The word ‘celebrity’ is one used so often now it has virtually evaporated into the realm of nothingness. Where once it was used to denote someone worthy of ‘celebration’ and signify a prominence in the public consciousness, with ever expanding media outlets, sports, films, music, television and opportunity for pure notoriety, nowadays the label is thrown about just as liberally as if we were labeling ourselves.
In 1961 a man called Daniel J. Boorstin wrote a book called The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-events in America. In it, he defined celebrity as “a person who is known for his well-knownness”. Saying that due to a technological revolution, ease in communication and a cultural change in journalism, that the term had “severed fame from greatness” – effectively saying the relationship between what you did and how famous you were had become virtually non-existent. That was over 50 years ago.
In 2012, rich and famous like Kim, Khloe and Kourtney Kardashian, Paris Hilton, Katie Price, Amy Childs and more are some of the many individuals who have risen to the forefront of our awareness, becoming household names and making millions to boot – but for what? An interesting characteristic of the phenomena that is 21st century celebrity culture, is it’s peculiar (at worst, vulgar) fascination with personality, rather than craft, creed or contribution to society. ‘Celebrity’ enthusiasts in 2012 are much more likely to care about a star’s ‘dirty secrets’ (which in all, aren’t that secretive) than they are to find out about their latest film role or album they’ve spent nine months molding in a high-rise New York studio. The perception of what equates to success has changed drastically, who gives a fuck what you do – as long as people pay attention. Even the idea that modern ‘reality’ stars represent a fascination with character is flawed; I mean, look at this video of Kim Kardashian on Alan Carr’s Chatty Man – I’ve seen turds with more personality.
So if celebrity culture is so vacuous, empty and superficial, what’s the big deal? Where does the fascination, obsession, exposure and fortune come from? The answer is altogether a more clever affair.
If you’re a citizen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, you’re probably aware of one of the less appetising aspects of our nation. While our Broadcast Journalism oozes sophistication, sensibility and stoicism (a trait that makes the likes of yankee Fox News look like a live feed from a mental asylum) our newspapers, tabloids and print media is where our share of the nutjobs lie. With an obsession with scandal, exclusives and sensationalism wrapped in a confidently crude preoccupation with anyone off the telly – the British press and magazine stands present a fertile patch for celebrity culture to grow, and grow, and grow.
The thing is, the likes of OK!, More!, Hello, Now and every other similar magazine in existence (not to mention the tabloid’s gigantic appetite for anything ‘celeb’) are widely assumed to have a tough job on their hands. You’d be forgiven for thinking that your favourite members of the rich and famous are much too busy to deal with the likes of an army of Entertainment Journalists, and that the thought of a gabbling sweaty intern looking for column inches would be enough to convince anyone to temporarily abandon the public sphere in favour of a glass of champy and a bubblebath in private seclusion. No, not quite.
The fact is, whether it’s our luminous “prince charming” Peter Andre, or DIY SOS presenter Nick Knowles (no, i’m not even fucking joking) every single one of these ‘celebs’ will rely on these publications to some extent, whether it’s an extra buck or the basis for their entire wellbeing. Kerry Katona might rant on about ‘press intrusion’ and respecting privacy, but if it weren’t for her staple in the British magazines and tabloids, she’d be behind a till at Tesco, on top of the mountain of ‘those who were famous but aren’t anymore’. There’d be no TV interviews, no reality programmes, no fly-on-the-wall documentaries – because nobody would give a flying fuck, simple as.
‘Dramality’ programmes like TOWIE, Made in Chelsea, Geordie Shore and Keeping Up With The Kardashians essentially survive on coverage of the cast’s extra-curricular activities – and others’ interest in them. Now, imagine if the entire media simultaneously stopped giving a fuck; these people would drop off our radar like a sack of shit, but they won’t. Extroverted, fame hungry individuals like these present an opportunity for endless content, it’s a dream come true.
The magic thing about Celebrity Culture is it’s virtually self-sufficient. Publications need their column inches, celebs need their space in the spotlight, less they face the reality of a life of perceived ‘mediocrity’ – no attention, no sequins, and no glitter and champagne. OK!, Hello and their compatriots are willing to satisfy this desire in return for endless details of your life, elaborated emotions and saucy stunts. Their very presence fortifies the myth of what’s hot, who’s in fashion, who’s worth talking about and who isn’t. Their ability to create and manifest their own stories and plot lines, only for people to lust after them later is at best a con (and at worst a travesty). The fact that Britain’s biggest selling newspaper has a Politics section dwarfed 10-fold by its Entertainment coverage is a sad sign to say the least, all the worse considering it floats on a bed of bafoons. And I’m sorry, if you’re still paying money to read about Kerry fucking Katona 11 years after she left Atomic Kitten, you’re a moron mate.