The cult of celebrity and the modern preoccupation with all things vaguely famous have become all-embracing. Current culture has an undue focus, verging on the obsessive, with anything remotely to do with celebrity and famous people. Has this focus become unhealthy? Are we in danger of going overboard in our intense interest with the supposedly great and good? Is there a need to restore some semblance of balance and perspective?
I want to preface what I’m about about to say with an admission that I was as sad as anyone to hear about celebrities passing away recently. George Michael, in particular, was an extremely talented and creative artist; the story of his tragic Christmas Day passing (how cruelly ironic given his back catalogue) one of the most poignant of 2016. And how can you fail to be touched by Debbie Reynolds passing just a day after the premature death of her daughter, Carrie Fisher? Sad news indeed. Reminders of our mortality and the rampant injustice of unexpected and sudden passing.
I’ve been taken aback by the reaction, though. Like most of you, I suspect, my Facebook and Twitter pages have been awash with expressions of sorrow and grief-yes grief, I don’t think that’s too strong a word to use here. Sentiments of condolence and sadness have been in abundance throughout the last week in social media land. I’ve no doubt that such expressions are borne of the utmost sincerity. In fact, I think it’s rather healthy that, as a society, we can convey empathy and compassion through our collective affection for cherished stars. Am I the only one who thinks it’s all a little over-the-top, though?
It started with Princess Diana. I used to think that we were too emotionally stunted in this part of the world to bother ourselves with excessive displays of public emotion and extreme sentimentality. That was until Diana passed away in 1997. Those old enough to remember will recall unprecedented scenes of public grief and emotion; grown adults wailing uncontrollably over someone they’d never met. I still find that odd.
And such extreme feelings about celebrity death have only intensified in the years since. Nowadays, instant reaction is not only expected but demanded when a celebrity passing occurs (regardless of how vaguely the term “celebrity” is applied). A Z-Lister from the 1950s has passed away? The modern world insists that expressions of sadness are posted immediately on every social media platform. Imagine if Diana’s tragic passing had happened in the Facebook era. It really doesn’t bear thinking about!
I’m not saying this to get at anyone. Far from it. We’ve all been taken in by the pull of Facebook and I’ve certainly posted absurd things on social media that I’ve regretted with hindsight. I understand that social media websites encourage and manipulate us into feeding the relentless celebrity monster. We can resist, though. We don’t have to conform to Facebook’s interpretation of social commentary and its insatiable demand for sentimentality. We can ask if our priorities have become a wee bit skewed.
It’s wrong to make false comparisons between completely unrelated events, but I do wonder if the ubiquitous cult of celebrity has gone too far. We live in a cruel world. Children are dying in Aleppo, wars and famines are raging far and wide; the scourge of global terrorism threatens us all. Yet what do we hear about that? Radio silence, a lot of the time. Of course one can weep for Aleppo and still feel sad when a celebrity we liked in our childhood passes away. The two things aren’t mutually exclusive. But has the focus on celebrity become too unbridled? Do we need to row back a little? Is it right that the Kardashians loom large in our consciousness, while more important events are relegated to the sidelines and obscurity?
And therein lies the danger of our modern preoccupation with fame. It’s not a harmless vice. We’re all guilty. And I think we need to change. There’s nothing new with this obsession, of course, but technology encourages us to take it all too far. In the modern world, it’s all too easy to think of a scenario where someone passes away in our local town (or even our extended family) and we feel apathy and disconnection in response. That can’t be right. We must resist a world where we only become properly moved and animated when a famous person passes. Celebrities and icons are important to us 21st Century beings. They’ve become the new nobility, royalty even, that distract us from the harshness and boredom of everyday life. Many of us also feel an affection and affiliation for the stars that entertained us on the television and radio during our youth.
There’s nothing wrong with any of that. There really isn’t. But in our collective obsession with fame, we must be careful not to lose sight of what really matters. We won’t ever turn our backs on celebrity. Nor do we have to. It’s fantastic that we have so many entertainers that we hold dear and who’ve provided us with decades of pleasure.
I don’t buy this 2016 thing, though. It’s utter garbage. Nonsense upon stilts! Yes, many icons have passed in the last twelve months, but I don’t think we gain much by linking random and wholly unconnected events. After all, what did Paul Daniels and Muhammad Ali have in common aside from having passed away this calendar year and being considered famous in the British Isles? Mortality affects us all, of course, and even our beloved celebrities aren’t immune from its clutches. It’s undeniably sad to hear the news when much-loved stars pass away. May they all rest in peace. My hope for 2017, however, is that the new year will be good to mankind, but also that we regain some equilibrium in our increasingly unhealthy obsession with celebrity.
I would like to take the opportunity to wish you all a Happy New Year and thank you for all your support and encouragement with the blog. It means a lot!