Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Cult of Celebrity

“The contemporary cult of celebrity was born in the sixties. All developed societies lavish attention on a small number of favoured people, rich, beautiful or talented. In eighteenth-century Europe it might be duchesses and court composers, in classical Rome orators and gladiators, in nineteenth-century Japan, warriors and courtesans. Details of their clothing, personal lives, foibles, family successes and disasters are gossiped about and vicariously enjoyed. They form a fantasy extended family, prettier and wickeder and more brightly coloured than the rest of us.

What has changed in recent decades is the scale of celebrity devotion, this cargo cult of modern Britain.It has elbowed aside rival forms in television entertainment, invaded and occupied popular newspapers and produced racks of magazines breathlessly following the face-lifts, marital break-ups, boob jobs and births of celebs. All of this originated in the mid-sixties. The cloying, ingratiating tone of contemporary magazines such as Hello! and OK! when interviewing or describing some frozen-faced doll can be found in the write-ups of the young set in British newspapers, supplements and the arch glossies of the sixties. The origins of ‘Big Brother’ television exhibitionism are buried in game shows and agony aunt columns half a century old. The raising of footballers and musicians from being tradesmen-servants of the public to misbehaving gods began then too.

Celebrities are often mocked for being talentless. Some are, some are not. A tribute paid to the young and beautiful by the rest of us, the circle of celebrity is paradoxically both very small and very open.From the outside the celebrity world seems to be a closed, charmed place, a marquee guarded by men with shaved heads and sunglasses inside which rock stars and footballers, actresses and princesses, all magically turn out to know one another. Yet what the sixties discovered was that celebrity must be open too in the sense of letting in new people from the streets, or it congeals into a resented elite. Modern celebrity has no time for a Samurai class or for haughty duchesses – it must be a fantasy island we could all paddle our way to, at least in theory. Cultural democracy rules, even while parliamentary democracy struggles.” (From A History of Modern Britain by Andrew Marr).

I think the cult of celebrity has been given extra power in recent years by the mutual reception of Neptune in Aquarius and Uranus in Pisces. Each planet is in a sign that the other rules and Neptune and Pisces are both associated with celebrity. And Aquarius/Uranus reflects the increasing democratisation of celebrity, where it almost becomes a virtue to have no talent (e.g. Victoria Beckham and Jade Goody): it shows that we could all do it.

Site Meter


Anonymous said...

Hi DR,

I liked your article. It reminded me of this quote by Rene Guenon:

"There is no longer any place for intelligence, or anything else that is purely inward, for these are things that can neither be seen nor touched, that can neither be counted nor weighed; there is only place for outward action in all its forms, even those that are the most completely meaningless.

For this reason it should not be a matter of surprise that the Anglo-Saxon mania for sport gains ground day by day: the ideal of the modern world is the 'human animal' who has developed his muscular strength to the highest pitch; its heroes are athletes, even though they be mere brutes; it is they who awaken popular enthusiasm, and it is their exploits that command the passionate interest of the crowd.

A world in which such things are seen has indeed sunk low and seems near its end"

Best wishes,

Barry Goddard said...

Yes, it's enough to turn one into a snob. Roll on Pluto in Capricorn - if we're going to have hierarchies, let them at least be based on something real!

Twilight said...

Although I despise celebrity for its own sake, and mostly agree with what you've said, I am very glad of what you called the "democratisation of celebrity", and the idea that it's linked to Neptune/Uranus in mutual reception.

I'm glad of TV talent shows - I like the idea that The Great Unwashed now has more opportunity to shine - it's a good thing. I watch only those with music/singing involved, but in the USA there's all manner of talent show: including for comedians, models, dancers, entrepreneurs.
These are looked down upon by the so-called elite, but I applaud them all, even those I've never watched. I think it's a truly Aquarian phenomenon - or Aquarius/Neptune: Dreams for the People. Even though many performers in auditions do seem delusional, they get a chance to do something, to let it all out!

Anonymous said...

DR - I am so glad for the day you decided to blog.

Barry Goddard said...

Thank you elsa!

Beacongal said...

Well, as a Capricorn, I tend to be a bit of a contrarian. I agree with you that the cult of celebrity has gotten a boost from the mutual reception of Neptune and Uranus. I think new technologies such as blogging and YouTube have made it possible to spread information, propganda, images, rumors, at lightning speed.

Since most people don't immerse themselves in mythology, we don't have the gods to follow on Mount Olympus. Here, in the U.S., we don't have royalty, which explains our obsession with Britain's royals.

I think in times of change and upheaval, people need to connect with something greater than themselves. Jung called it participation mystique. I think celebs fill that role for us.

The need to transcend can become greater during periods of economic downturn. Look at the Great Depression, when everyone was hooked on the movies and every American farmgirl wanted a hairstyle like Jean Harlow.

Perhaps the current Anglo obsession with celeb culture has something to do with rising debt, falling home values, outsourcing of jobs to India and China, and the like.

I don't agree with you when you say that anyone can become a celebrity and that it requires no talent whatsoever. David Beckham was a good soccer player. His wife was in the Spice Girls. Presumably they both have talent.

At least the latest crop of reality TV shows like American Idol bring a democratic component to starmaking. Here, it's not an autocratic Hollywood director giving the lead role to the starlet who slept with him. On Idol and its European cousins, the viewers are taking control. That's got to be a step forward from the studio system.

I think being a celebrity can exact a high toll on a person's psyche. Anyone who has read Edie, the biography of Edie Sedgwick, whom Andy Warhol discovered and then discarded in the late 1960s, knows what happens to celebs when they are no longer in the limelight.

Just look at all the former divas, washed-up footballers, and over-the-hill supermodels that end up being arrested for drunk driving or worse.

I enjoy your thought-provoking blog very much.

Beacongal said...

Hey, as they say at Wimbledon, the ball's in your court: