‘Celebrity’ – it’s probably one of the most over used words in the modern English language. Loathsome to some, it’s a magnet for billions attracted to the latest piece of clickbait shared on the internet or tabloid press. You may have thought that the celebrity spotlight had dimmed during the current pandemic but like the virus itself, it just won’t go away.
Long before the internet, social media and those Goebbels like propogandists called ‘influencers’, society chose to anoint certain members of the community as celebrities. The film and TV industries dished up many of them but they were also drawn from the fashion, sporting and financial areas – to name a just a few. They were people who were highly successful in their chosen occupation, usually rewarded with considerable wealth and admired by the community at large.
When Sydney’s social climbers planned their gala fund raising events in the 70s, 80s and 90s, an essential requirement was a conspicuous inclusion of A-list celebrities. No high society shebang was considered a success without a healthy attendance from the A-list, their smiling faces gracing the social pages of the daily press a few days later. I well remember the quote from an old friend of mine who often worked as a caterer at many of these functions. “The same f@%*ing attention seekers show up every time, trading their fame for yet another free meal.” As their celebrity status waned many of these professional freeloaders were demoted to the dreaded ‘B-list’, called upon only when there was a last minute A-list withdrawal.
Whilst social events have always cultivated a guest list of celebrities, it’s been TV that has really capitalised on the celebrity factor. In the 60s and 70s we had programs like Celebrity Squares, regularly fronted by personalities like Jimmy Hannan, Bert Newton, Ugly Dave Gray and Chelsea Brown. The guests were like pieces of old well worn furniture, shuffled around each week to provide a familiar and comforting environment. More recently we’ve had shows like I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here!, Dancing With The Stars and the truly absurd SAS Australia which features celebs abseiling down the side of treacherous mountains in an attempt to regain their psychological mojo.
Even SBS has got in on the action with their ultra low budget Celebrity Mastermind showcasing “16 well-loved Australian celebrities” battling it out for the dubious title. The roster includes former Australian idol judge Ian ‘Dicko’ Dickson, former Wiggle Murray Cook and musician Ben Lee. The excitement level doesn’t even match the level of another SBS program, The Joy Of Painting With Bob Ross. What it does prove, in the case of many of the participants, is that once you have established your so called ‘celebrity status’ you can trade on it for years to come, regardless of any current success.
TV, radio and trashy supermarket gossip mags aside, it’s the internet and its related news services that have been completely overwhelmed by the cult of celebrity. Just how much space the endless clickbait takes up on the web – I’m not sure, but they must give porn a good run for its money. Unlike the SBS roster of ‘well loved’ celebrities, the internet fosters both good and bad celebs, heroes and villains and everybody in between. Throw in the thousands of influencers, Instagram Tik Tok and YouTube stars and the impact is stultifying – about as good for your general well being as a dose of ivermectin.
So what can all good free thinkers do to combat this vicious onslaught of celebrity fundamentalism that is looking to enslave us all and turn everybody into a babbling sycophant? Perhaps we can start by looking to those in society who have achieved a great deal, be it in the arts, entertainment, sporting or anywhere and shun celebrity. They don’t do commercials for Uber Eats and they don’t seek to trade on their celebrity, long after their use by date.
As for the increasing army of professional celebrities and shameless self promoters, all we can wish for is a pandemic of public contempt – an eventual realization that there are more rewarding things to do in life that swallowing their toxic bait. I’d rather be painting along with Bob Ross than worshipping at the altar of the modern day celebrity.