Love it or loathe it - fascination with celebrity is not going away


Why is fanaticism about sport socially acceptable but not celebrity culture? It’s all just entertainment

CELEBRITY CULTURE is a topic that seems to push more buttons with the public than Sharon Shannon playing a particularly fast reel on her accordion. The word itself, “celebrity”, provokes reactions.

Many people express bewilderment, repugnance and impatience with the subject. They make it clear they have far more important things to think about. It’s all an arcane, time-wasting disgrace, they cry. Why are certain people famous for doing nothing? Off with their celebrity heads!

Others, like me, are fascinated by it.

The fact is, while it may come as news to some, you can read the New Yorker from cover to cover weekly, and also know the names of all the Kardashian sisters. My favourite novelists are Tolstoy and Henry James. My new favourite television show is Made in Chelsea, a staged reality show based on the lives of wealthy young men and women extravagantly bitching and partying their way around London.

And last time I checked, my brain was still functioning perfectly well.

A love of the classics doesn’t cancel out an interest in a ridiculous reality television show, but many people assume the opposite: that you can’t possibly choose to juggle such diverse interests. Men in particular seem to have difficulty acknowledging that a woman can be capable both of discussing the results of the fiscal treaty referendum and of knowing that Kate Middleton wore Alexander McQueen three times during the diamond jubilee festivities.

To me, it is simple. The celebrity world is pure entertainment. I find it fascinating to look through magazines at red-carpet fashion pictures, or see what the interiors of people’s houses look like, or find out who wore what to various parties. I also regularly watch celebrity-focused TV networks, such as E!, which run wall-to-wall reality shows based around the lives of people who have a lot more money than me and live totally different lives. I’m curious about people’s lives.

Reality television is an opportunity to follow the lives of people you don’t know, and watch them ham it up for the cameras. I find this downright compelling, as do millions of others.

We’re always telling each other we don’t “do” celebrity in Ireland. That we’re too cool and grown-up to poke each other in the ribs and take pictures when famous X or Y appears under the radar somewhere in Dublin.

That is generally true of the way we behave in public, unless you’re a Jedward fan. It’s not so in how we consume celebrity coverage in private.

Most celebrity magazines are bought by women, although nobody knows who reads them once they’re brought into the home. It’s women who mostly watch reality shows. I don’t know if being absorbed by detail is gender-specific, but detail is what celebrity coverage delivers by the fake-tan load, and I for one find it fantastically entertaining.

For openly admitting this, I have become used to being patronised over the years – usually by men who genuinely seem to think they’re complimenting me when they express amazement at my grasp of celebrity culture. I just think such a predictable reaction is very amusing.

However, I wonder why it appears to be perfectly socially acceptable to be open about being fanatical about sport in any form, especially if you’re male. To me, sport is simply a different form of entertainment.

Put it this way, I doubt anyone sitting down to watch Euro 2012 on television will be thinking of it as an educational experience, or doing so with the expectation of it being intellectually demanding.

I’ve also noticed that people who claim to have no interest in celebrity culture are remarkably forthright about telling everyone how appalled they are by it, and how much they detest whoever the celebrities of the day happen to be.

For instance, in the last few days, the scriptwriter Graham Linehan posted on his Twitter feed – more than once – a picture of himself hunched naked on a toilet, face scrunched up.

The tweet, which was retweeted numerous times, asked: “Is this photo of Kim Kardashian TOO sexy?”

I really don’t care that Kim Kardashian earns mystifying millions from the fact people like me are interested in her life, and that people like Linehan get fantastically exercised about that same fact. What interests me is how cheap a shot that tweet was, and how typical a response it was.

If you don’t give a toss, why go to the bother of attempting to satirise someone whose life is already far beyond satire?

For those who don’t follow these things, Kardashian married Kris Humphries last year, filing for divorce a mere 72 days later – but not before they’d received $17 million for television and magazine rights to the wedding. To borrow the title of the grandmother of all celebrity magazines, Hello! indeed.

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