Monday, December 18, 2006

Celebrities Rule!

A charming young lady from one of the major news bureaus interviewed me the other day. The subject was ghost writing, but more specifically the glut of ghost written biographies of what now pass for celebrities in this world.
Her first question was why did I not write any of these and also why did I have such a poor opinion of them in general? The inference was that there might have been a touch of sour grapes in my dismissive attitude towards these. And I must admit, the money would come in handy!
But realistically, I have never been approached to do the work, which is not surprising since I immure myself in rural France, never watch British television and only read the on-line newspapers. Hardly the sort of circle in which the nouveau celebrity revolves to rub shoulders (or other parts) with their prospective biographer.
There is also the problem that it would hardly be much of a boost to one of these to find that his or her proposed biographer had never heard of them. Hardly the basis for a happy relationship, I might suggest, something of a sine qua non for the job. And, apart from any financial reward, I would not find much personal satisfaction in working on a story whose appeal would likely be in the order of nano-seconds and whose subject will be probably be consigned to the dustbin of pseudo celebrities within a year or two.
But her next question gave me pause for thought. She asked did I think that the British public had an unhealthy obsession with such instant celebrities? As I said, not watching British television, I had not realised the extent of this phenomena but I now started to take a closer look. And it seems that, on a certain level, the affairs of TV artists (and I use the word loosely) and sports personalities were of greater import than world events.
I acquired a copy of The Sun. As I feel that Rupert Murdoch is adequately provided for, I nicked the copy that had been left behind by a fellow breakfaster.
The front page was filled with a murder story. Fair enough. Page three was completely taken up with a picture of a nubile young nobody with an inadequate wardrobe, something which I would have thought that nowadays would only have been of interest to a retarded teenager with testosterone problems. Makes one wonder just who are the readership of The Sun.
But the centre spread was entirely devoted to pictures of “celebrities.” If I remember rightly, the storyline that was used to hang this together was, “what were they doing for Christmas?” They all appeared to be participants in some form of television, film or sporting event, and why on earth anyone else should care what they were doing for Christmas is beyond me. Not one of the names registered with me as having contributed anything to society – but that may, of course, be my misfortune.
Some of the other items were extraordinary. Much excitement there was apparently over who was to be in the final of an oddly titled BBC programme, “Strictly Come Dancing.” No doubt the winner will shortly be publishing an autobiography and hopefully will be able to explain why it’s “strictly.”
The rest of the edition was pretty much a repetition of such stories and later, a copy of the Daily Mail (also stolen), reinforced my view that, as far as the British public were concerned, news was now running a poor second to celebrity gossip.
As I am often accused of being a grumpy old man, it was with some relief that I read in Sunday’s Daily Telegraph that I am not alone. The traditional game of Trivial Pursuit, whose questions in the past have not been noticeably trivial, has now succumbed to this obsession with personalities. Questions of general knowledge have now been superseded with piffling ones that, as the article says, appear to have come straight from the pages of Heat or Hello! magazines.
They quote some samples:
“Who heckled Madonna at an awards ceremony for miming?”
“What is Prince Charles’s nickname for Camilla?”
“What whisky mixer does Paul Burrell recommend to neutralise dog urine?”
“What were young people said to be buying less of according to a 1998 report, due to the Jeremy Clarkson effect?”
“What did lesbian Rosie Read sell on E-Bay for £4800 to help pay off her university debt?”
“How many stones of weight did David Blane lose during his 44 days in the plastic box above the Thames?”
“Which former “rock” came second to Joe Pasquale on I’m a Celebrity – Get me Out of Here?”
“What 7ft. wide, 6300lb. vehicle did Arnold Schwarzenegger purchase the first civilian example of?”
Clearly, families who felt that a copy of Trivial Pursuit might be good for the education of their offspring should cross this off their Christmas list.
The more serious question is why the British public should have such an obsessive interest in such essentially uninteresting people? (I would exclude Prince Charles and Arnold Schwarzenegger from that category – at any rate, they have actually accomplished something) Every nation has, of course, its show business personalities but these are usually performers with genuine talent. France only seems to have one at a time and Johnny Hallyday must surely be approaching his “sell by” date, especially now he is moving to Switzerland for tax purposes, and Gerard Depardieu has faded from view. Must be a vacancy there.
But Britain is an oddity. The raising to iconic status of a cocaine snorting model and her sometime associate, a repeat drug offending musician, who, in any sensible society, would long ago have been consigned to jail to reflect upon their miserable, if financially rewarding, lives, symbolises the sort of examples being set for future generations. And as the gap between the have and the have-nots widens, more resort to the never-never land dreams of instant wealth and fame offered by such programmes as Big Brother. The below navel cavortings of the “stars” of soap operas become of prime interest and the whole foundation of society becomes debased. Much excitement was engendered the other day over the winner of a competition known as the X-Factor. This was apparently a 21 year old by the name of Leona, who will no doubt now be enshrined in the pantheon of celebrities. Watch out for her autobiography!
Trapped in that limbo known as the departure lounge at the airport on my way home, I studied the shelves in the bookstore marked biography. The names and faces of innumerable inconsequential subjects stared at me from the covers. Almost all were stories of the lives (usually of only a few years to date) of those who had made a brief appearance on television or in the scandal columns of the tabloids. Flicking through the pages, there was a depressing similarity to the stories – stories which in my view hardly qualify as biographies. A biography is defined as “an account of someone’s life.” Twenty something years is hardly a lifetime.
But thankfully there does seem to be something of a decline in the public enthusiasm for such twaddle and publishers are now taking a more lively interest in genuine stories of real people.
I’m currently working on such a book. It’s the story of a retired Chinese lady who has ridden over 100,000 kms on her shopping bike around China, visiting 889 cities, 2300 towns and meeting the real people of China.
Now that’s a story I think it’s worth writing home about! But I bet you won’t read about her in The Sun or Hello! Unless, of course, they invite her to appear on Big Brother, Strictly Come Dancing or the X-Factor.


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