Saturday, 25 July 2009

celebrities and us

Britain has a unique celebrity culture. On the one hand, aside from the Americans, nobody pays as much attention to the private lives of so many individuals in the world of entertainment. Nobody has the array of magazines, tv programmes and newspaper articles devoted to the Jade Goodies of the world that we do.

For Britain, famous people are almost a sort of aristocracy, with all the attendant baggage for us peasants that implies. A friend of mine used to work for a well-known international ticket company, in their Manchester box office. One night before a gig, a local celebrity comes in, an actress off Coronation Street. Her kid's going to see some live show - Bob the Builder or something along those lines. She's shown up with no booking code, no ID, doesn't even know what postcode it's booked under (her P.A. booked it apparently). Now my friend is good at his job and a nice bloke, so he's looking for a way to help her. Not because he knows who she is, but just because. Looking for any way to identify which tickets are hers. But this woman just can't help, she's got nothing she can tell him. So she pulls out the celebrity card, his manager recognises her, and insists that my friend doles out two duplicate tickets, which he dutifully does.

Now, any normal person shows up without anyway to prove that these tickets are theirs, not even booked in their name in fact, you see them for the chancer they are and send them on their way. But no, the celebrity aristocracy, already so blessed, gets little favour after little favour, their droit de seigneur and why not, it's only a few perks. So she stands in the queue, and demands one of the staff holds her place, whilst she takes her little one to the bathroom - a wonderful service, if only they could offer it to everyone. Then walks straight past the bar queue, and gets outraged when a glass collector won't serve her drink, and so on throughout the night. "Oooh, you'll never guess who we had in this evening?"

But the downside of being an aristocrat exists too. You get all this privilege, for little or no work, and people resent you for it. In fact, we really resent them for it. Not the shrink-wrapped, perfect-world US celebrity culture for us. We hate celebrities. Pick up Heat magazine if you don't believe me, or read the gossip column in The Sun. We adore slagging these people off, we love it when they get fat, or too skinny, or make a fool of themselves, or they fail. Half the time we prefer our celebrities to be talentless morons, there to be abused by the system or to make themselves look inadequate. It's almost like the only way we can bear to be the peasants is by engaging in the time honoured tradition of fool's day, where the world gets stood on its head, and we get to laugh at the motherfuckers on top.

Maybe there was a bit of all this in Steven Gerrard's court case. Putting aside the the so-sad-it's-funny nature of the Gerrard defence (as one friend put it, "he stood up after being elbowed in the head by my friend, of course I felt threatened and had to hit him 4 times"), Gerrard admitted that he'd been up to the DJ booth to demand they change the music and couldn't understand why the bloke wouldn't do it. Now, do you and I expect the DJ in a bar to change the music on our request? We might, on occasion, put a request to them, but the general assumption is that most places put the music on that they want to play. If you don't like it, you find somewhere else. This is normal mortal land. Gerrard and his mates first insist that they get control of the music. Then they end up in a fight about it. Even if the fight is six of one, half a dozen of the other, the expectation of these petty favours that come with a modicum of celebrity is pretty common. The refusal is too. Your average self-respecting man (not fanboy) doesn't think you deserve special favours because you're lucky enough to earn a lot of money for playing a game. The world has given you plenty already. If Steven Gerrard asked me to change the music in my house, I'd politely tell him to fuck off.

Whilst the acquittal itself might seem a little weird in some quarters (or typical in more cynical ones), the situation, a member of the celebratocracy throwing their weight around and not even noticing their doing it, is all too common.

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