Ken Wentworth


Why celebrity portraits are just fake art

Posted on April 29, 2007 at 8:55 AM

We have celebrity defendants in murder trials and celebrity candidates for elections, and can watch minor celebs on celebrity quiz or reality shows. And if the mainstream media is momentarily distracted from their meretricious doings by war or climate change, there are always specialist celeb mags and cable channels.

If there's one thing the fans love even more than a celebrated and worthless life it's an appropriately tawdry ending, preferably by overdose. Though I'd managed to be blissfully ignorant of Anna Nicole Smith?s existence, it became compulsory after it ended. As are the lives and lofty examples of our thuggish sports stars (now, there?s another devalued word) and the antics of the Barbie Doll army. Not to forget those other role models - the drug-addled models who totter like derelicts up and down the catwalks.

Semi-talented rock stars, boof-headed rugby players who treat women like dirt and gross businessmen whose claim to fame rests on obscene salaries join the conga line of those notorious for their notoriety.

What's going on here Are our lives so meaningless, so lacking in imagination or energy that we have to waste our time, money and neurons on this human trash It's a serious social illness if for no other reason than these useless idiots distract us from the achievements of people who really are worthy of our attention.

All this came to mind when I was helping launch the Caroline Chisholm Education Foundation in Melbourne, a marvellous venture to help kids over the hurdles. Chisholm was a secular saint, one of those indomitable women who profoundly changed the world around them, whether that world was Madras or Melbourne, Sydney or the bush. In her day she was cherished as a hero, a reputation gained through her work, not through a personal publicist. Now we see her face on our money - but not one in a hundred knows a damn thing about her.

Yet who isn't cursed with the knowledge of Paris Hilton This trashiest of all celebs makes the trailer trash on Jerry Springer look like European aristocracy. Eliminating junk email isn't the problem. How do we screen out all further reference to this megabrat.

Real fame, enduring fame, relates to achievement - whereas celebrity relates to ratings, cover stories and social pages. I'm not saying they don't blur and overlap, that mass marketing cannot commidify authentic, genuine fame and make it into nonsense - symbolised in the T-shirts of Einstein poking out his tongue at the celebrity he'd never wanted or sought. The full-time celeb wants and seeks nothing else.

Fame is often an unintended consequence of work in a lab, a jungle, a hospital, at the coalface of suffering. Whereas celebrity is pursued for its own sake, pulled along by a dog-team of showbiz hacks. At fever pitch for decades, the psychopathology of celebrity now seems a terminal disease - eclipsing the work of the unsung heroes who cure terminal diseases.

The opposite of fame isn't obscurity so much as infamy. (Somehow 'fame' seems inappropriate to a Hitler.) In a sense anonymity is the antonym of celebrity but, on another level, celebrity is its own opposite. The word evokes triviality, inconsequence, worthlessness. The only good thing Celebrity has the shelf-life of yoghurt. Celebrities are tissues (you choose between facial and toilet) compared to the chiselled marble of enduring reputation. Though as a trip to Westminster Abbey reminds us, even marble has its use-by date.

We live in an era when more US citizens vote for contestants on TV's American Idol than for their presidency (and then elect and re-elect a dolt like Dubyah), in a time when Paris Hilton defames both a hotel chain and a city, when Madonna can happily infringe the Vatican's copyright, and the Dalai Lama depends on the endorsement of Richard Gere. You wonder whether the weather is, after all, the greatest of human crises. Isn't the gush and tosh of celebrity culture (sic) every bit as threatening.

With climate change, we might all be drowned by rising sea levels. But wouldn't you rather drown in seawater than in the rising tide of celebrity bullshit?'

Source:  ( Saturday, April 28, 2007)

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