We live in the age of the individual and the personality. The individual is me (or maybe you, if I even care about you). The ‘personality’ is the so-called celebrity on TV, in the papers, on the web, in my fantasy.
The way it works is this. Imprisoned in our own drab and turgid daily routine, we create our very own exciting celebrities. Our grown up fantasy versions of Barbie, Cindy or Action Man. We corporately select and dress up a public figure or two. Some have achieved celebrity, by having a particular talent or putting themselves forward for public service (footballers, politicians, musicians). Others have been born into celebrity – The Queen, Lisa Manelli, Paris Hilton. And others have foolishly thrust celebrity upon themselves. These are usually brash, talentless and entirely self-promoting individuals. They attach themselves to famous people like limpets; do something scandalous in public or appear in a so-called reality show. Personally I can deal with people who achieve a measure of success by their efforts and talents. I’m not too keen on the other two categories.
By whichever means, we, society, construct our league table of famous people. We celebrate them as substitutes for our own rather empty and unsatisfying lives. We admire them, vote for them, buy tickets to see them and applaud them. But behind this facade of admiration and worship lies the evil seed of envy. And envy leads to revenge. Eventually, we, the self-appointed morality police, find a deadly flaw. The flaw is exposed, spread across the front pages of the papers and the web. Gossiped through twitter. Super-injunctions are futile. The truth will out and revenge will be served for breakfast.
Our favourite flaws are affairs and fraud. Cheating. We are British – nobody tolerates a cheat. And so our latest paragons crash and burn and we bask in an affront of indignation and self-righteousness, scarcely hiding our smug schadenfreude and voyeurism. Deep down we all like a good scrap on match of the day followed by a red card or two and some ritual humiliation.
Our agents in this game are of course the media. We pay them handsomely. We buy the papers which promote our victims, and we buy more when they bring them down. Or we fuel the advertising business which funds for it all. Maybe it all comes down to shopping in the end . .
I wonder why we bother. What is it about us which has this need to ritually create and destroy celebrities? Are our own lives so empty? Are we so bored, so unfulfilled, so cruel?
I think the process feeds itself. We invent our own celebrities – rich, talented, powerful, beautiful people – all the things we are not (I speak for myself). We like to be told that we can be like them. We really want to believe this. Lose 2 stones in 2 weeks. Magically Remove your Wrinkles. Earn easy money. Be In It to Win it. Marry a Tall Dark Stranger. Rags to Riches. Georgie Best. Big Brother. Susan Boyle. Just Do It. Lies, damned lies and advertising.
We particularly love those of our own who have risen to the dizzy heights of Hello magazine and the like. And then we particularly loathe them. Because the harsh reality is we cannot make ourselves rich, talented, powerful or beautiful. So we bring them down on a different charge. We may not be rich, talented, powerful and beautiful, but at least we don’t cheat.
And even that is a self-deception – because we do. We too lie and cheat and do wrong things – to a greater or lesser extent. How would we like some of the things we have done spread across the world wide web? Our self-righteousness is just that. On average, we are just as weak and liable to temptation as they are. And the press probably more so.
The game is hypocritical. The game is deceptive. The game is futile. The game is distasteful. The game is madness.
Beneath the gloss and glamour and fame, they are normal people just like us. Last night I watched a programme featuring rock stars of the 1970s and 80s. Young, talented men who filled stadiums and set our pulses racing. Now they are old, fat, balding and rather worse for wear. “They are just normal people” my wife observed. And so they are. And so they always were.
What we do to our celebrities is cruel. We give them impossible expectations to be lived out under a relentless microscope. Then we hound them when they fail. So they seek to escape through drugs, alcohol, sex or suicide. Paul Gascoigne, Marilyn Munroe, Michael Hutchence, Amy Whitehouse, Gary Speed.
I think we should stop it. I think we should take a reality check. Nobody is perfect. We aren’t. They aren’t. Whatever we have – wrinkles and all – is ours and ours alone, given to us by God to enjoy, to use wisely and be content with. It is a cliche but none the less true; real beauty comes from within – kindness, integrity, courage and love. Real success is not about our own promotion but about doing something worthwhile for ourselves, our family, our friends, our community, our employer. We should enjoy the results of the talent – a sublime note, a dab of paint, a perfect pose, a sweeping pass from midfield – rather than obsess with the talented. And use whatever power we have with humility and for good, not to step on others and try to control them.
I don’t watch much reality TV. Nothing could be further from reality. But I do enjoy “I’m a Celebrity get me Out of Here”. I like how it slowly reveals the people behind the personalities. Stripped of the glamour and props and careful PR, we start to see celebrities as the human beings they really are. They cook and eat and go to the jungle loo.
Some are predictably shallow and self-seeking. Some are petulant and self-centred. For some it really is all about “me”. But others show a surprising degree of humility, care, goodness and honesty. And they can be the young or old in either camp. That is the reality.
It is a celebrity jungle out there and its not doing any of us any good. We should set the celebrities – and ourselves – free.