How many actors have I known who will tell me in a blasé fashion that they worked with a famous theatrical name, when they were, in fact, no more than bit-part, walk-on, no-lines players in pre-West End runs of a great star’s less auspicious long-forgotten dramatic outing?
And how many of those putative top-flight performers will go to the grave maintaining the public illusion and the self-delusion that they were professional intimates of the greatest stars?
The vast majority of folk who produce creative work of any sort elevate passing encounters between themselves and the famous to the status of meaningful artistic relationships.
They seek to appropriate fame by association but most of those associations are 95% fantasy, 5% fact.
Celebrity culture has made us needy: we view achievement in terms of proximity to fame, we will be prepared to do whatever we can to achieve or enhance our supposed celebrity and because we are so constantly exposed to the process, we know how to mimic the mechanisms of stardom and we embrace them with alacrity.
Sadly the one thing so many wannabes don’t seem to understand is that a thirst for celebrity, founded on a slim or non-existent level of talent, is a vulnerability and the media (and connected interests) are fast-buck-seeking bullies that will ruthlessly exploit whatever weaknesses they can find for their own ends.
The bullying is all the more vicious and withering with nobodies, or next-to-nobodies, because they are the weakest kids on the block, with nothing to offer anyone in the long term.
They are disposable trash – useful currency for a week or a month but worthless once the initial platform for their supposed celebrity has been dismantled and they are invisible.
The media’s relationship with the fake famous is entirely ephemeral but it mimics the real McCoy in order to maintain some credibility among the reading public, as past experience all too brutally illustrates.
Once they were daily superstars, plastered all over the pages of tabloids – but how many names can you recall from any series of Big Brother? And where are they now? Are they sensations of the celebrity circuit or freaks occasionally pointed at in the street?
Didn’t someone tell us, at the time, that fame and fortune would be theirs and the world would be at their feet once they emerged from their incarceration in a cynically conceived and profoundly foolish, over-extended game show?
They were stupid enough to believe it and vain enough to think the public would love them and the 50 grand was theirs for the taking.
They went through every process in the fame factory’s production line but nothing could hide the fact that the raw material was flawed so the end product had no life outside the machine that made it.
The same can be said of our current reality TV friends. A mere £25K (allegedly) is the pay packet due to the next-to-nobodies in I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here!.
What motivates them? Maybe it’s a thoroughly misguided It’s a Royal Knockout syndrome (this will be a laugh, people will see me as a great sport, they’ll love me for it); but surely – as individuals who already have some acquaintance with the nasty and vindictive ways in which the media can work and who had seen what happened to their predecessors on the show – they should have had more sense.
The sad truth is that somebody, somehow, somewhere along the line persuaded them that an appearance on this shoddy little show would kick-start or rekindle their careers.
Which is unfortunate because the current I’m a Celebrity… sub-stars are ludicrous, pantomime clowns and they are facing the ritual media slaughter that creates the real consumable content from this whole silly venture.
As they emerge into the media jungle the participants may be dumped without ceremony immediately or they may embark on phase two of the celebrity process – selling the inside story.
This will normally involve an unscrupulous, opportunist agent telling them that they’re in possession of something that’s limitlessly precious to the press.
Next, the agent organises a period of hype to drive up the price of that commodity, facilitated by leaked tasters insinuating there is a sensational/titillating tale to tell.
This will be accompanied by stories speculating over the bidding war to secure the exclusive.
The upshot will be abject self-humiliation in the shape of the “Z-list Tells All” scoop (sold in at a far lower rate than you or I have been led to believe) or, if the “celebrity” is very lucky, the whole deal will come to nothing and he or she will slip fairly painlessly out of the limelight.
For the media, the exposé provides temporary amusement and stretches the storyline to cover a quiet day on the authentic celebrity news front.
This is the standard plot, endlessly replayed. We would feel cheated without it. We believe it is something that is inherent to fame because this is what the famous do. They get into scrapes, they sell their stories, they make wads of money. True enough (except for the gold-standard stars, who just go to court when they want an extra pay day).
So the un-famous, uninteresting, temporary celebs, follow the B-list plot. Or at least, they create a pastiche or simulacrum of the experience. They become famous, they sell their stupid little stories, they make a tiny bit of money but then – unlike real celebrities – they exit stage left, forever and no one cares.
Like the bit-part actor, who has the programme to prove he or she has worked with the famous, the fake famous have the front-page cutting and the video to prove they made it. Who cares that what it exposed was saggy, frayed, and stained? At least it was their knickers.
Step forward Major Charles Ingram, a man with some garments that have already been well hung out for everyone to deride. Observe that he has embarked on precisely this process. Who’s going to get the story? What’s this about film rights? The buzz on the streets and in the pubs murmers that the major’s going to get majorly rich off the back of his criminal activity.
Rubbish. All hype. There’s no component of showmanship in this man or his associates and there’s just a limp tale that’s largely public knowledge (thanks to courtroom reports) about how they set up the crime.
With Ingram, as with I’m a Celebrity…, it’s a case of following the basic celebrity plot but without any genuine celebrity content.
This is karaoke celebrity: all the essential trappings are there – the music, the mic, the speakers, the amps, even an audience. It could be the real thing. Only the man or woman behind the mic is blatantly untalented.
If we make as much noise about the blatantly untalented, as we do about a genuine star, it’s arguable that what matters to us is the noise and not the quality of the performer, product or personality involved. I’d say this is a pretty accurate encapsulation of the process of dumbing down.
Taking this dumb PR principle beyond the area of individual nonebrity, there are reports that the Royal Opera House has teamed up with the Ministry of Sound to text MOS subscribers with exhortations to go to the opera,so the ROH can attract a younger following.
This is simply sad. It’s a (briefly) eye-catching story; it connects the ROH with two things yoof (MOS and txt) and the ROH, we hear, needs yoof.
But the connection is pathetically cosmetic. Am I really supposed to believe that thousands of loved-up kids will storm Covent Garden as a result (“Wagner – we’re mad for it”)?
Or, if I was of the MOS generation, would I read about this and think yeah, Covent Garden’s cool?
So this story, that sets out to show how radical and inventive the ROH is, simply shows up the institution as thoroughly misguided and silly. The ROH scores some noise but the story sinks without trace and the ROH’s currency devalues as a result.
This is a kind of inattention to PR detail that seems to be taking hold of brands and brand managers like a mania these days: they pander to the media’s needs and mimic the established protocol.
They’re media savvy in the sense that they know what currency the media deals in but they’re media divvy in terms of knowing how to use that currency to achieve their own ends.
They get blinded by the spotlight: it’s who’s looking, and what they see of us, that matters, not the simple fact that we’re standing there.