Back in the day of grainy photos, taking a film to be developed at Boots and desperately waiting for holiday snaps to be returned, my personal vision of ‘being famous’ equated to one of five things (aged 4+): either being crowned ‘Miss World’; appearing on ‘Top Of The Pops’ or as a guest on ‘The Muppets’; becoming a Tiller Girl (it’s true, I was obsessed although my little legs didn’t agree) or marrying Donny Osmond (or Dougal from ‘The Magic Roundabout’).
Today, with the advent of social media, anyone can become famous, even if they don’t have a Simon Cowell contract. The more ludicrous or bizarre the case for fame, the better. Instead of retreating to a faraway resort in Montenegro as was the case with screen sirens such as Cary Grant or Sophia Loren (check out Sveti Stefan, mindblowing) where photographers couldn’t find them, the modern day celebrity wants their various publics to know everything about them. The mystery and allure of the untouchable celebrity is no more. So when did ‘Fame’ become so social and how has this impacted on our socio-cultural values?
Up until the launch of MTV in the 80’s, most of us Brits were limited to four terrestrial TV channels. There were mobile phones but you needed to be The World’s Strongest Man to actually pick the thing up. The cinema was a vehicle of communication, as was radio and print media. The library was still a valid source of information and people talked to one another. On a landline.
There was no such thing as reality TV. Comedians were television and radio heroes, courtesy of excellent script-writing, timing and delivery. Music was enjoyed and actually celebrated via the medium of TV, radio, record (Single or LP) and then CD. Celebrated, as the word ‘celebrity’ reminds us to. Being number one in the charts actually meant something and the release of a new video was deemed ‘newsworthy’ – eg the ‘Thriller’ video or George Michael’s ‘Outside’ hit national news agendas.
In short, our five senses were still intact. As attention spans shortened, so did the medium of communication. From phone messaging to Youtube, the images, sounds and words brought to us, had to work harder to exist or mean anything. The internet and email changed our world beyond measure. Record companies didn’t have the clout they used to. We became exposed to far more and yet de-sensitised at the same time.
By default, the number of personalities and celebrities increased many-fold, from the ‘A’ to ‘Z’ list (the latter, too, have agents). Competition has become more fierce yet evermore accessible. Success stories happen overnight with the advent of ‘X Factor’ and the like and dreams really do come true. Television personalities have become famous for being television personalities in reality shows – KUWTK is a fine example of achieving celebrity status without being a celebrity.
Taking this one step further, social media channels such as Twitter, Instagram and Youtube have allowed us to see into the private world of our heroes: from selfies, belfies (noun: self-taken photo of bottom) and belfie stylists to love spats, depression and baby births. We all feel like we know modern day celebrities. I remember being at a charity dinner with ‘The Dragons’ a few years ago. They were all tweeting throughout dinner and loving it. They loved being loved just as much as the next mere mortal. Probably more so as the higher up the ladder you go, the more lonely it often becomes. You never know who your real allies are.
Yet these modern day vehicles of communication and manipulation are not without flaws. They often create a voice for the wrong people, driven from ignorance and ego and not for the greater good. Getting a million hits on Youtube is financially recompensed. Buying Twitter followers is accepted as OK and the lines between celebrity and Joe Public become fused. Ri-Ri and Kim K are as famed for their belfies as they are for the talent that brought them into our lives in the first place (I am catching up ladies so watch out on the belfie status, LOL). We spend more time on social media being anti-social than social.
There is a danger that social media will take over reality and that we won’t actually need to look into the whites of someone’s micro-chipped eye or ever need to experience that gut-wrenching feeling of desire, one on one. Mystery seems to have disappeared altogether in our lives other than in relation to acts of terror or tragedy: the why. The old fashioned notion of a woman being mysterious, alluring and pursued by the Prince on the white charger seems less relevant than it was in fairy tales.
All this disappoints me. I still believe in connection, in the true sense of the word, not just when my phone needs charging. Don’t get me wrong, I love social media (and of course this is written as a blog, with the hope that it will positively impact upon someone’s day) and the fact that people can achieve their dreams. But I also love ‘looking up’ and appreciating G-d’s gifts, reality as well as the power of magic. I don’t know what my modern day view of ‘Fame’ looks like but I still believe in the ‘Pretty Woman’ tale. I guess the film’s storyline is truer today than ever: we can all create our own literal and allegorical status. Social media grants us this wish more than at any other time. If the online algorithm genie is reading, maybe Dougal is single and we can hook up? Donny is a bit busy. And smiles way too much. I like a man with a dark, less social side. But that is a blog for another day. I need to practise my belfies.