While idly channel-hopping last night, I ended up watching the Jonathan Ross Show on TV. And one of the guests was Russell Brand, comedian, writer and wearer of unfeasibly skinny jeans. Now, I’m totally aware that Russell Brand isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I like the guy. Yes, he does play up to the camera (he’s a comedian, remember). Yes, he could possibly do with a few more shirt buttons. But he’s also a highly intelligent thinker, something that can sometimes be lost in the salvo of quips, gags and witty asides that come firing out of him.
If you’re not a Brand fan, don’t worry, I am getting to the point of this blog. And the point is this:
We’ve got to a stage in the 21st century where celebrity culture is making us lose our perspective on what’s important in life.
So how did that come up in conversation on a light-hearted chat show?
The culture of personality
You aren’t usually expecting anything hugely insightful from a Saturday night chat show. But, in answer to one of Ross’s questions, Russell Brand started talking about our fascination with certain celebrities who happen to be in the limelight. His angle was that we’re so focused on the culture of personality that we’re starting to lose our view of what truly matters in society.
Yes, I can already hear you saying ‘Well that’s a bit rich!’. The fact that this had to be pointed out by someone who’s not exactly averse to being in the public eye is pretty ironic. But it doesn’t make the argument any less valid.
We live in a time where personality is king (or queen). Huge amounts of media space is focused on our obsessional need for personal details about our favourite celebrities. You only have to look at the popularity of the infamous Mail Online to realise that a large chunk of society is more interested in Katie Price’s love life than they are on the political situation in Syria, sad as that may be to admit.
Is our celebrity obsession a bad thing?
So the question is a pretty simple one. Is this growing obsession with celebrity a bad thing for the long-term future of society? In a world where personality can be promoted so widely and so effectively through the traditional media and through social media, is our obsession having an adverse effect on us as people?
If we look around at recent events, there’s some quite damning evidence that our moral compass is, if not broken, certainly malfunctioning slightly.
A certain Mr Jeremy Clarkson was recently sacked from his job as presenter of the hugely popular TV car show Top Gear. And the reason for his sacking wasn’t just because of some off-colour, mildly xenophobic outburst. He punched a colleague in the face because he didn’t got a hot dinner after filming. Let’s just repeat that: he punched a man in the face...because he was hungry! And, quite rightly, the BBC ended his contract.
But there was an outcry amongst the Top Gear fans equal to the kind of fervour you’d expect had Clarkson been victimised, verbally abused and punched in the face himself. People harangued the BBC, made death threats to Tony Hall, their Director General, and even started a petition to get Clarkson reinstated in his job.
Why did these stalwart fans behave that way? Because they *think* they know ‘our Jezza’. They’ve watched him get up to his antics so many times that they feel that he’s their mate, their friend and their partner in crime. They think of him as someone they could go down to the pub with and talk about how fast their new BMW goes from 0-60mph. In short, they feel they know his personality. He feels like part of the family to them and they react in much the same way to his sacking as you would were it a member of your own family – badly!
But we’re working on slightly wobbly foundations here. You may *think* you know Clarkson, but actually what you know is a highly crafted and honed media personality that he and the producers of Top Gear have evolved over time.
We don’t *really* know Jezza. He’s not our drinking buddy and he’s probably a lot less ribald and contentious behind closed doors than his TV persona would lead us to believe. We’ve been suckered into caring for a fictional media character and it’s started to undermine our judge
Teenage kicks all through the night
Another recent example of mountains being made from media molehills is the revelation that Zayn Malik is leaving One Direction. If you’re not 14 years old, or a fan of boy bands, then I should explain that Zane is a found member of One Direction and that they’re one of the biggest global boy bands in the world (at least at the moment).
Zayn has been having a few issues of late. He’s been signed off with stress and anxiety and has decided that flying around the world being brayed at by hysterical teenagers is probably not a helpful thing if he wants to reduce that stress and take care of his own mental health – and I for one applaud him for being that up-front and honest about his reasons for leaving.
But it’s the fallout from his departure which is more interesting. People have been *devastated*. Inconsolable. Almost grief-stricken in many cases. And we’re not just talking about teenagers here. Grown adults were asking for time off from work because they were just too upset to function. Column inches were taken up with how we’d cope with 1D being a four-piece now. Footage appeared of both Harry Styles and Zayn Malik crying on stage at recent gigs.
In short, people went a bit batshit crazy over Zayn’s departure. But, ultimately, this is about one man leaving a boy band. It’s important for him, without question. But should it bring the media and social media to a near standstill?
No, it shouldn’t. And why is that? Because in the grand scheme of things, it’s of no real consequence.
Focusing on what really matters
Ok, I probably need to put that in some context.
Yes, we all need music, TV, movies and entertainment in our lives. Being human isn’t just about the serious things. We need to laugh, to enjoy music, to experience art and to have favourite celebs who we identify with. We like having a media personality out there who’s our fav and who we’d go out of way to watch, listen to or follow on social media.
But we mustn’t let that get in the way of the really important things in life. We mustn’t let our lives be ruled by a culture of celebrity at the expense of everything else. We can’t ignore the ‘boring, serious stuff’ completely and think it has nothing to do with our lives.
To put that even more in context, the Huffington Post recently reported that in one day over 400,000 people signed the petition calling for Clarkson to be reinstated, while only 5,000 people signed a petition calling for an end to cuts in funding for NHS cancer treatment.
Think about that for a minute…
The people of the UK are more worried about a grizzled TV presenter losing his job than they are about preserving the underlying funding and values of our NHS system – an NHS system that we were all very proud of when it was the centrepiece of the Olympics opening ceremony, but which we’re not supporting anywhere near enough in the cold light of reality.
That’s pretty sad, isn’t it? We’re more worried about Top Gear than the future of free medical care in our country. Surely not?
Let’s take a step back
So, what’s the answer? Well, it’s down to personal choice, of course. You can’t *tell* people what they must think of as important. We live in a democracy where we’re all free to like Top Gear or follow One Direction.
But wouldn’t it be nice if we also took an interest in the future of the UK too? If we stopped spending every waking minute reading the celebrity gossip, the social media news outlets and the newspaper showbiz pages and actually took an interest in our own society.
There’s a general election on the way. And that’s our chance to democratically choose what happens to the UK for the next four years (this is one thing where I don’t agree with Russell Brand – please do vote!). Let’s not worry about whether Miliband can eat a bacon sandwich or whether Cameron has a big shiny spamhead (he does, by the way).
Instead, let’s look at their policies, find out what they’re really going to *do* for the country and vote based on their policies.
Let’s take a step back from the culture of personality and make some proper, serious decisions for once.