Posts Tagged ‘celebrity’
Our so-called obsession with celebrities is as old as the cult of saints. But the adoration of flimsy celebrity effigies is now facing a stark reality check, thanks to the revelations of Operation Yew Tree.
I am appalled yet weirdly hypnotised by the carousel of failing celebrities. Disgraced household icons, once the essential popular entertainers of a generation, are now nothing more than rotten old television symbols reduced to dust; broken beings, who now have to be purged from the public eye.
A couple of years ago I took part in a documentary for US TV on the price of fame. For anybody familiar with my writing on the sticky web of notoriety, you will know that history indicates that celebrity often comes with a very high price.
For the documentary I was asked to meet two young fame hungry wanna-bes. Their claim to a parabolic trajectory was a simple conceit, they were identical twins. Blood brothers with the will to do whatever it took for the riches and frenzy of renown.
Ironically both were bright lads: one a budding mosaic artist, the other studying to be an architect. However, the long haul through university and arts school held no allure. During a challenging hour of filming, my dismal attempts to diffuse their misplaced adoration of the god of fame failed to cut through. They wanted it now and at any cost because the perceived lifestyle was far too delicious to disregard. The life plan was set in marble.
The late great fame merchant Jay Bernstein generously gave me a huge amount of his time when I was researching my book,The Fame Formula. He had a thing or two to opine regarding the human lust for notoriety .
I arrived on his lavish Beverly Hills doorstep to seek the detail of his alchemy; few knew more about fame mungering. Philosophically he positioned the view that fame was a curse. He was in the winter of his life and perhaps his age encouraged greater honesty. He thought fame was not worth the price. He proffered a view that the success holds a putrid underbelly, which the entertainment industry hides.
“Few managed to deal with the downside which often crept up to extinguish the fierce lifestyle. We allowed stars to get away with it, behave badly because they were who they were. We allowed them their peccadillos, for God sake they were box office. Hell, why would we want to lose a client. The studios handed down the instructions to indulge the hedonism and would pay for the cover up”.
The falling star will not put off the wannabe seeking the trappings of fame. The idealistic tradition might have deteriorated, ecstatic worship has indeed dissipated, but the recognition of the toxicity of fame has only temporarily dulled.
But it’s time to recognise the value of more meaningful existences less glamorous yet more worthy for society’s benefit. Yes, there is a primordial desire for acclaim, however the ego must find a way to be supported, to sit more comfortably alongside other, less destructive impulses.
Those who have allowed the criminal indulgences of a generation should take responsibility for remaining silent. The “untouchable” talent has in the past bred the concept of “too valuable to lose”. Entertainment history has covered up the power stars who didn’t abide by the same rules. Obfuscating and shifting focus away from the monstrosity of fame does nothing to challenge its future trajectory. The frenzy of renown will morph, then find a new value. Perhaps those who are in the engine room should consider its value and purpose before it suffocates the real joy of human endeavour.
As for the twins, I’ve no idea what happened to them, and Google offers up no clues. I guess they never achieved their dream of international stardom. They are probably all the better for it.
Do we worship celebrities? Maybe. A while ago, a smart wag who was looking for a quick column inch to help promote a book identified a psychological condition: Celebrity Worship Syndrome. An unfortunate malady has developed from this type of homage.
Certainly brands seek the endorsement of the gods of sport and entertainment, and over the years major brands have enjoyed the fruits of their investment. But the Now Economy age is challenging our appetite for the celebrity deity. Yesterday, Nike distanced itself from its iconic Blade Runner charge, Oscar Pistorius. His alleged crime, framed by an OJ Simpson-style court room soap opera, was perhaps a tragic reality moment too far.
Roping in celebrities, then giving them whopping amounts of money so the target customer associates himself with their products, is now under the microscope as never before. Some onlookers argue that it has lead to greater brand risk. The Tiger Woods meltdown is a stain and Lance Armstrong is a shocking historical footnote; but neither dropped the brand into a sewer of disrepute. Instead brands just seek a shinier version to replace the shattered and defamed icon.
Will the likes of Gillette or Nike stop embracing celebrities? I doubt it, but the process of choosing personalities will become more scrupulous and the potential benefits derived from endorsements will encounter tougher inspection.
The pressure loaded upon celebrities is a matter of brutal fact. Thrust into a harsh spot light, the lustful crowd feasts upon and then shares failure. The spectacle is a microwaved morsel inside a 24 minute news cycle; fleeting and inconsequential. Brands are naturally cautious when employing a celebrity, and by acting fast and making appropriate silences to distance themselves from a downturn, they are swiftly able to offer up a new hero to bear the yoke of burden. For a price.
The media may use a calamity to produce lurid headlines suggesting a meltdown. But the facts are clear: recent sports star crises might herald brand obituarists to reach for the quill, but it’s nothing more than rhetoric. The storm rises, the storm passes. The subsequent calm creates a happy opportunity for an agency to launch a bright, new, shining opportunity. The crowd sighs and faces a fresh champion served on a golden podium to be toasted by cheap champagne. The spin cycle of sporting heroes continues.
This post originally appeared yesterday on The Huffington Post.
Bradley Wiggins’ success in the Tour de France was testament to the willpower, training and raw talent of an individual. His stellar status in the media- whilst certainly not hindered by his victory – has more to do with his suitability as a new kind of celebrity in the post-Leveson world.
Wiggins is perfect fodder for a media conscious of a need to prove its moral worth and a public operating zero tolerance for excess or frippery in its icons. Frugal, modest, for the most part softly spoken, Wiggins nonetheless radiates self-effacing charm. His embodiment of the classic attributes of the British sportsman- fair play, quiet confidence, team spirit- make him a perfect proposition for those in search of a comforting icon for an austerity age.
What’s more, he is possessed of something essential for lasting success in a ‘now economy’ age defined by freedom of information and a voracious public: a powerful narrative element. This operates across two interlinked axes: his compelling battle against dopers as a kind of angry young man of cycling, and a troubled childhood defined by the departure and alcoholism of his father, Australian cycling champ Gary Wiggins. Brad’s effortless actions and easy grace win the headlines, his tortured past and occasional four letter outbursts fill out the features.
It’s also worth noting that Wiggins is free from the burden of hype which surrounds those sports previously perceived to be of premier interest- notably this summer international football and grand slam tennis. For the majority of the public he emerged from nowhere, a figurehead for a sport previously firmly under the radar. As such, his actions were both surprising and illuminating, and carried a corresponding freshness.
There is much that brands can seek to imitate on the basis of the Bradley Wiggins effect: calm confidence, outspoken comment on pertinent issues, making oneself transparent without appearing self-obsessed. Most importantly, though, Wiggo- or ‘Le Gentleman’ as he is affectionately known- is committed to an ideology which is deeply meaningful not only to he but to the British public. In his case, this is the age-old code of good old British sportsmanship, but a similar resource might just as easily be found in a well-crafted and honest brand vision statement.
The Now Economy rewards those who define their terms according to personal passion, measure their success against hard-won personal milestones, and are willing to allow the media to discover their commitment and energy in their own time.
Call me a cynic, but something rankles with me in this Greg Smith resignation furore. What’s unquestionable is that this man, formerly at the top of his profession (at least outwardly) has now rendered himself unemployable. The publication of his article and the resultant storm of comment combined in a perfect storm of PR disasters which led to the firm’s shares dropping by 3.4% yesterday.
We must ask two questions about his actions. The first: did he know? Is it conceivable that he thought, by printing an article in the New York Times, he would be hailed as courageous, his points would be intelligently and calmly digested and discussed, and then he could wander off to another firm more secure in its ‘culture’? Possibly, but there’s few who’d argue this point with any gusto. Choosing the NYT seems pretty calculated- its audience of switched-on liberals could be relied upon to raise the requisite moral uproar, and its much-touted online success near-guaranteed a significant reaction on twitter.
Sophie Dahl had the commentariat in a flap yesterday following her request on the Today programme for half a million quid to refurbish and move her much beloved Grandad’s near-collapsing old writing shed to a new home. Seems a lot for one old prefab, especially since mine was only valued at about £100. Clearly some people need to get their priorities straight.
Allow me to explain. When I was a kid promoting Danny the Champion of the World, I got the chance to go and meet Mr Dahl in his legendary writing space. It was indeed pretty magical; here was a guy dreaming up some of the most enduring flights of fancy of the last century, all thanks to his splendid isolationism in his own little brick and polystyrene kingdom. Apparently he liked an early evening G&T or two to be brought to him there, too. In short, it was an admirable way of living.
It’s an unimaginable horror to be in the middle of an awful tabloid scandal, your human frailty laid bare. Yes dear reader – I’ve been there when it’s happened. It’s a dark, sad, dank and lonely space. Watching and being with the subject is not the most edifying part of my job, witnessing a tsunami of emotions hitting from all directions as the story is outed.
The humiliation, the public outrage, everyone diving in to offer an opinion. The sniggers the jokes, then the realisation that ‘I’ve lost everyone. Will my sponsors disappear? What an end to my career! Please make the professional humiliation go away. How will my family cope? Will it ever be the same again?’ This rush of emotions concludes with: ‘how could I have been so stupid?’. Read the rest of this entry »
As a fledgling publicist I met her retinue at a film shoot at a long forgotten theatre, axed by funding cuts in another age. The encounter left an indelible mark on my psyche. Not then versed in the ways of celebrity, and unable to comprehend its hierarchy and protocol, I was transfixed by the legend that was Elizabeth Taylor, and the encounter with this uber-sleb ignited an innate curiosity in the ways of Hollywood
That day, Taylor arrived to shoot the movie she was filming in a yellow Rolls Royce. I’m fairly convinced it was the car from the movie of the same name. The stage had been set. Various members of the papparazzi had been tipped off, a curious crowd gathered, waiting for her entrance – delayed, naturally, as Taylor’s make up was touched up in the car by two handmaidens.
She exited the car regally, looking more beautiful than any other mortal. She had journeyed from Olympus and her radiance lit the drab Autumnal gloom of London’s grimy East End.
The moment she stepped into the real world, a flurry of court helpers surrounded her in a circle. The symmetry was perfect, the aura hypnotic. Any questions thrown her way were fielded and analyzed by a series of filters, before the closest aide whispered a definition in her perfect ear. They moved in strange, bureaucratic ballet, a protective guard shielding Taylor from the sins of the world. Read the rest of this entry »
Take Charlie Sheen, for example. He’s been a chaotic hellraiser for years, but only now is the extent of his hedonism and mania coming out, in a giddy rush. Or take the arrogance of Prince Andrew, which is coming out now and souring many of the deals he was hired to make, trading on hs royal status.
It’s not just toxic celebrity that is being outed; the tobacco industry is also having to cope with the effects of transparency, notably the latest victory for the Smoking Kills lobby. First they got the truth put on cigarette packaging and now the packs will no longer be on display in shops, having also had their attractive design peacockery removed.
But the tobacco industry is far more powerful than any celebrity. Their PR has the biggest budget and the subtlest minds it can find who are prepared to sell death in a tube of paper. Read the rest of this entry »
The recent story in the papers about Geoff Baker, the former gatekeeper for Sir Paul McCartney who now dresses as a dustman to give tours of his home-town, should act as a salutary lesson for all entertainment publicists.
I first met Geoff at the height of his journalistic powers, as a showbiz reporter for the Star. This was well before the modern British publicity industry started to emulate Hollywood in the late 20th century, taking control of every aspect of their client and shutting out the media if they wouldn’t play ball; before the idea that stars were brands really set in.
Geoff’s big legacy as a journalist is the Princess Margaret awards, now called the Shaftas (shame the title is so crude). In the days when the geriatric Royal PR spin machine shut up shop at 5pm and the old duffers wouldn’t dignify anything with an answer out of working hours, Geoff announced – at five past five – that Princess Margaret was to make a guest appearance on Crossroads. The story was beautifully absurd. Absurd enough to have everyone gleefully report it long before the Palace could step in and correct the story, allowing it to become one of those ‘true at the time’ stories. Out of this came the Princess Margaret awards, celebrating the liberties taken by showbiz journalists. Read the rest of this entry »
The first is the production of Yes, Prime Minister that has just transferred to the West End. It’s a great show; very funny, very well acted and rather more radical than one would have expected from a comedy institution that makes it to the stage 20-odd years after its heyday. Buy a seat now! Read the rest of this entry »