Thursday, 3 May 2007

Celebrity Role Models

It goes to show the lack of ambitious policies in British politics when a couple of weeks ago on the run up to today’s elections one of the leading politicians of the country found the time to announce that ‘Britain has fallen out of love with celebrity’. At the time I think he was trying to suggest that the British people were more concerned about serious issues than trivia but personally I would have taken him more seriously if he had given me reason to believe that his political party was different from any other political party out there. I don’t want politicians talking about celebrity. I wanted a reason to vote. I wanted to see some new ideas for a better Scotland or new improved future for Britain but more about that in another post.

For now lets just take the statement and analyse it for a second, personally I think it’s a lot of nonsense, it was said by someone who never understood the British obsession with celebrity. Personally I’ve never understood why people are interested in celebrity either but I do know this, its anything but dead. If it was dead we wouldn’t have Big Brother and people wanting to go on Big Brother with the sole purpose of becoming famous. It won’t be allowed to die either, too many newspapers and magazines make money from it for it be allowed to die.

If it was dead, people wouldn’t be buying clothes from the Kate Moss range, or perfumes by Sarah Jessica Parker.

As much as the media loves celebrity it loves to hate it too. Early on in the supermodel career of Kate Moss the media were quick to blame her for the eating disorders of young girls. Yes she was thin but she was naturally thin, she wasn’t one of these people who had to worry about her weight going up and down. She was of the lucky ones. She was also blessed with great bone structure that looked good on camera so she got modelling contracts from designers that liked her look. She didn't deserve to be the target. It wasn’t her fault that she was thin and deemed too thin by the media, if there was a question to be asked it should have been aimed at the designers who decided to use her at the time and not some other with a model with a more naturally achievable figure for the general population. But the media are fickle they go after the easy target, and likewise when the witch hunt is over they soon forget, at least until the next witch hunt.

When she was able to carry on working with dignity whilst journalists were throwing mud in her direction and none of it was dirtying her image those same people went looking for another easier target. However they were never going to stay away for long. Whilst she was able to walk down a catwalk looking good in fabulously expensive clothes she was also human. And being human she was capable of mistakes and the pen merchants were biding their time when she would make a mistake.

Her human failing was she had a tendency to like the bad boys of rock. And so she fell for one such boy that had the bad habit of taking drugs and eventually she was allegedly caught taking drugs herself. Before she could deny it or say she made a mistake her reputation was in tatters and those companies who had been willing to show her support were shamed into dropping her from their campaigns.

As good looking and rich Kate Moss is, I’m glad it's her and not me. I don’t know if I’d want to live in a world where I wasn’t allowed to make mistakes. It can’t be an easy world to live in.

Although it saying that it doesn’t seem to have done her any harm, she has managed to turn her career around again, not only did she shrug off the drug story but she got her contracts back again and added a new string to her bow, now she is designing clothes for a high street name.

As much as I sympathise with her and celebrities like her when they have to deal with the downsides of fame I can’t help question why she should get to design clothes just because has been walking down a catwalk for 10 or more years when there are young talented designers just coming out of art school desperate for a chance to show off their skills, and unable to get that opportunity because she has just taken that chance away from them. Nor can I understand why Sarah Jessica Parker, an actress, is putting her name to a perfume, maybe she has a great nose for a good smell. But I can’t help thinking she might be better at acting and letting someone who equally has a good nose, and can’t act, make and sell perfumes.

Maybe Kate Moss is a naturally gifted designer and didn't need to go to art school to learn but I suspect her contract for designing clothes had less to do with her design skills and more to do with role model credentials. And because she is role model someone with genuine talent is going to miss out on a job that could have been very rewarding.

And then there is the other side of the coin of celebrity culture in Britain's new star racing driver Lewis Hamilton. Lewis is a young and talented driver proven by the fact that in Adelaide for the first grand prix of the new Formula I season, and the first grand prix in which he had ever driven, he got a podium finish, and then he finished in the top three again for the second race, and again in his third.

It takes a Formula 1 fan like me to fully appreciate how unusual it is for a driver to do this on his first three drives. Even a non-car-nut will appreciate that it can't be easy, because all those other drivers want it too, and they can all drive. There were other British drivers who finished further down the field who had been at it for years and had never done what young Lewis managed to do. Two of them had won FI races but they hadn't reached the podium on their first time out. In fact no British driver, until Hamilton came along that is, in the history of Formula 1 had managed to do what he did.

Jenson Button, who for the last seven years had been the next English hope had won only one grand prix so far, could console himself with the knowledge that some very good drivers go their whole career and never win anything, but there he was down there in Adelaide getting nowhere in his eco-friendly Honda that apparently offsets its carbon emissions by going slowly. And then there’s David Coulthard, Scotland’s current hope for a Formula 1 world champion, he has won thirteen races in his time, he used to drive for the team that Lewis now represents. Now though he drives a car further down the field, one that seems to have developed a passive-aggressive personality.

A nice man in real life, David Coulthard will live to laugh at his bad car days, but at the moment he probably doesn't find anything very amusing about the spectacle of yet another young Briton taking his turn as Britain's boy wonder. He knows all about the pressure that comes with being British and talented at what you do. And he probably feels for the latest talent because not only is he young and talented and British, this boy wonder automatically gets more press than any previous British boy wonder of whatever height, class and degree of good looks, because this boy wonder is black.

Luckily, for the other drivers and for everybody else in the formula one world, skin-colour won't enter into it. Race has got nothing to do with racing. For a long while there wasn't a single black contender to help prove this to be so, but finally there is one, and he seems to have all the other qualities too: qualities which drivers as gifted as he is usually develop later, or never. Naturally wise, considerate and modest, he's graceful, he’s ambitious, he believes in his own abilities without the arrogance that some his older peers have.

But there lies a problem, he’s storing up troubles for himself. He just wants to be a racing driver the best racing driver he can be and presumably wants to be world champion, but just by being a talented driver and a talented black driver at that he has been thrust into the world of celebrity. He will get tv coverage and magazine coverage, some of which will be because he can drive but some of it will inevitably turn to him being a role model. Some members of the press won’t be able to resist turning him into a representative. He hasn’t asked to be one, all he wants to do is drive but it will be his destiny nonetheless. It’s his destiny because he’s British and Britain lacks true genuine winners in sport. It’s his destiny because there aren’t many black sports car drivers around. For the crime of being able to drive a car round a circuit very fast, he will be a role model, for the young, for Brits and for blacks.

It’s a heavy price to pay for being good at something. He’s 22 years old, found out by chance that he is good at one thing and now he his going to be one of the superhumans, one of the few that aren’t allowed to make a mistake. So far he hasn’t made one. He’s done all that has been asked of him but because of that there will be somebody there waiting to kick him down again. That one time when he shows a little bit of arrogance when he believes in himself and his own talent and forgets to show humility we will hear all about it. And it will be one those same people who are writing pieces just now about how great he is, that will do the kicking. So Lewis has not only got to be the perfect driver but he has to be the perfect character to, otherwise if he lacks humility, or experiments with drugs at a party like many of his age will do, or if he swears at a photographer when his privacy is being invaded we will hear all about it from someone sitting at a computer who has the same human traits as he has but we will never hear about those because they aren’t famous like Lewis. Those who are quick to judge who we should idolise or not, as the case may be, seem to forget that we are all just human and all need the chance to make a life for ourselves.


Just a Girl said...

The money, the cooks, the trainers, the travel, the gifts; those things all hold a lot of appeal but being constantly scrutinized by the world at large? Not worth it.

I suppose if I felt the passion and need to act or sing or drive I'd learn to deal with the rest because I was living out my dream. It would be my friends that would be my saving grace and it would be them that kept me sane and grounded.

Maybe Kate M. has friends like that and that is how she has managed to keep it together in spite of it all.

phoenix said...

hi visiting scotsman.yep never judge, the real person is never what we are led to believe in print;-)

Drama Queen said...

I think the UK is very obsessed by 'the celebrity'. I realised this after moving to Brussels where the media do not seem to pry as much into the lives of celebrities. For example, a friend sent over a UK mag to me which was full of ‘celebrities’ showing their lady bits. My European friends were disgusted and I thought it was quite tame. Seems I have been de-sensitized.