Celebrities vs Reality…

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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)

Fame.

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….

 

The Artist is a crime thriller set in the world of the acting industry.  A serial killer forces young actresses into a perverse trade off; they acquire Andy Warhol’s prophesied 15 minutes of fame, but that time will consist of the last desperate moments of their lives…

Click here to find out more

You’ll get square eyes looking at that

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I went to prison the other day.

Not as a ‘guest’ or anything, although that would probably sound a lot cooler than the real reason (research for a book).  Walking through the corridors, my first thought wasn’t Dostoevsky’s quote about judging a society by its prisons, but ‘Hey!  This place looks like the jail in Prison Break’.  I then glazed over and spent a good five minutes trying to work out how Michael, Lincoln and T-Bag could possibly have made it out in one piece.

Welcome to the 21st century, everybody.

Like it or not, television is a part of our lives now more than ever before.  According to the news – the TV news, obviously – less people are going out and spending money on things like the cinema, and more of us are sitting at home watching box sets of TV shows instead.    And that’s the main difference – instead of watching one episode of a specific TV show every week, we’re watching blocks of 3-4 episodes every night.   In doing so, we’re inhabiting the characters’ world, and allowing aspects of it to become part of our own.

Think that last bit sounds dramatic?  OK, you know how groups of friends pick up each others’ voice inflections or particular phrases?  Well, now consider how long you spend with your friends, and how many hours you spent watching ‘Lost’.  There were 121 episodes, each lasting on average 45 minutes.  That’s around 91 hours.  By the end of the last episode, even I’d started growing a beard, calling myself Jack, and setting elaborate traps for the ‘Others’.

(I suppose if I really wanted to emulate Lost, I’d also end each sentence cryptically, and in a way that makes some people applaud, and some people wonder why they bothered.  But you can’t have everything…)

It doesn’t just stop there either, a doctor friend of mine told me he thinks House is affecting his patients.  They no longer go to the doctor and merely explain their symptoms.  Now, they barely mention their symptoms before launching into a description of their daily routines – including what soap they use, if their flat is messy, and, in one memorable case, the fact that a latex product once gave them a rash around their ear (probably best not to ask too much about that one). They do this just in case the missing ‘key’ to their illness is buried somewhere in all this information.  Why you’d need a ‘key’ to make a diagnosis of flu is beyond me, but then I did spend a month calling myself Jack, so what do I know?

And this can have serious effects too.  Yes, it was irritating when people started talking like Chandler (could that BE any more annoying?), but at least nobody’s life was at risk.  There’s a phenomenon known as the CSI effect, which describes the tendency of some jurors to either over- or under-estimate forensic evidence based upon things they’ve seen on TV.  People were literally being let off because there was no dirt under their fingernails, when, according to TV, there should have been.  Forget the fact that the guy had a severed head in his fridge and a lampshade made of skin, his fingernails were clean so he couldn’t have done it.  Everything else was just a big coincidence that we’ll all laugh about one day.  Well, except for the victim, cos he’s, y’know, dead.

I’m not saying that TV is doing anything wrong either – it’s the fact that it’s getting things so right which seems to be the problem.  TV shows are so expertly staged, scripted and acted, that you can quite easily forget you’re not watching reality. Add to this the recent explosion of actual reality TV – complete with shaky camerawork and awkward pauses – and the fact that this style being perfectly emulated by some fictional TV shows, and it becomes easy to confuse the two.  Reality TV being filmed to look like scripted TV, which itself is filmed to look like reality TV.  Pretty soon we’ll end up with everything looking slightly real, but also slightly fake, like Sylar’s eyebrows.

(The fact that you got that joke proves my original point by the way)

And going back to my original point, simply put, the more you’re exposed to one specific thing – including your favourite TV show – the more it affects you.  It just seems as though as a society we’re all exposing ourselves a lot more than we used to.

And yes, I do know how that sounds.

But if it’s good enough for T-Bag…