2008 has crunched to a close and, this morning, large parts of Britain have woken to a clean sheet of snow, covering most of the names and ideas that haunted, plagued or invigorated us last year.
Buried under that sheet are names, soundbites, happenings, ideas and all the briefly-gripping themes that cluttered up 2008. All of them seemed so important as the old year sputtered out but now they are little more than footnotes, dark specks that poke insignificantly and occasionally from beneath the blank white slate of 2009. The news agenda has moved on, cruelly swift in its search for new meaning and content in a suddenly harsher world where seismic shifts have altered the PR, news and celebrity landscapes irrevocably.
Gone are the hockey moms, the parading egos. John Sergeant’s dancing has slipped and fallen under the ice. All that remains of Ross, Brand and Sachsgate is the fact that it inspired increased sales of Fawlty Towers. Heather Mills McCartney? Gone. Woolworths has been dismembered and disremembered. Who now is concerned about the machinations of Brangelina or the fleeting pomp of the Olympics? Who now thinks of Daniel Evans as anything more than an X Factor statistic? 2008 was another year that proved Oscar Wilde’s pointed remark in The Picture of Dorian Gray: “To be popular one must be a mediocrity.” 2009 is a cold and lonely hallelujah for all those vanished mediocrities.
But what else could it be when all the sound bites are vanished and the velocity of the slew of PR has sputtered out in the wake of tightening belts and shrivelling wallets? Only the ascendance of Barack Obama remains as a beacon of hope, towering over the snowy wastes, in what promises to be a tough and trying year; a year where survival will matter more than brand image. “Time,” as Daniel Boorstin said, “makes heroes but dissolves celebrities.”
Some phenomenal people have slipped away in 2008; Ken Campbell and Eartha Kitt, Adrian Mitchell and Harold Pinter, Ritsaert ten Cate and Paul Newman, Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Hayes, Bobby Fischer and George Carlin – talented people whose names, it must be hoped, will last thanks to the art that have left behind.
2008 was not a good year for PR men, either. Many passed on to that great office in the sky. Rob Partridge, who Tom Waits called “a pioneering navigator”, and Bono described as “a nurturer”, died aged 60 after a lengthy battle with cancer. Howard Brandy, who headed publicity for A&M and Motown Records died in June, aged 79. Warren Cowan, the last of the “super publicists” who helped make Hollywood the glamour capital of the world (who is featured heavily in my book The Fame Formula) died in May aged 87. Most recent was Ewen Balfour, who operated as a benign Cardinal Richelieu in the world of the arts, and who died in December. I am sure they all had the necessary accreditation to get past the gatekeeper.
The only thing we can do in this bleak climate is make sure that 2009 is a year of new realisation, a year where a new definition is given to talent over mere celebrity; a year where more and more people do the right thing and recognise that celebrity is a laxative that pushes people out almost as fast as it draws them in. Perhaps a laxative warning, akin to the ones found on packets of sugar free mints, should be attached to Heat magazine and the X Factor this year?
Will we do the full detox and focus on what really matters in 2009, then? Fingers crossed. Here’s hoping!
My favourite YouTube clip of 2008…