I recently watched an old man dress up in a leather-look S and M outfit, thrust about in what looked like a strip club and get perilously close to having a heart attack on live TV. Ordinarily this wouldn’t have made me laugh, in fact in any other context I probably would’ve been quite concerned.
But the old guy was a celebrity, you see. So I actually quite enjoyed it.
As with anything I enjoy, I thought I better analyse it to death so as to ensure I never enjoy it again. Which is why this particular programme raised two questions for me:
1. Why do celebrities do this?
2. Why do we watch them?
It’s tempting to suggest that the only reason a celebrity would put themselves through the humiliation of ‘Big Brother’, or ‘I’m a Celebrity…’ or [insert name of latest celebrity reality show here] is for the money. Personally, I don’t buy that as a reason. Yes, I think a lot of the celebrities in these shows have, to put in nicely, ‘fallen on hard times’, but I think there’s more to it than that.
I’ll give you a clue. The word I’m thinking of consist of four letters, and starts with F.
(No, not that word)
As an actor/comedian, I know all about pursuing fame and how all-encompassing that desire can be. And I’m not just talking about the other people I’ve worked with, I’m talking about traits I’ve seen in myself. I even wrote a book about it for crying out loud – a crime thriller called The Artist. In fact, if enough of you go out and buy it, I might even get famou-
Wait a second…
And that bit of shameless self-promotion is, by the way, exactly my point. For some people pursuing fame and the adoration of the masses is hard-wired. Yes, you’re getting your self-worth from what other people do and say to and about you, but when it works, it really works. I’m not going to go so far as to suggest that it’s an actual addiction, but it’s not far off.
(And seriously, if a couple of you could just buy my book, it’d be great…)
Let’s take stand-up comedy as an example. Getting up on stage and making hundreds of people laugh is incredible. Seriously, as experiences go, it’s amazing and pretty hard to top. But then you get off stage, and suddenly you have to participate in ‘life’ again. In difficult, unpredictable, uncontrollable life. Now if someone offered you the chance to live onstage for a few weeks – and also said they’d pay you for it – the question would go from ‘why are you doing this’ to ‘why wouldn’t you’.
In some ways, the second question answers the first – Why do they do it? Because we watch them.
Which still of course leaves the second question unanswered – Why do we watch them? What do we get out of it?
I think there are a number of reasons, but a big part of it is watching people who are richer, better looking, and more successful than us being portrayed as human. They get hungry and tired, just like us. They have to get on with other people, sometimes when they don’t want to, just like us. They’re forced to dress up in PVC and dance around, just like…well, this isn’t about me, so stop judging.
Let’s move on, shall we?
And we don’t just watch these shows in order to see famous people portrayed as real human beings either, we do it to see them humiliated. One of the maxims of slapstick comedy is the higher the status of the ‘victim’, the harder we’ll laugh. A frail old lady falling over isn’t particularly funny, but a young, posturing male strutting down the street and falling over his own feet probably is. It’s the whole clichéd thing about slowing down to get a better look at a road accident, the same reason people gossip about their bosses at work – it makes us feel better about our own lives and the situations we’re in. It comes down to basic human nature. Why bring ourselves up when we can bring others down? It’s easier, and doesn’t require us to do any work.
And that’s why these shows will always exist, because we’ll always want to watch them. And the celebrities know this, and the TV executives know this, and you better believe that the advertisers definitely know this…
Quite simply, if we stopped, so would they.
But we won’t. And so, naturally, they won’t either.
Now, about my book….