Cult Of Celebrity

26 01 2008

Heath LedgerAfter three days of pretty much nothing but GTD, apart from the Wiki-Wednesday greatness, obviously, you’re probably getting a bit sick and tired of this. Apparently this whole gushing, glassy eyed, “I want to have David Allen’s babies” attitude is quite common amongst us new converts, fresh acolytes to the path Getting Things Done. I’m going to leave all that behind and move onto something that I hope is a little bit more of interest to you. From the lack of comments I’ll assume that personal productivity is not particularly high on your agenda.

Moving on today’s post will be all about Heath Ledger. About time, to be fair, it’s a big piece of news and I haven’t spoken about it all week. Largely because I don’t think it needs to be spoken about (yes, I appreciate the irony of me saying that in a post about the very topic I don’t think needs to be spoken about).

What I mean is I think it’s an obvious tragedy, I think many of us feel for his family, losing a 28 year old can never be easy. You can imagine that his parents are going through hell, 28 years old, peak of his life, particularly of his professional career with the Batman movie (pictured, click for an enlarged version) coming up and having done Brokeback. He was in the midst of probably the biggest period of his career.

Of course from a fan’s perspective it’s somewhat unfortunate, he was a very talented actor and you do think the entertainment world has suffered a big loss. His daughter, obviously, will grow up not knowing her father. Naturally you feel for everyone who cared for him, all his friends and everyone to whom he was close.

That’s it though. He’s passed, we didn’t know him, and I’m getting sick and tired of the overreaction every time a celebrity dies. Hearing about Heath Ledger everywhere I go is getting very tiresome very quickly. Yes, it is incredibly sad, obviously, I’ve said as much above, don’t get me wrong, I do feel bad that he’s died, but it’s done.

While I don’t expect his family or friends to bounce up and stop grieving that quickly, it doesn’t effect any of the rest of us on a day-to-day basis. I fail to see why we can’t just leave it behind us, it’s not like we knew him personally. What I don’t understand is why we keep seeing posts on blogs dedicated to him (yes, the irony, I get it, stop being a smartarse!), or Facebook groups or pages popping up everywhere you turn, all with some incredibly tacky title like “Heath Ledger RIP”. I mean, Mary Mother of God!

Leave it alone. Yes, it’s tragic, as it was when River Phoenix died aged just 23, or when Kurt Cobain and Jimi Hendrix both passed at 27, and even Jeff Buckley at 30 (largely as he had only one studio album and the world needs more Buckley). Of course the world is a much worse place for these talented people dying so young.

Worse yet I’ve heard that some Ebay sellers are taking advantage of his death to ramp up the prices on Heath Ledger merchandise which is quite frankly disgusting. It’s very similar to those people who bought domain names and so forth to make a profit out of the Virginia Tech massacre. You do think people who put money before something quite tragic really need to reassess their lives and reassess what’s important to them. I wonder how they’d feel if it were their brother or their son or their best friend and people were taking advantage of that? I don’t think they’d take it so well.

Although I could understand it if we looked back in five years and remembered this death, much in the same way as we tend to look back on River Phoenix or Kurt Cobain but looking back I’m reminded of how few people realised we lost Mother Theresa. I go back to the Diana Concerts and what I said at the time which was we made such a big fuss out of the fact it was the anniversary of her death yet Mother Theresa died in the same year and was forgotten. A woman who history will remember as a truly great human being long after history forgets Diana’s death as the insignificant event it was.

I just think it goes to show that the cult of celebrity has taken over, the idea of true greatness is just to be famous. This is the only explanation for the endless conveyor belt of reality TV shows. It is why the Big Brothers and Survivors and so forth exist, they’re there because the cult of celebrity is what’s al-important. Paris Hilton is a prime example of this, a woman who is famous for nothing other than being famous.

Well, that and a celebrity sex tape, although is it really a “celebrity” sex tape if you weren’t a celebrity when it was made? Being the heiress to a billion dollar fortune does not make you a celebrity, you’d hope that you’d need some degree of talent, and she wasn’t even talented at that (a career as a professional pornstar does not beckon). I don’t want to sound like a cranky old man but I just think the kids of today need to look at how they worship celebrity. What do you think, do we overly idolise celebrities?


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8 responses

26 01 2008
Stella

I read a study recently about the aspirations of Australian schoolchildren now versus twenty years ago. Where once upon a time, they wanted to grow up to be a Test cricketer, or Kylie Minogue, or an astronaut, they now just want to be famous. They don’t mind what for. Hence the way Big Brother keeps getting thousands of auditionees for its mindlessly tedious show.

Admittedly, I posted about Heath Ledger too, but in my defence, it was only three lines and I was really grasping for things to write about that day. And having had a jolly good-sized crush on the late Mr Ledger in my teenage years, following the release of Ten Things I Hate About You, I can vouch for how personal this loss may seem to many. You might think I didn’t know him, but in my head we were together for years.

Furthermore, I don’t think that Mother Theresa ought to be beatified quite as much as she is. Yes, she did dress the pustulent sores of dying lepers, but being Catholic, she also refused to advocate contraception, thereby doing nothing to stem the rising tide of HIV or control the massive overpopulation problems happening in India. In essence, she helped to keep those people poor.

Wow. I think I need to go and have a cup of green tea and try and find some zen. Next time I comment I will try to be much less strident.

26 01 2008
Mr President

Well, I have to say I myself do agree with that criticism of Mother Theresa. I find it interesting you chose to use a term (beatification) that is a Catholic term to criticise someone for being Catholic! I think it’s right she’s sanctified within her faith, and certainly think she’s done more to better the world than Diana.

For example, we can criticise her for her religious beliefs but she held those beliefs because she thought they were right (as do many) and it was these beliefs that made her go to tend to the sick in the first place.

By contrast Diana was a media whore who took every opportunity to do things that would make herself look good. She only helped out charities and causes that would put her in the limelight, it was her way of revenge against the Queen and the royal family. No more no less.

Hell, even her own mother called her a whore!

I do agree that Mother Theresa was not perfect but was Martin Luther King Jnr? His legacy, however great, will be tarnished by him being an alcoholic wife-beater. Mahatma Gandhi was notoriously misogynistic towards his wife. These people are human beings, as such they all have flaws. In the big scheme of things Mother Theresa’s “flaw” of being Catholic seems a mild one, don’t you agree?

Your post about Heath Ledger was fine. For starters it was brief but more importantly it was the day after. At that point it makes perfect sense to post about it, it was recent, fresh and shocking.

My issue is really more with the massive flood of groups and pages, semi-permanent things, on social networking sites like Facebook dedicated to his death. While I would completely advocate a group dedicated to him, as a person I don’t see why we fixate with the death aspect. People do the same with Cobain and I think it’s a bit sick.

I agree that the death can feel personal, I felt the same about Kurt Cobain (heck I still mourn his death every April) but at the time I remember thinking how sick I was of seeing it in the media knowing he wouldn’t have wanted that. Likewise I don’t think Heath would’ve wanted this, not while his family and friends are grieving.

Truthfully I suppose my problem isn’t that people are grieving, why shouldn’t they? My real problem stems with the way that death seems to be something to remember in itself. It’s incredibly morbid and it’d be horrible to think people will become Heath Ledger fans now simply because he died much in the same way people did with Cobain or Brandon Lee. I just remembered him. What a spooky coincidence, another actor who died at 28 whilst making a comic book movie!

26 01 2008
Pribek

I wasn’t familiar with Heath Ledger or his work. It occurs to me that I live like a hermit.
That aside, when I heard of Ledger’s death, I simultaneously heard a brief overview of his career. My initial reaction was; “kind of reminds me of James Dean’s story”. Talented but troubled, young actor with a handful of good movies that checked out early. I’m a geezer and my first thought is a historical reference that’s similar.
Ponder this-If James Dean would have made those couple of movies then, decided to leave Hollywood, decided to become a real estate investor, get married to a stenographer, settle down and by 35, become paunchy with a receding hairline- would his work as an actor have had the same impact on the public perception? Of course not.
People react to the drama of tragedy. It’s not new. It’s human nature.
The Mother Theresa-Princess Diana analogy doesn’t work because the drama and tragic effect come down much more heavily on Diana’s side. In other words, it wasn’t shocking when Mother Theresa died; it was even expected.
When the young and beautiful drop dead, it is perceived as higher tragedy.
The way the public reacts hasn’t changed-the amount of media coverage has.
You may be able to make a case that the nature of the media coverage has changed, for the worse. But, that’s a direct effect of the sheer amount of media competing for the same dollar.

Stella, personally I enjoy it when someone gives an honest opinion and I don’t see it as strident. All the same enjoy the green tea.

Oh yeah Pres-“I’ll assume that personal productivity is not particularly high on your agenda.” Your recent posts have served to remind me that personal productivity is not high enough on my agenda. Therefore, my shame has prevented me from leaving comments.

26 01 2008
Mr President

Ahh Jack, this is why I always look forward to your comments. Actually to be fair I look forward to comments from most of my readers. I may not get as many as other bloggers but usually there’s such insight behind them. I’m proud to say my readers are an intelligent bunch.

Like you I enjoy it when someone gives an honest opinion, and think Stella’s comments were excellent. Nonetheless, there’s never a bad time for green tea so hopefully she enjoyed it.

You’re right, I suppose, people react to the drama of tragedy. Perhaps I’m slightly odd in that I don’t tend to to the same degree. Admittedly I too was a bit surprised to hear of Heath Ledger’s death but my reaction to it really only lasted a few hours. After that I began to get annoyed by what I perceived to be an overreaction (although perhaps that says more about me than about other people?)

I hadn’t considered that idea about the fact Diana was young and beautiful and how that makes her death seem more tragic. Perception is more powerful than reality in many cases so something can seem more tragic when, taken from an objective standpoint, it isn’t.

Your comments, as they always do, made me ponder a little further and I suppose the reaction to this, the morbid curiosity that surrounds such events, it’s no different to when people slow down when passing a motor accident in order to see the wreckage and “hopefully” some gory details. Whilst somewhat grotesque taken from a distance, up close it really is just human nature at work.

Like you I too believe that the amount of media has changed massively and has altered how things may seem. A perfect example might be that I actually discovered the news about Ledger 20 minutes before the news appeared on the BBC news website. How? Via North Americans who mentioned it on Twitter as the news broke over there. Of course the reason for a delay in BBC reporting it would have been a need to present the content suitably and therefore make editorial changes but nonetheless it shows the power of the internet.

As a final aside I think personal productivity, being organised and getting whatever it is you need to get done, well, done, is never high enough on most people’s agendas. It’s surprising that in an era where people’s New Years resolutions revolve around getting healthier few people mentioned finding ways to lower their stress levels. Personal productivity, and the buzz you get from knowing that whatever needs to be done is either done, or will get done when it needs to be, can be the key to a much healthier lifestyle.

26 01 2008
jayne d'Arcy

“Like you I too believe that the amount of media has changed massively and has altered how things may seem.”

I wonder, really, if the amount has truly changed all that much. With the internet, digital notifications and so on, maybe the amount of media hasn’t changed, but the speed at which we get it, and the sources is what has increased.

My husband was reading CNN’s website when a banner flashed over the article that “Heath Ledger Has Been Found Dead”. It was shocking to see something like that when in the past, we might not have known about the discovery unless a special bulletin came on TV or it was relegated to the nightly news.

Our fascination for tragedy, in my opinion, has never diminished. We just now have the ability to express that fascination in more dramatic and immediate ways.

26 01 2008
Stella

Granted, Mother Theresa did a lot more for the world than Diana did, and on the scale of things she’s not quite as evil as say, Martin Bryant or Hitler. However, your point that she is a human being and therefore intrinsically flawed is one more reason she shouldn’t be canonised: doesn’t a saint need to be perfect?

Well spotted on the use of ‘beatified.’ My extended family is Irish Catholic and I’ve also spent a lot of time living in Italy. While my mother dropped out of the faith at age 12, she always felt it was important for me to understand the history of the church, albeit in a very scientific and dispassionate way.

I agree with you about the fixation on death, rather than on the vibrant and productive life the deceased may have led. But one might argue that’s a central tenet of Christianity: obsession with death.

Mass media is such a relatively recent phenomenon that our human minds aren’t adapted for it. A hundred years ago, if you heard news of someone’s death, or a great flood, or a fire, it was sure to be someone you knew, and perhaps you could run and give assistance. Nowadays, we get the same fight or flight response to the nightly news, but usually there’s nothing we can do about it. So we end up with a disproportionate overreaction.

The green tea was lovely, thanks.

26 01 2008
Mr President

I see great insight runs in the family Jayne. You’re right too, it probably isn’t the amount of modern media so much as the speed at which we receive it. Stella’s point that the nature of modern mass media is so different to what we might have experienced in the past that we’ve yet to find a way to properly adapt to it, is also so astute.

News is so instantaneous and often travels across great distances, whereas in the past it used to travel by word of mouth, often meaning it travelled a much shorter distance (and as Stella said, meaning you more than likely knew the person involved) and took much longer (meaning it created the “fight or flight” instinct that we’ve yet to adapt to modern media). Golly you lot are a bright bunch aren’t you?

Far be it from me to defend Christianity Stella. I’d have to say many faiths obsess with death, probably because, in my view, that’s what gives birth to religion in the first place. It is fear of the unknown and what is more unknown to the living than death itself? We fear that more than anything (except perhaps those of us unfortunate enough to have an illness that may reduce us to a fate far worse than death).

As for the argument regarding Mother Theresa being canonised wouldn’t it be fair to say that according to the Catholic faith, which would be the faith canonising her, she was perfect? Her “sin” after all was simply to uphold the beliefs of the church. Isn’t that what all saints did? You and I may criticise her for it because you and I would likely criticise the Catholic church generally for its stance on contraception but then that puts us in an awkward position when telling that Church how to uphold its own system of canonisation.

What a lively debate! Just goes to show I have an intelligent readership.

5 02 2008
Bite Sized News 2 : The sequel. « Textual Relations

[…] other people for the consequences. For me the Spears scenario just highlights the problem of the cult of celebrity that’s infecting our society, where these people are […]

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