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.