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Celebrating celebrity

I’m listening to Radio 3, and I’ve just heard a rather celebrated lady novelist (Elizabeth Jane Howard) and a slightly celebrated composer and broadcaster (Michael Berkeley), in between reminiscing about other celebrities (such as the late Kingsley Amis, to whom Ms. Howard was married) and introducing a very nice Scarlatti recording by a somewhat celebrated lady pianist (Nina Milkina), denounce the “Cult of Celebrity”. If I heard right in among embarking on this, the two of them are plugging Ms. Howard’s newly published autobiography.

I’m getting very sick of this. I’d love to be a celeb, and am doing the best I can to be one within the limits set about me by the indolence of my personality. My view of those who already are celebs is what many others (but not me) feel about those ex-officio hereditary celebs, the Royal Family. They earn their money! Celebrities are generally spoken of as if they are only an appendage of modern life, not to say an excrescence, mere parasites whom we seem to have to endure along with the good stuff, like DVDs and modern dentistry and nice toilets. But celebs contribute! No celebs and there’d be no toilets or DVDs for anything like so many people.

Suppose you are building a supermarket. While you are building it, you just want to get on with the job and you don’t want crowds of people hanging around getting in the way of incoming lorries with building materials and generally being a danger to themselves on account of not wearing the proper headgear and risking death by falling objects. But then, you finish the job, and this huge, huge place is suddenly ready to open. So, suddenly, you do need huge crowds. Fail to attract such crowds and you are going to be stuck with an awful lot of stale milk and rotting fruit and vegetables.

Think about the whole twentieth century economy, and an amazing amount of it consists of unfolding scenarios of this nature. A huge effort behind closed doors, followed by the flinging open of the doors, at which point god help you if no one comes. Automobile assembly lines, mega-movies, new sorts of soap dispenser, all the good stuff of the twentieth century basically.

So, for the twentieth and subsequent centuries to work properly, you need ways to crank up public enthusiasm, and ways that will work even though you’ve just spent the previous six months carefully damping it down and saying nothing except “no comment”.

And when you want to attract interest, one of the best ways to do that is to bring on the celebs. Your new DIY store is ready for business, so you have a big party and get a couple of TV DIY-ers to front it for you, and maybe a couple of medium-rank soap stars to just make sure, and then whistle up the local media (without whom of course celebrity would be unimaginable) to do their bit, and that way all those vegetables you’ve piled up on your new shelves get bought and eaten instead of thrown away.

So I say, hurrah for celebs. “Cult” just means that a lot of rather thoughtless and snobby people not seeing the point of whatever it is, but if all the celebs were suddenly taken away – pfffft!! – those mini-celeb lady novelists (who would never be asked to open a supermarket on account of not being nearly celeb enough) would soon realise how valuable was the work the real celebs had been doing. Those literary dinner parties, along with all the other pleasures of modern life, would suddenly become a whole lot harder to arrange.

4 comments to Celebrating celebrity

  • Ryan Waxx

    I can’t decide weather this is supposed to be a parody…

    Take your supermarket example: Now color me skeptical, but I don’t think the local families are going to double their overall food purchases because puff daddy showed up at the supermarket. So what is the maximum benefit of celebrety here? Shifting sales from one business to another. And if the celebrety gets run over by a tea cart on the way to the big party?

    The whole twentieth century economy is going to collapse because a customer hasn’t changed the location at which he gets Campbell’s soup! Flee, flee – The mongols are coming!

    Get serious.

    The only contributions celebrety makes to capitalism is as advertising value… and – a useful hint, there ARE other forms of advertising. Why, some 18th century heathen are still taking out TV ads!

    Some celebreties actually create goods… They create music, restaraunt chains, and grills (mmm, mmm!). But so do a lot of non-celebreties.

    And yet for all the good products they introduce, some of the products are (charitably) trinkets. If you want to protray all-natural, basalmating, hydroxifying shampoo as the vehicle that carries civilization itself, fine. Just let me off at the next stop.

  • Travis Neal

    Do you really feel there is a diference between advertising value and the ‘real goods’ you cite as examples? What is the difference between music and an advertisement? Sometimes the medium might be different, but isn’t still just a collection of fragments with an emphasis upon arrangement?

    Restaurant chains. Those are merely delivery vehicles for a different product. Again fragments arranged in a pattern to make eating in its location more desirable than in another location.

    Grills. Ok, well that is a real good. If one likes her steak to taste real bad. But, again Foreman merely provided a reason to prefer that method of cooking over other methods, he did not actually make the grill.

    The supermarket can benefit from the celebrity. The presence of the celebrity, for some unknown reason, may actually make a family go a little farther than normally to a different location. They might actually be persuaded..er…compelled to pay a bit more.

    I am curious, like you, as to the whole point of the Supermarket analogy. But, let us be honest about the ‘actual goods’ produced by celebrities and atempts to disparage other goods. It is a short and slippery slope into the murk of worthlessness.

  • Ryan Waxx

    Yes, there is a difference between advertising value and ‘real goods’, and its nonsensical to suggest otherwise.

    Are you truly not capable of distinguishing between music and an advertisement? Ok, try this: put a CD in your player and press play. Now, take puff daddy and put HIM in your CD player and try to play it.

    Advertising can influence buying choices, but it cannot create.

    If you look above at my comment, you might discover that I freely admitted that a lot of celebreties promote trinkets. You missed the point I was trying to make however:

    Although celebreties can create goods, and often do, this doesn’t mean that everything they do is votal to the economy.

    Mike Ditka coaching football is a product, or more accurately a service. Mike Ditka promoting tough actin’ Tinactin foot powder is an advertisement.

    Celebrety steakhouses are often created with the celebrety’s money, and the menu is often created by the celebrety. Therefore the celebrety in this instance is acting as a business creator. His celebrety status is seperate, and considered built-in advertising.

  • lars

    The “cult of celebrity” suggests, to me, that people tend to assume lots of things about celebrity figures, that have nothing to do with the person the celebrity actually is. It is a creation in the mind of each person (who cares enough to do so), an objectification of the famous person.

    Oh,yeah, they earn their money, for the loss of their privacy, let alone for what they are good at doing that attracts the attention to them.

    But, then, people who enjoy that sort of thing are probably quite happy with many of the aspects of celebrity. Those who don’t, avoid it, and find ways to get the things they desire, like maybe a good income and respect of people whose opinions matter to them, without the risk of finding one’s self splattered on the front of a tabloid or at yet another supermarket opening.