Plunge in late, the water’s usually emptier anyway.
Fame Academy, Pop Idol, BB… these aren’t about fame. They aren’t about us debasing the concept of celebrity or becoming anaesthetised to the idea of cultural integrity or worth or whatever loaded phrase we want to chase around the streets today. They are about revenge.
Celeb-reality tv contestants are like precocious children. I suppose I must’ve been a fairly precocious child, but that doesn’t stop we wanting every smart arse toddler with John Updike’s reading age to fail miserably at everything they do. C’mon, think about it, schadenfreude is without doubt the most pleasurable of guilts, and we all indulge in it every day. That is what this particular brand of democra-tv does, it allows us to take revenge on people who sing marginally better than us, dance marginally better than us. Ok maybe their version of ‘Midnight Train to Georgia’ is shitty and was sung better by Sandra Bernhard and Grace on that recent episode of ‘Will and Grace’ but, y’know, I can’t even sing the first line in tune, so no-go me.
The lack of idiosyncrasy is the medium’s genius; we all know in advance the career trajectory of the winner – one hit single, either self-penned or a cover of an evergreen of dubious popularity, then a decline speedy even by the standards of modern disposability – so we don’t care who wins. What we care about is who fails, and how they fail.
For me the perfect illustration of the phenomenon was the recruitment of Kym Marsh’s replacement in the now defunct HearSay – I have no idea who the guy was, I just remember what he looked like, and I am sure that he is the progenitor of every male contestant on every one of these programs aside from darlings Gareth and Will who were clearly conceived near a radioactive source and have unfortunately mutated into lounge versions of their father’s butch open-necked shirt wearing bravura. Daddy was all singing and all dancing, but he only lasted one video before the silk shirts went back in the suitcase and he joined the queue for the next audition.
We all want to see their hopes trashed, because they aren’t hopes we share. I don’t want to sing easy-listening classics to a national tv audience (unless they let me sing Bobby Goldsboro’s ‘Me Japanese Boy I Love You’). There is something about the blissful arrogance that says ‘let me entertain you’ and shimmies across the stage (in the style of Norman Wisdom my mother always says) that makes me want to observe, to catalogue, to REVEL in the inevitable downfall.
“And we who always think of happiness rising
Would feel the emotion that almost startles us
When a happy thing falls.”
Thanks to Rilke and to David Young for translating that, and its got fuck all to do with celebrity or ambition or whatever, but rip it out of context and it means what I want it to mean. The celeb-creation myth works not because our appetite for cascading waves of fame has increased and we have no interest in the sea, just the incoming tide – it has never been about novelty, about newness, just the sweet flavour of a hopeful fool’s failure.