The Next Celebrity Culture?

UPDATE: Seriously, I just finish writing this post and this CNN story comes up on Twitter . . . case closed.

UPDATE #2:  Welcome to everyone who got here from WordPress’ front page!  I want to apologize in advance for the rather nasty tone some of this post took in the middle of my 2 a.m. rant last night . . . of everything I’ve posted on City Streets, I promise you this is not one of my favorite posts.  Thanks for reading!

One strange thing about coming back from college to be with family is re-acquainting myself with the TV.  Real-life people watch it all the time, apparently: the nightly news (haven’t these people heard of an RSS feed?), football, sitcoms, TV dramas and . . . talent shows.  I’m amazed at how much of primetime TV is a talent show now.  American Idol, of course.  But also, America’s Got Talent, So You Think You Can Dance–the list would go on, I’m sure, if I spend more time in front of the tube.

But sitting around with my mom, aunt, and grandmother a couple nights ago, we started watching something that finally started to bug me.  It was this hour-long special celebrating Susan Boyle, this British lady who made it big on Britain’s Got Talent.  The thing about Susan Boyle is, she’s not a great singer.  I mean, she’s a good singer.  But she’s nowhere near impressive.

No.  The main thing about Susan Boyle is, she’s ugly.

It sounds mean, but I’m serious!  The whole shock about her was that she was this old, ugly British lady who had a surprisingly good voice.  That was the appeal.  So she showed up on this Britain’s Got Talent show and everyone’s thinking . . . oh no . . . this is going to be terrible, when, to their surprise, what they get is a suprisingly good rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Miserables.  And she makes it to the next round, and to the next round, and loses in the finals, but still ends up with a record deal AND this hour-long special recounting her story, with Colin Firth (I think) and Simon Cowell talking about how incredible she was and how she finally made her dreams came true and how you can too if you only try and try and manage to hit the right audition for the right television show, your dreams will come true too, or if you can’t do that, at least if you sit at home and watch our television show you’ll get to rejoice vicariously in this woman’s “accomplishment”, and sit back and think about how you, too, are just as special as Susan Boyle, because we’re all special aren’t we, deep down, we’re all good people just waiting for our big break . . .

Or something like that.  I can’t remember exactly.

Seriously though, this stuff makes me a little sick.  Susan Boyle didn’t “accomplish” anything except managing to capture the hearts of a bunch of people who have nothing better to do than watch TV, be used and manipulated by a television industry trying to save a buck (these types of shows are much, much cheaper than weekly dramas, but tend to get high ratings regardless), and ride that wave of popularity for all it was worth.  The whole process is literally produced from beginning to end by TV producers, writers, and businessmen, and in one month, no one will care about Susan  Boyle because we’ll all be crazy about that poor black dude from South Central LA who escaped gang violence beacuse of his talent for swing dancing as recognized by NBC Studios, or whatever amazing story these talent shows have in store for us next.

My suspicion is that all of this has been engineered by some genius who understands that the more ‘ordinary’, ‘everyday’ people who become special for an hour on TV, the more special and extraordinary all of the other ordinary people will feel themselves to be.

‘Cause you know, I’m not too bad of a singer myself, and I’ll bet if I went on one of those shows, I could show Susan Boyle what’s up.

In the past, what we had was a celebrity culture that worshipped actors, singers, or whatever because they are hopelessly beautiful and, perhaps, decently talented.  You’d have a cult of people who might follow a certain celebrity for a long time—Britney Spears, say, or Mel Gibson or something.  Who knows.  But with Susan Boyle and all of these other zero-to-hero stories popping up, what you might be seeing is a cult of people who follow a succession of ‘heroes’ who, really, come from among themselves.  So you go from singer to dancer to actress to whatever, in a very rapid succession so that you can hardly remember who the celebrity you adored a month ago was.

I, of course, have a theory about this.

Maybe we’re all secretly kind of hoping that we’re next, that inside of us, too, is someone worthy of celebrity status, for whatever reason.  With the earlier celebrity cult, my impression is that what you ended up with was a kind of self-loathing among the masses, because really, what woman can live up to the standard set by goddesses like Jennifer Aniston or, you know, whoever, as far as looks goes?  And what man can hope to be as, well, ‘manly’ as Brad Pitt or Johnny Depp or whoever? 

But with this new kind of celebrity cult, what you end up with is a kind of undeserved self-love.  We project ourselves onto these Susan Boyles: if she deserves it, then dammit, so do I!  I, too, am special!  And I won’t have to work for it, either.  It will stumble upon me, or I will stumble upon it, and my dreams will come true, all because of the generosity of primetime television.

Whew!  This constitutes a rant if I ever read one.

Now, here, perhaps, is the relevant point.  When we listen to and watch these stories and celebrate them in our popular culture, what kind of heroes do we exalt?  What kind of dream do we say is worthy of coming true?  And what kind of dream do we say is worth having?

And what does that say about us, as a people?

How about a society that celebrates its people of virtue, rather than rewarding its seekers of fame?

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27 Responses to The Next Celebrity Culture?

  1. jchunter says:

    that was some good reading!!! you brought up very good points, and I think your right on the money. I can’t speak about the trend that’s on tv right now, because I don’t watch tv or play video games.

    But, I can see the type of hero trend you mentioned is also in politics. With American’s putting their hope in a guy that came from nothing, blah blah blah…

    “My suspicion is that all of this has been engineered by some genius who understands that the more ‘ordinary’, ‘everyday’ people who become special for an hour on TV, the more special and extraordinary all of the other ordinary people will feel themselves to be.”

    Bottom line is there are many companies making a lot of money off the bad contracts that the Susan Boyle’s sign.

    Also, if you get a chance to look, there’s a NY Times article out there that quotes Rupert Murdoch as saying he was glad Obama was running for presidency as there’s a lot of money to be made off him…

    • urbanfall says:

      The parallel in politics is certainly interesting, although I’d look on both sides of the aisle at a trend toward “identity politics” or whatever it’s called. “This person is a lot like me”–she’s white, rural, folksy, or black, urban, educated, whatever you like, really–“therefore I think this person would make a great president.”

  2. Erin says:

    First, I want to say — you’re a very MEAN person. You’re still qualified for being a human being, but a really MEAN one.

    Susan’s voice was judged by several world renowed voice artists and critics one of the best. It doesn’t necessary mean it’s the very best in the world because no one is. But it’s good enough. If any junky story can get an hour or two on TV, then why couldn’t Susan Boyle? NEWS means publicity — what people are paying attention to these days, and what people are talking about. She was of course naturally included in the one-hour program because she impressed people and people are talking about her! I personally think she’s amazing, like millions of others! But no one said she is God. Promoting her story is not a way to persuade of millions of TV watchers that you should keep auditoning for being found. The story of Susan is telling people that you should have belief in yourself and also never judge another human being by her/his looks, just as someone like you – the writer of this article.

    You claimed Susan is a good singer, but not a great one. This is the most bizarre thing I’ve ever heard! Do you have a professional analysis yourself about her voice? Does that mean she’s not a great singer just because you said so? Tons of people love her and that’s what count. She’s earned people’s love with her stunning performance, and I don’t believe you can act out one percent of that if BRITAINS GOT TALENT put you on the stage. She didn’t do anything mean to you or anybody else, and should she deserve what you said about her?

    You said she’s ugly. Well what can I say? Shallow, and prejudiced? I believe other comments besides mine will come up soon to let you have it!

    It’s easy to be mean to another human being, and that’s what you did. But can you professionally analyze her voice, or exactly what reason she shouldn’t be on that one-hour TV show? — you don’t even have a clue about all that. You look down the people who watches TV and said they have nothing better to do. Let me ask you this — did you watch her too on TV? At least other people are watchng it with a fair attitude, or with real human feelings, with great congrats and admiration after her performance. What did you do? — you wrote the most unhuman words about a very human soul!

    • urbanfall says:

      Erin,

      Thanks for reading and commenting. Trust me, had I anticipated this rant going on the front page of WordPress I wouldn’t have written it NEARLY the same way. My problem is NOT with Susan Boyle. I think she’s a very nice woman who’s got genuine talent (though, like I said, I don’t think she’s a particularly amazing singer). My problem is with the show and the celebrity culture surrounding it . . . that was the main point I was trying to make. I apologize if I got a little carried away in my polemic, and if Ms. Boyle happened to get caught in the crossfire a bit.

      Thanks again for reading.

  3. I’m not altogether in agreement with you here. I can take the Susan Boyle thing for what it is. A lady who lived in a desperately poor part of Glascow who did very well for herself. Plenty of people will make money from it on the way for sure, but thats nothing new. It’s nice to see someone get more from her life than whe would have otherwise.

  4. suednordost says:

    But isn’t virtue just the next thing people want to be admired for once they are famous? Just look at all the celebrities like Angelina Jolie who are constantly trying to show the world what a good person they are. And then, if a TV show like “Britain is virtuous” existed, so many people would only help others in order to get on TV.

  5. jingle says:

    Hi:

    In this free world, we can worship any hobbies, any cultures, and any religions under the law.
    Nice discussions about cultural celebrations!
    I love watching American Idol…

  6. Danny G says:

    I don’t know that I disagree with you as much as I don’t like the negativity of this post. I believe that everyone is looking for an underdog. Is the under dog story not the premise for most heros? Use Spider-man as an example. I think Susan Boyle brings on a “good for you” sensation more than a “hero” role.
    “And I won’t have to work for it, either. It will stumble upon me, or I will stumble upon it, and my dreams will come true, all because of the generosity of primetime television.” To say this is a bit much. When I see someone like Susan Boyle it gives me the warm fuzzy feeling because she is making it on her character and talent not on looks alone. And since most of us do not have movie star good looks it gives us all that fuzzy feeling for the same reason.
    If their is a cult of people looking for the underdog to win, then sign me up! Susan Boyle reminds me that it is ok to be average but she isn’t a hero because of it.

  7. Jason says:

    “And she makes it to the next round, and to the next round, and loses in the finals, but still ends up with a record deal AND this hour-long special recounting her story, with Colin Firth (I think) and Simon Cowell talking about how incredible she was and how she finally made her dreams came true and how you can too if you only try and try and manage to hit the right audition for the right television show, your dreams will come true too, or if you can’t do that, at least if you sit at home and watch our television show you’ll get to rejoice vicariously in this woman’s “accomplishment”, and sit back and think about how you, too, are just as special as Susan Boyle, because we’re all special aren’t we, deep down, we’re all good people just waiting for our big break . . .”

    The longest sentence ever……. Enjoyed reading… I look forward to your next post.

  8. WiseJamaican says:

    You might think that this lady as not accomplished something but she did. Her self confidence on reaching the different levels of the competition as motivated and empowered her. You said she was ugly but that is her features. Her heart is a beautiful one and this is what the audience saw. I wish her all the best.

  9. urbanfall says:

    Man, of all the thoughtful, intelligent, well-reasoned arguments that I put up on this blog (and maybe they’re not as frequent as I would like to think), WordPress picks my 2 a.m. rant about celebrity culture to put on its front page!

    I do want to apologize straight away for the negativity of this post. I’m used to having about eight people actually read anything I put up, and I’m a little embarrassed that this particular post made it to the front page, particularly because of its couple of rather nasty comments about Susan Boyle . . . not one of my prouder moments. That being said, my broader points about the change in celebrity culture and what it says about our society as a whole still stand.

    Thanks for reading and commenting! Hope you will consider looking around at some of my other work as well.

    • jchunter says:

      don’t back out of what you said, you have very good points, and your writing is good, even if you think it was a “2am rant”…there are like a billion shows like that, Dancing with Stars, American Idol, etc., etc., even that movie Slum Dog Millionaire is based off the whole hero mentality…nothing to be sorry about, you see something, and you called it out…whether people can see what your talking about is another story…

  10. Jason says:

    I believe everyone is entitled to thier opinion… Thats what this website is for. I dont think that you should have any regret for writing and posting what you did. I didnt see any harm in what was written. As far as being posted on the front page… You just happened to hit a decent topic that obviously more than 8 people would actually read so KUDOS to you! So what, she is ugly… Meh… just an opinion… oh… she can’t really sing?… Another opinion… Im sure each and every one of you that have commented, have judged people one way or another. I know I have. I look at it this way… Without Opinions… This site would not survive.

  11. Sharon Elsworth says:

    “How about a society that celebrates its people of virtue, rather than rewarding its seekers of fame?”
    I couldn’t agree more… the world has become a crazy place for so many reasons.

    Sharon, Napier, New Zealand

  12. demoffy says:

    I think… yups.. 🙂

  13. mike says:

    You were absolutely right that Susan Boyle was a worldwide phenom because she was ugly. If she had been a beautiful young lady we never would have heard of her over here across the pond. However your theory of what it all means really misses the most important point of all of this. This poor woman took the stage and all who saw her were anticipating an exercise in humiliation. What they got instead was a jaw dropping and misty eyed magical moment. Whatever happened consequently, the marketing etc., was certainly predictable. But make no mistake that moment in England was real and people all over the world had a genuine emotional reaction to it. Celebrate it. These things happen rarely.

  14. urbanfall says:

    Some additional thoughts upon some reflection:

    1. Hopefully it is obvious to (almost) everyone that the subject of this post was NOT Susan Boyle. God bless Susan Boyle for being a genuine person, a talented singer, and lucky enough to make it to the top. The ‘underdog’ story resonates deeply with Western culture, I think. We all like it, we’re all inspired by it, and that’s great.

    2. What this post WAS about was “the next celebrity culture”. I was asking (and attempting to answer) the question: what does this change in the way we think about celebrity say about our society? Granted, it took a while to get me there, but you get the point.

    3. Susan Boyle is ugly, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But it’s also true, as Mike pointed out above, that “if she had been a beautiful young lady we never would have heard of her”. The whole appeal was that we were expecting one thing when we saw her, but that her looks were deceiving.

    4. My point still stands that this the new celebrity culture does not reflect upon us any better than the old one did. What we’re doing, collectively, is—pardon my religious language, but I’m fluent so its difficult to avoid—making an idol out of ordinary people, that is, making an idol out of ourselves. That’s a metaphor, of course, but that’s the nature of language. I’m not saying that we’ve made Susan Boyle into God. But I am saying that in exalting Susan Boyle, we recognize and exalt part of ourselves, too. Maybe you don’t have a problem with that. But I think it’s rather dangerous.

    5. We must, as a society, start rewarding people not for their value as nightly entertainment, but for their value as virtuous men and women.

  15. tomain says:

    Had you chosen the non talented celebs that populate the dial from the major networks all the way up the tiers of cable I think your point would have been better illustrated. The so called reality shows are both cheap to produce and appeal to “the new celebrity culture”. I admit that I don’t understand the appeal of stuffing an abode full of promiscuous young losers and cameras. Obviously this and its countless variations make money at least for now. Hopefully this is more a case of bad television then a defective society. At any rate when it comes to the Susan Boyle special that inspired your post this can be said, it all originated from a truly beautiful moment.

  16. Mari says:

    I didn’t know the song ‘I dreamed a dream’ until Susan Boyle sang it – what a lovely way to learn that there is such a song. Susan entered a public competition aired on TV – imagine if there was no TV – we would not know and you wouldn’t have read about it.
    Secondly, there is a factual error on your post. The person who presented the show was NOT Colin Firth. IT WAS Piers Morgan – he is one of the judges on Britain’s Got Talent and he does TV interviews of celebrities eg. Vinnie Jones, Danni Minogue, Katie Price and Susan Boyle on Sunday evening (London time).
    Your post raises food for thought – about our own values.

  17. Mari says:

    Sincere apologies – I meant to say if there were no TV broadcasts you would not have known about Susan Boyle and therefore would not have written about her.
    M

  18. madnilk says:

    There nothing personal when talking about reality TV. It’s been awhile since everything start and now its been one of our life routines – watching someone ordinary becomes extra-odd!!

    We never realize it before – That TV it self are making money even without the reality TV. So, why bother?

    We are what we choose to be (after deep analysis base on knowledge and experience). Everything that exist in this world can bring good and harm in the same exact time – depends on ‘people’.

    Better look for ourselves – others afterward!!

  19. FYI, there’s an unedited recording of Susan Boyle’s initial BGT performance here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ANiKGY53Kvc

    all the best 🙂

  20. Hey now, I happen to think Susan Boyle is adorable. Objectively plain, maybe, but “ugly” is taking it a bit far – its not like she has a huge hooked nose with warts all over it, or bad skin, or buckteeth.

    Totally agree with your idea of “re-acquainting myself with the TV. Real-life people watch it all the time, apparently…” Its true. The average American watches like 4 hours of it a day. Then again, I probably spend 8 hours on the interwebs, so who am I to judge.

  21. Terry says:

    Well. What you say isn’t new. Books and articles have been written about the fascination for zero to hero celebrities.

    Yes, Susan Boyle is ugly but I know it’s not what you’re writing about. Her voice either. It’s about those stupid TV shows who take all time slots on TV to the point where there’s no other option than renting DVDs. And about all those people who manage to stay glued in front of those stupid shows, bringing ratings to mediocre shows and then…it brings even more stupid shows.

    All of this because people wish they could become celebrities instead of living their lives and being actors in their own scenario.

    Those damn shows are the reason I got rid of my TV. COME ON !! Every night there’s another “reality” show on. Reality my ass. Get over it people or we won’t ever have better shows on. Ever.

  22. Mosca says:

    Interesting read – your core point about the appeal of talent shows seems pretty valid. Nonetheless Susan Boyle is definitely ugly and a very average singer – no need to apologise to the people that regard her ascent to stardom as a ‘beautiful moment’ lol (im guessing this isnt your normal target audience…) Hopefully people will get bored of this sort of lowest common denominator tv pretty soon and we can go back to at least having attractive talentless people to watch.

  23. lilabyrd says:

    Congrats on page one! And I do most of my posting in the wee hours of the am also…lol…and mine may end up in need of the edit button. You have made some very good points…. all worth a good discussion. I would like to add this little side note. When the contest hit the air and then went viral…. I was doing online surveys and was asked to fill out one very long and in depth survey about that one show and the impact of her performance. This survey looked at many of the points you wrote about and then some! It stressed areas like “how did it make me feel” when I watched her sing and so on. Also looking at the negative side/mean side of how the ones with every little talent performed and how we felt when the judges were very, very blunt…. like we all were expecting her to fail. It was a very interesting survey. So my point is that some where out there someone is looking and studying how we view and feel about these type of shows….. but just not sure what they are looking to do with all that info…lol…..now that could make you stay up late and think….. if you are into conspiracy theories…lol…….Lila…… and keep up the good posts.

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