Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Curious icons: the cult of celebrity

The earthquake and tsunami in Japan have suddenly put frivolities like fashion into perspective. This month my intention was to focus upon the links between celebrities, fashion, art - and religion... The 21st century has some curious icons, in particular, the new class of ‘non-ebrities’ - those famous for simply being famous.

A desire to make obscene amounts of money, together with relentless self-promotion, reality TV and the tabloid press have created unlikely stars, like Big Brother’s Jade Goody and I’m a Celebrity’s Jordan and Kerry Katona.

In November last year, a couple of aspiring US reality stars even gate-crashed President Obama’s first state dinner, posting photos of themselves on their Facebook page in a bid to garner publicity. The whole premise of reality TV is that it’s about real people, which means anyone can be a celebrity. But celebrity culture is founded upon narcissism, fed by devout materialism, and often fuelled by extreme ‘recreational’ drug use.

Anna Nicole Smith was similarly attracted by the lure of media attention and a luxury lifestyle – and eventually consumed by its trappings: junk food, sex, booze and drugs. The opera, Anna Nicole, with Eva-Maria Westbroek in the lead role, has recently been running at London’s Royal Opera House, to mixed reviews. I wasn’t wowed by the music, but the show is in equal measure entertaining, clever, funny, thought-provoking and sad.

Anna’s life was a tragi-comic Cinderella of a story. She started out as a waitress, married an 89 year old billionaire when she was 26, and went on to become the bloated laughing stock of reality TV - her sole ambition to ‘party to the end of time, party like primeval slime.’ Even her dog was on Prozac. She died penniless at the age of 39, shortly after the death of her only son.

Despite her childlike charm and celebrity aura, Anna was painfully insecure and easily manipulated by those around her, especially photographers, filmmakers and her lawyer-lover. She became a pumped-up puppet of the press – the living doll of media fantasy, not unlike her own idol, the ‘sacred’ screen star, Marilyn Monroe. (Anna Nicole was deluded enough to think she was the farmed-out child of Marilyn Monroe, even though Monroe died five years before Anna was born).

It’s weird how celebrities have come to be idolized with almost religious fervour. This curious phenomenon has been captured with irreverent humour by Nathalie Queyraud, whose Defiles from Paris fashion icon rosary necklaces are now available at ShopCurious. Icons featured include Marilyn Monroe, Michael Jackson, Karl Lagerfeld and Marc Jacobs.

Much like the operatic immortalization of Anna Nicole, these serve to remind us of our false gods. There’s even an icon of John Galliano, except we’ve decided not to offer this for sale. But have you ever considered that dictators like Hitler or Mussolini were actually ‘supreme celebrities’?

Anyway, rather than worshipping celebrities, why don’t we save our prayers for people who need and are worthy of them – like all those affected by the horrific disaster in Japan…

Will you?


Jan said...

All rather sad.
p.s. I'm struggling with perspective this week, given the scale of recent events.

Susan said...

Jan, I think there's a strange malaise affecting everyone as a result of what has happened and the potential scale of the disaster - it's indescribably awful.

Len♥reNeverM♥re said...

so so true!
Great reminder Susan!!
Anna Nicole Smith & MJ, still can't believe they are no longer with us sometimes...
The images coming from Japan is so heart wrenching~

hugs to you & Jan as well!