There is much to be said about the current cult of celebrity. The expansion of digital media, especially TV channels, creates the need for content, and ‘reality TV’ is one of the easiest ways to generate content. Think of it – no actors or scriptwriters to pay, no plot to develop, no copyright fees to meet, no need to negotiate fees with sporting authorities. No need either (breathe it low) for talent. And reality TV creates its own material for the future: the media version of a perpetual motion machine. You can put your celebrity onto a panel show, or a cookery show, or a quiz; have a series of what XXX did next, or audition even more obscure people who want to be XXX’s personal assistant or publicist. And when the celebrity fouls up, drink, drugs or divorce, they create copy for the tabloids: they are ‘troubled XXX’. And when they die, they become ‘tragic XXX’.
The point is that celebrities as currently defined are mediocrities. That is what they are. If they have a minor talent, it is truly minor – they might be politicians who didn’t make it, or musicians who didn’t make it, or actors who didn’t make it. My wife contrasts celebrities with stars, and that establishes the true nature of current celebrity – in soccer terms, it’s the Premier League v. Johnson Paints Trophy.
So where, you ask me, can I find true human worth at the moment ? I will tell you. The obituaries. Look at recent copies of the Times. A distinguished naturalist, a life dedicated to preserving snow leopards and cranes. Mickey Rooney, the generator of mountains of mirth and good fun. Decorated soldier, wounded in Normandy, goes on to become High Court judge. The musician who wrote “Guitar Boogie”. Psychiatrist who worked in Brixton prison. Relative of Barack Obama who campaigned for the rights of illegal immigrants. The author of “The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole”. Ok, you’ll find newsworthy people who maybe aren’t historic figures – Peaches Geldof – and those who are but you wish they weren’t – a ‘ruthless’ Chechen warlord. But generally speaking the obits are generally a surer guide to the contribution made to the universe than anywhere else in the media. The blessings of the smart-phone mean I can be like Mark Twain: go straight to them when I wake up, and as soon as I realise I’m not in them, I can get on with the day.