Victoria Beckham. Brangelina. Cheryl Cole. Jordan and Peter. The media spends an inordinate amount of time and effort convincing the public that we know these ‘stars.’ Weight fluctuations, shopping trips and spurious relationship developments are given more press attention than natural disasters or government policy.
Intimate details that you would be forgiven for not knowing about your close friends are published and picked over as if they are of national importance. A magazine with the headline ‘Pete & Nikki: We’ve done it! We’ve had sex!’ selling 500,000 copies seems to epitomise this insatiable desire to monitor and judge. It is assumed that we know who Pete & Nikki are (talent less Big Brother contestants) and they are referred to as if they are the readers’ friends. Perhaps most bizarrely it is also presented as if we have been waiting desperately to hear that they have consummated their bogus media relationship. There is no reason to care what these two fame-hungry nobodies do (hopefully) in private and yet 500,000 people do. The tabloids and gossip magazines offer daily reminders that our greed for all things celeb knows no bounds.
The ‘celebrities’ who make up gossip pages are almost exclusively female. We expect physical perfection, be they singers, actresses, socialites or professional wives. Walking the dog, however, they do not have a team of professionals but are still crucified when a telescopic camera lens catches the shadow of a wrinkle or cellulite. The public are encouraged by outlets such as perezhilton.com to take a bitter satisfaction in any visible flaw. Photos of the model Agyness Deyn were on The Daily Mail’s website alongside comments that she looked like a ‘Plain Jane’ and was ‘pasty.’ What do either of these comments even mean? That by being humanly imperfect the model is a lesser person? Those in the public eye are thus encouraged to use ever more extreme surgical regimes –anyone seen Courtney Love recently? – and completely unobtainable physical ideals are created for the public. An obviously anorexic woman like Victoria Beckham sharing her ‘diet secrets’ is just madness.
We constantly look for confirmation from others and it is human nature to use other people’s judgements to formulate a personal judgement. Ordinarily, these responses come from people around us, friends, family, colleagues, even chance encounters, and all are based on some degree of real human interaction. Celebrities, on the other hand, are constantly judged and monitored by people they have never met, never will meet and who come from completely different backgrounds and cultures. Margaret Hughes, the first actress to step upon the English stage, had to deal with satire from cartoonists with whom she was acquainted, but not Perez Hilton captioning online photos with ‘Hot Mess!’ ‘I’m Old’ ‘Problem Child’ and criticising her choice of nail varnish or breast size. It is much, much more difficult to establish a coherent sense of self or even reality when you are dependant upon strangers to merit your existence. There is a strange balance of power in which the public feeds off celebrities’ lives for entertainment and the ‘glamorous’ stars see successfully entertaining this faceless mass as the ultimate achievement.
The effect of the ridiculous media circus on the animals themselves is often overlooked. We are breeding litters of neurotic, unhappy ‘stars’ who preen, pout and ultimately self-destruct. They are idolised, placed on gaudy pedestals before being torn limb from limb when success is no longer interesting. Britney Spears is a convincing example of how any imbalance (probably cultivated by life in the spotlight,) is seized upon by a media thirsty for the taste of blood and humiliation. Spears was the ultimate American sweetheart, now with the ultimate a car crash of a life. The USA – and the world –never loved her more than when she was crying on the pavement at 4am, calling the paparazzi every time she left the house and shaving her head. Lindsay Lohan was gorged on glossy magazine covers and glamorous parties, the superficial adoration requiring no talent as justification. Then, when the inevitable happened, even more column inches were generated and the tabloid editors smirked.
Home-grown examples tend to be even more tragic, think of Jordan and Kerry Katona. There are obviously those who manipulate the intensity of media attention for their own ends – Madonna, Brangelina and Julia Roberts all ride the storm – but celebrity classical conditioning still collects many victims.
The celebrity culture has come to define our society, from Gordon Brown hiring Peter Andre’s PR wizard to Gwyneth Paltrow telling us what to eat, stars achieve superificial world domination until the public turn nasty. Celebrity culture is utterly farcical and considering its devastating effect on both sides of the cage, utterly terrifying.