when he described humans as “chameleons, we take our hue and the colour of our moral character, from those who are around us”. The kids of today look to blend into a landscape that stands for the superficial, the ephemeral and the banal. It’s a precipitous slope and we are its mindless lemmings, mental laziness gradually becoming par for the course. Either we hop off this fickle merry-go-round of vacuity or risk spinning into oblivion.
“I don’t care how many number ones she’s had,” Sophie Amogbokpa, a worker at a Surrey nightclub, told reporters after having been beaten to a pulp, hurled insults, and labelled a “Caribbean jigaboo” and a “black bitch” by Cheryl Cole. It still shocks me how, because it was convenient, the issue was simply swept under the carpet, Britain’s sweetheart able to emerge unscathed. Put simply, she should have been sacked and condemned (just like Andy Gray). Instead, something rather extraordinary happened. The impenetrable bubble of celebrity deflected the racist slur – just a misdemeanour, nothing to worry about – and we carried on as before. The Daily Mail cared more about the “cream jacket and black pinstripe trousers” Cole wore to court than the crime she’d so reprehensibly committed. Reinforcing such vulgarity by endorsing celebrity culture erodes our moral code. You’re not racist; you’re famous.
It wasn’t always like this. The gladiators of Rome were lauded for their talents, as were the scientists of the Enlightenment and the poets of the Renaissance. We have hailed the arrival of a new kind of celebrity: the Average Joe. From Jade Goody to the Osbournes, a production line of crowd-pleasing, talent-lacking ‘icons’ has been created – when one fades into ignominy, another rises to stardom. The onslaught of useless and frankly unpleasant ‘celebs’ threatens to dilute a culture in which fame ought to derive from talent rather than a dearth thereof. After all, who’s laying out the red carpet for the scientists at the Human Genome Project, or those courageous enough to fight for human rights across the globe?
Mesmerising though the dancing pixels may be, we must exercise some degree of prudence; what may ostensibly seem a gold mine, a treasure trove, is in fact far from it. As the late journalist Erma Bombeck noted, “don’t confuse fame with success. Madonna is one; Helen Keller is the other”. Let’s just hope this plea for sanity isn’t stifled by the interminable babble of some two-bit Z-lister.