Florence Nightingale was not just a pair of big tits

Raymond Tallis has decided to have a go at celebrities and the cult of celebrity. Glance below and you will see I have "awarded" him quote of the week, when he declared:

The heart of the celebrity culture is an individual emptiness gawped at by a collective emptiness

He goes further; "an appalling squandering of human consciousness".

What the hell does he mean by that? It sounds so arrogant, so aloof and doctrinaire, as if we were born to contemplate the meaning of life - and Marshall McLuhan. Is this man mired in a Sixties bubble of strange imaginings, like one who wakes up and finds he is a giant beetle? Doesn't he watch television for God's sake? Doesn't he realise that Shakespeare is merely a collection of cliches? He alludes to Victoria Beckham and Madonna. In 100 years time they will be beatified.

Ok, ok, I was being facetious. But he did not mention Anton de Beke, the preposterous puffball who scandalised us by a. being instantly famous, and b. not quite being without sin. De Beke (or plain Tony Beak, his real name) for me is the current paradigm, but I forgive Mr Tallis for not being in the loop on that one. You see, that is the problem; the rift between his world and the ephemeral world of celebrity. It moves on too quickly, far too quickly for an individual to subject themselves to academic rigour or sustained inspection. Clever that, but as a concept, it can be.

Celebrity is not new, Mr Tallis says, hence his Nightingale reference. He cites the cult surrounding Florence Nightingale, but you could just as easily insert, Oscar Wilde, Lord Byron or Dr Johnson. The difference is, of course, that all these people had talent. The celebrities of today merely emulate, often awkwardly, like a kid in a talent show pretending to sing a torch song, the mores. the posture of fame.

This, I think, is where simulacra comes in, and particularly the role of television. As Marshall McLuhan said, "All media exist to invest our lives with artificial perceptions and arbitrary values" It has now been established beyond doubt that TV does indeed rot brains and rewire them to facilitate uncritical acceptance of what effectively is emptyness. Years ago on this blog I dredged up the research. http://wrinkledweasel.blogspot.com/2007/01/quote-of-week.html

This piece of academic research includes:

In contrast to the way real life unfolds and is experienced by young children, the pace of TV is greatly sped up." says Christakis. His research appears in the April 2004 issue of Pediatrics. Quick scene shifts of video images become "normal," to a baby "when in fact, it’s decidedly not normal or natural." Christakis says. Exposing a baby’s developing brain to videos may overstimulate it, causing permanent changes in developing neural pathways.

By the time the youth of today have grown up, they have already been trained in the art of the fake, of accepting a copy of a copy as real - the quintessence of celebrity. Why then, are they so desperate to join in, to become "famous?" Because it has become their God. Because they have bonded, not with reality, not with the tactile, not with conflict or smell or dimension or an immovable object, but with a machine which creates infinitely the appearance of things, not as they are, but as we wish them to be.


Spartan said...

"Celebrity. The pursuit of the talentless, by the mindless. It's become a disease of the twenty-first century. It pollutes our society, and it diminishes all who seek it, and all who worship it"

Tiresias said...

You don't quote a source by Tallis? I haven't read any of his work (yet), but anyone who can shoot no less than three sacred cows, post-modernism, neo-Darwinism and cognitive science, between the eyes should be quoted as often as possible.

Little to add to your demolition of celebrity, save to say that once someone has gained the attention they crave, they need to resort to increasingly desperate measures in order to retain it. Worst sort of Faustian pact.

This cartoon from the New Yorker illustrates how most wannabe entertainers end up.


subrosa said...

I just wonder how many people a hundred years ago thought life would be wonderful if men all looked like Adonis and women like Victoria Beckham (or society's equivalent at that time).

Certainly when I was a lass I thought Julie Christie just superb but in no way did I ever consider I could emulate her, nor did I wish to do so.

I understood such talent required hard work same as you were taught WW but 'hard work' are two dirty words these days.

Our polticians exacerbate the celeb culture by ensuring photocalls with them, all in an attempt to attract the young or silly voter. How will it end? In tears I suppose.

Wrinkled Weasel said...

Spartan. It's also very distracting; pursuit is right, and a trivial one at that.

Tiresias, Tallis did a talk at the Hay lit fest, but a transcript of it was published in The Times. The transcript seems to have disappeared, but the audio is here:


The talent is supposed to be something you can pull out of the mess that is celebrity culture, but the difference today is that it is a parasitic industry run by newspapers, publicists and people who have something to sell.

Even fifty years ago, those with real talent were appreciated for their talent, not just as a marketing exercise, but to think that Carol King worked 9-5 in the Brill building and was paid a wage to turn out hits for other people shows that even then, pretty faces were used primarily for the hard sell.