13 May 2010

On Celebrities and other matters

I concluded the post below with the words: Why does anyone pay any attention to celebrities at all?  I said this, of course, after paying attention to a celebrity and quietly approving her words at least in part, so my question could be adjusted to: Why do I pay any attention to celebrities at all?

I do so, personally, mainly to the exent that it is virtually impossible not to.  There is a tremendous amount of energy, effort, and above all, money involved in following around celebrities, catching them in their dress and undress, following their every word, every move and especially every hookup with a single minded determination that would constitute criminal stalking were this effort to be applied to any poorer, less famous, private citizen.  Yet this activity continues unabated, even accelerating, as the number of magazines, newspapers, websites and television shows, including pseudo news shows, are devoted to following and reporting the seemingly glamorous, miserable, empty lives of Paris Hilton, the Kardashians, and any other flavour of the week the public seemingly wishes to consume.  Someone once said "television allows you to be entertained in your living room by people you would never allow in your house."  But the television you could shut off.  Nowadays, it is impossible to tune them out completely.  Some noise will always bleed through the shutters, or be met at the watercooler, or somenew tidbit will be shouted at us through a headline on a glossy magazine as we go out to buy milk, bread, and a stick of gum.

The news is skewed, giving us a distorted view of the reality of their lives.  We hear about disasters and breakups, hookups and benders, and of course, the inevitable trip to celebrity rehab, possibly with cameras in tow to create a new television reality series over this 'important' event.  Missing from the news, of course, is any celebrity who lives their life with a grain of common sense, remains faithful to their spouse, and manages to do their job and go home for the evening without bedding twelve strangers while getting stoned and/or drunk and afterwards driving into a tree.  We had much rather watch the disastrous life of, say, Lindsey Lohan, than a stable life of, perhaps, a Morgan Freeman- about whose personal life I know nothing beyond the fact that he an avid golfer. If he were a bad golfer, or threw his clubs on occasion, it is possible I would know more of the man.

Is it schadenfreud, then, that drives this morbid curiosity?  A love to witness the sufferings of these 'celebrities', perhaps making us feel better about our own lives?  Perhaps, but perhaps not.  Advertising companies seem to think not.  Many of these 'celebrities', people who are famous for being famous, earn a comfortable, nay, lucrative living simply by being their own, obnoxious selves.  Paris Hilton, for example, who before being famous for her sex tape, was famous (but much less notorious) for being an heiress.  She is no longer an heiress, as her grandfather, the family patriarch and the one who ultimately holds the purse strings, disinherited the entire younger generation, choosing instead to leave the bulk of his wealth to charity.  The party continued on unabated for Ms Hilton, as she is given money, toys and jewelry by many companies who simply want her to be seen using their products as she goes from party to party, picking up one male chew toy after another, believing her to be a solid, sound investment in encouraging consumers to use their products as well.  In short: they believe she is a role model, and many people out there watching her are encouraged to live like her.

If we return back to the example of Ms Welch and the post below, while I am happy that Ms. Welch has seen the light, or at least stand enough in the light to see a shadow cast elsewhere, she is drawing on her status as a former sex symbol to get her message across. She encourages us to listen to her not despite the fact that her greatest achievement in her chosen profession was the popularization of the fur bikini, but because her greatest achievement in her chose profession was the popularization of the fur bikini. Listen to me, she is saying. I used to be really, really, hawt.

The website where I first picked up her article contained a debate over the status of Ms Welch and her article.  Some were for, some were against.  One commenter pointed out how Ms Welch glossed over some elements of her history. 

Ms. Welch skips, almost parenthetically, over her own four marriages and single parenthood and blythely, or boastfully, tells the reader how it didn't hurt her career but "matured her." Well, maybe being a single parent did "mature" Raquel Welch, but to note that is just entirely missing the point. The point is that almost every woman on this planet is not in the position of Raquel Welch, who had a successful and lucrative acting career. At the risk of resurrecting the spectre of Dan Quayle, most women do not have Murphy Brown's wherewithal. Single parenthood impoverishes most people. They can't, and never could, do what Welch has done — thumb her nose at the consequences of her less than wise decisions.
Ms.  Welch's 'less than wise decisions' have been multiplied over and over with even more disastrous decisions by today's celebrties with even fewer consequences.  Ms. Welch may have thumbed her nose, but today's celebrities extend the middle finger, vigorously, with force, and often.  Indeed, today's celebrities are rewarded with endorsements, contracts and their very own reality television shows for their public missteps which would be disastrous for the ordinary people the advertisers hope will emulate the celebrities.  The average person does not have the wherewithal to raise a child alone, nor do they have the wherewithal to go out drinking every night, or to pay for rehab to dry out after drinking every night, nor can they afford to 'pimp out' their 'ride' or their 'crib' after the fashion of the celebrities, but many are driving themselves into enourmous debt in an effort to do so anyway, an effort to be like someone who started their career, or whose career got a great lift from a home made porno video.  To quote the host of the above site, writer John C Wright: "This is the first era in human history when the vices of the rich man's prodigal sons, thanks to the mass media, can be seen, and envied and imitated by the poor man's sons."

This is a point Antony Daniels, who writes under the name of Theodore Dalrymple, has made this point time and time again.  We see reported, again and again, the most horrible peronal lives and disasters, and then we turn the page to see the latest horror.  Nothing is learned, for learnign requires judgement and no judgement is made.  In Dalrymple's words: "The only permissible judgment in polite society is that no judgment is permissible."  As much as I tend to agree with Dalrymple, there does seem to be one permissable judgement to be made:  endorsement.

We endorse these people for 'bravely' living their own lives, for taking charge.  If the celebrity is a woman who has serial hookups, she is praised for taking charge of her sexuality, and if she has a sex tape to her credit- seemingly de rigeur these days- or a photospread in some 'men's' magazine, her control over her sexuality is all the more on display and praised, as though inspiring men to masturbate is an accomplishment, and the number of civilizations spilled onto the floor or wiped off a man's chest by an old, grey sock a measure of her control over, nay, a monument to her sexuality, her control, her power.

Why are these people of any consequence in our lives?  How often are actors out there, shilling products and or causes they think we should purchase or support?  Why would an actor's opinion matter on anything?  They are a class of people whose main job in life is to look cute while they speak the lines another has put into their mouths.  We may as well take political advice from Ernie the Muppet.  In a just world, teachers and soldiers, those who really put their money where their mouth is, would be millionaires, and these unspeakably beautiful celebrities would be standing on street corners, holding out cups while bearing signs which read:  "I will pout for food."

The unchecked proliferation of media devoted to following these celebrities has lead to people believing that the celbrity lifestyle is the normal lifestyle, or it should be the normal lifestyle.  All fun, all the time, no consequences.  And should one of them realize that maybe, just maybe, something is a little wrong with this lifestyle, as did Ms Welch, and they write a little piece saying as much, the media puts a disclaimer on the piece, distancing itself from the content as far as possible:  The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Raquel Welch.  They wouldn't want any young readers, to whom Ms Welch addressed her words, to get the wrong idea.

Looking to them at all is the wrong idea.  There are so many other places to learn and grow.  Why have we chosen these as our models?  Why do we still look to them?

I cannot answer these questions.  I have tried to protect my daughters to the best of my abilities, but the media still leaks in, as it must.  I cannot make them go away, much as I wish I could.  All I can do, when the children ask me questions about these celebrities, is to teach my children to take them as a different kind of example:  Not something to emulate, but to shun.  Not as a model, raised upon a pedestal, but as a scarecrow, raised on a stick.  Flee from them, I tell my children, as you would from the plague.

1 comment:

/dev/null said...

"The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Raquel Welch"

I'm glad you caught that, too. I wouldn't have written my own bit if not for that.