Slaus posted an article recently about celebrity and our responses to them, prompted by something written by Jada Pinket-Smith (http://ohnblog.com/newohnblog/2013/03/12/jada-pinkett-smith-has-something-to-say-about-you-bullying-justin-beiber-rihanna-and-taylor-swift/). This is my kindasorta response that.
Just some thoughts, not necessarily answers I have ready, because to be honest this is one of those subjects which for me are still in flux (capacitor – sorry, I kinda just had to) a little:
- I don’t sympathise as such for celebrities and the famous, but I do hold a fair bit of straight-up disdain for the whole circus – public very much included
- This ‘universal tax’ notion does indeed seem to hold water…as an explanation of how things are. I’m not sure that it’s an explanation of how things ought to be, though. Lemme explain that one a little…
You might be surprised to hear this (probably nobody more so than the woman herself!) but I do agree with Beth’s discomfort around this issue. At the same time, though, I disagree, which just goes to show how weird this celebrity topic is, if you ask me. Tackling that second bit first: whenever individual celebrities are discussed, a lot of people – everywhere in this world, not just OHN or FB – will exhibit their apparent disinterest by saying how explicitly disinterested they are, which I find a little odd. I’ve seen it several times, and I’m beginning to think that many people are nearing the border – if not crossing over it – into he/ she ‘doth protest too much’ – ie. they’re more interested than either prepared to admit to us or themselves. I find myself more interested in the topic of celebrity than I do the individuals within it; that’s mainly because I’ve come to realise that, for myself, the subject, when reduced to its constituent individuals, is a vortex which – once you get caught in its outer rings – is very easy to get sucked into, and find yourself delving into parts of yourself that aren’t particularly attractive – bitchiness, coldness, nastiness, lack-of-empathy, envy, and so on and so forth. My (very much conscious) decision has been to ignore celebrity as a result of realising this. Subsequently I have no idea who many of the people discussed actually are. Y’know what though? That feels okay – I don’t feel like I’m lying to myself by not indulging, I feel like I’m actually doing myself a favour by staying well away from the whole thing. It feels like a small freedom won. That’s just my little tuppence about the whole “I don’t give a shyt” thing….
On the issue of how we discuss celebrities, I look into that world from my little portals of FB and OHN, and I must say it ain’t pretty. Yes, there’s this ‘universal tax’ thing that Slaus more-than-likely-correctly mentions, but does it have to be like that? I don’t think so. I think it ties in to a few much bigger things; but I couldn’t at all say for sure which is the most important, which came first, which influences the other, and so on, but I do get a sense that these things are of influence in how ‘celebrity’ and the acidity of it has evolved.
As long as there have been the famous, there has been bitching about them – that much is true. If you care to go looking, you’ll find bitching about Shakespeare, the Romantic poets, Renaissance painters – there are probably records of the ancient Greeks and Romans and Egyptians calling each other whatever the equivalent of ‘ho’ or ‘hater’ was. If you look closely enough, you’ll probably discover the original grumpy cat in a hieroglyph. I’m sure there were early ‘memes’ between Egyptian nobility, written on parchment, claiming that ‘Asiatics be like…’ (you had to be there), and so on….So bitching about celebrity isn’t new. I think, though, that two things (at least) have changed significantly – technology and ideology.
Technology: do I have to explain the many amazing ways that technology hasn’t only grown exponentially in audience, but also in actual produce? No, didn’t think so. One of the side-effects of this has been to allow a sector which is always amongst the first to exploit such things – marketing – to increase its foothold. As a consequence, you eventually end up with more celebrities, all of whom use a vast array of outlets to gain access to their public, and ever-more targeted in increasingly accurate and niche ways, but – at first, paradoxically, but not really – to a bigger and bigger audience.
Ideology: I agree with many thinkers who would say that the last century we had – and where the same belief-system is prevalent now – was a ‘Century of the Self’: the UK journalist Adam Curtis, for instance, traces this back to the work of Sigmund Freud, where he wrote about the id, ego and super-ego. An ideology where each one of us is told, from an early age, how unique and special we are and that we must strive to improve ourselves under only our own will-power because that’s the only way to succeed – will surely, at some point, have reached a stage where that becomes ’I’m the most important thing in my world, and by “my world” I really mean “the world”’. And if/ when that happens, do people even realise that they’re possibly different in their responses to the world to generations who have gone before? And doesn’t that then lead not only to the insouciance of a type of person we call ‘celebrity’; and doesn’t that in turn lead to impishly malignant responses from those who aren’t ‘celebrities’ – driven by combinations of things like envy, selfishness, lack of empathy and a general sense that one’s sense of acerbic humour or opinion has priority over common sense, the kinds of things implicitly (if accidentally) encouraged by the philosophy of the self?
Any world where there is less bitchiness and so on towards celebrities will – I think – also be a world where celebrity isn’t such a big ‘thing’, where that whole culture recedes in importance a bit. And that, in the end, is the compact, in my opinion. Celebrity needs us – whether or not we’re being arseholes – and the culture as a whole is prepared to take the odd bit of collateral damage (a bit of substance abuse here, a bit of self-harm there, a sprinkling of anorexia, all served in a warming jus of occasional suicide) in order to maintain and grow – growth being the ultimate drug for the culture of celebrity. I don’t really think we need celebrity that much, but instead we act as if we do (probably without realising it). We could turn the faucet off, or at least down, if we wanted to. We might even like it that way. I know I do.
What is the alternative? Do we continue to watch as things ratchet upwards, more and more opinions polarise, and more and more reactions turn into this (http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1563667-boxer-curtis-woodhouse-tracks-down-twitter-troll-shows-up-at-his-house)?
I can’t say my ideas are fully-formed on this, and there are probably holes in the arguments I’ve raised – indeed, I may be entirely wrong! But there they are, blinking in the light, waiting to swatted away…..