Sunday, 8 February 2009

Celebrity Culture

What is your concept of celebrity?

I am too young to remember Marilyn Monroe at the height of her fame; she died a few years before I was born. But Marilyn, and the other Hollywood stars of her time, were the celebrities I grew up with. Hollywood glamour was my concept of 'fame', 'beauty', 'talent' ... and let's face it, you had to have talent to find fame in those days.

I remember being thrilled by Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz in I Love Lucy; wowed by Howard Keele in an array of musical classics as he sang with a collection of soprano beauties such as Kathryn Grayson, Jane Powell, Ava Gardner - my mother adored musicals and we grew up loving them too. Think of the completely brilliant Mario Lanza, and then compare him to today's stars. There's no contest in the talent stakes.

Although I'm not knocking Hollywood, and the Hollywood star system, there are some stars out there worthy of note. I'm particularly partial to Richard Gere. He wears the sophistication of old Hollywood very well.

I'm thinking, however, about the UK's current concept of, and obsession with, 'celebrity'. I was having a chat with someone on twitter this week about this subject and so I thought I'd go out on a limb and just say what annoys me!

The UK red-top media either makes 'stars' out of nobodies, or they systematically destroy the lives of selected targets, especially anyone who seems to be even remotely successful, with their ambiguities and veiled suggestion. And why are they able to do this? The public seem to love it. They digest it. They eat it up because it makes them feel something - but what??? I just can't figure it out.

I had the misfortune to watch some minutes of a certain reality TV programme recently featuring 'so-called' celebrities - it was indeed a 'celebrity' version of the standard show. I simply couldn't find the remote to flick channels quickly enough! The vampire public swallowed it whole, the papers were full of 'news' on the progress. Everytime a celeb flushed their toilet, picked their nose or appeared to have put on weight, it became big news. Elsewhere total non-entities are paraded on the front covers of numerous magazines, all of whom have paid them handsomely for the coverage ... exclusive 'interviews' appear, all of them containing 'shocking' revelations or 'exclusive love life tips' and so on. And then these people complain about the coverage!

Why are we even interested?

Think about the soaps you watch on television. Most soap stars play themselves, or a slight variant thereof, they aren't acting, they are reciting lines. The few UK actors that have genuine talent go to America at the first opportunity. I refer to the likes of the lovely Katherine Zeta Jones, Gary Oldman (a fantastic character actor); all of their successes are well deserved - they have TALENT and deserve some form of kudos. Now, let's look at some others - non-entities from tacky shows like Big Brother - who shall remain nameless so that I don't intentionallly give them more attention, but they are just famous for being famous.

If you made a list of just why people are in the public eye, then often there is a valid and very worthwhile reason: oscar-winning actress; top sportsman; novelist; politician; singer; artist; entrepreneur ... this means they gain 'celebrity' out of what they have achieved through hard work and effort.

I wonder what Paris Hilton puts as her 'reason'? Or 'Katie Price'?

There's just no logic to it.

'Real' celebrities don't have to organise their own media photographer to witness them falling out of taxis drunk. 'Real' talent doesn't have to take drugs and smash up hotel rooms. 'Real' stars don't have to hire PR agencies to spin stories about where they will be to generate media interest. They just turn up there and are incidentally noticed.

I'll leave you with these words:

I’ll take my clothes off and it will be shameless
‘Cuz everyone knows that’s how you get famous

(The Fear - Lilly Allen)

Very apt, don't you think?


Anonymous said...

Interesting. I love Lilly Alan, but who on earth is Katie Price? I've never heard of the woman. I also avoid reality shows like the plague. I guess the Romans of old had the Colosseum and we have Reality TV.
Good post. Thanks for sharing.

Joan De La Haye

J.R. LeMar said...

I'm sorry to report that it's not just a UK thing. Over here, arcoss the Atlantic, we have also engaged in this trend of making stars out of people with no actual talent or accomplishments (google "Kim Kardashian" for a prime example).

It began with the rise of "reality" TV and has now gotten worse with the internet. Now you can just post an idiotic video of yourself on youtube and end up with a book deal. It's rediculous.

P.J.Delisle said...

I feel the same.

I am however, ghostwriting a story based on an incredibly popular American TV show, which I happen to hate.

But there is a credit crunch on and I need the money.

Sam Stone said...

Yes P.J - sometimes we just have to pay bills. I don't see that as selling out though. Good luck with the writing :)

Mike Wood said...

I agree with you 100%, Sam. I just wish more would come out and say it.
But there is an upside to all this Celebrity and Reality TV culture - the mind-sucking box in the corner of the lounge hardly ever gets switched on these days. And now there's so much more time available for doing important stuff. I almost dread the return of quality TV and performers with talent.