On celebrity

I was a sympathetic witness to a rant in the pub the other night, directed at the mute televison screen with its pop video figures dancing around in their unnecessary and distracting electric light while a live acoustic set played from across the room. We carried no tv-signal zapper between us, despite it being White Dot’s TV Turn Off Week, and so remained subjected to the screen’s oppressive intrusion upon our field of vision.

The rant then turned to the print media and the newsagent’s rows of magazines paying homage to the mindless, tasteless swamp of the mass market. Scathing remarks were made about the cardboard personalities populating the pages of said magazines, and the name Jordan was spit out with contempt as an example of the depths to which our cultural wasteland has sunk. (Confession: I don’t actually know who that is. But please don’t take it as an invitation to fill me in. I prefer to live under a rock.) I understood the point: she is a Celebrity, a creature of our voracious and soulless popular media.

And here I made a comment to the person speaking that derailed him somewhat from his train of thought, wondering what I meant by it. All I said was that he too is a bit of a celebrity, albeit in a much smaller circle, and appealing to a far more particular audience. He looked taken aback, perhaps even a bit offended, to be placed in the same noun category as some vacuous tabloid figure; there was a fleeting glimpse of genuine bafflement in his eyes. He is a thoughtful and modest person, intelligent and earnest  – a poet and journalist, activist and author, with a well-earned professional reputation. Not a celebrity, surely?

Well I don’t know….. He’d drawn a full crowd for his poetry reading. People had requested his autograph on the front leaf of his book. And how on earth do I know of him, for that matter? It’s been a couple years now but in the first instance I learned who he was through the effective marketing of his nonfiction titles, via similar publicity mechanisms that create an audience for this Jordan person. Different audience, different content of message, different flavour altogether – but the same process (and oh dear, the theme tune from Fame just burst into my mind. I hope it doesn’t linger.)

The next day I exchanged emails with another acquaintance over a query for some information, and in the banter I had made an observation about him, to which he replied “You know me too well!” Truer words were never said: I’ve only met him briefly on two occasions, with a minimal exchange of pleasantries in each instance. Yet I have formed a fairly substantial impression of his character, his work, his interests and his ambitions, due to his extremely effective use of social media as a communication and promotional tool. I do know him too well: celebrity?

Now I’m musing about the Campus Celebs that D and I marked throughout our younger days: Buddy Holly, Raggedy Andy, Cheese Girl, Aviator Man… these people possessed reputations in our minds that have held fast for twenty years – frivolous, but enduring. Whatever happened to Aviator Man?

I don’t regard my poet and social media acquaintances as frivolous in the least; on the contrary, their messages are deeply considered and very worthwhile. But I wonder what I will be saying in twenty years’ time, where these wee portions of celebrity will lead.  Will it be “I knew them when…” or “whatever happened to….?”

3 thoughts on “On celebrity

  1. I was there and in fact have an autographed book, albeit not on the front leaf.. Fame, notoriety, wanting to live forever (that song again!).. Yet at the moment we are in the realm of the short lived celebrity culture. Instant gratification for something new, the 15 minutes of prominence, big noise and celebration and then, the slide into, if not oblivion, the day-time television or reality shows. Only very few will endure.
    Ps. I love the little cricket. Beautifully drawn.

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