17 May 2010

On Anti-Idolisation

If celebrities have become less respected nowadays, perhaps the process of anti-idolisation is largely to blame. In the entertainment business of Hong Kong, there hover various forces contributing to this process: the paparazzi, karaoke, our love of physical appearance, and celebrities' active participation in various industries. We are now living in an era where we show no expression of fear when we ask for autographs and photographs. Being a celebrity no longer restricts to a group of professional elites. It is no longer necessary to raise celebrities to a godlike status. If the entertainment business is no longer a closed shop, what does that suggest about anti-idolisation?

If an uprising of artistic movement in Hong Kong has become necessary, it is perhaps because karaoke is a contributing factor. It successfully invites us to bring out the artistic part of us and harbour a confused wish to become pop stars. It induces us to believe that singing does not require any God-given talent, that it can be practically mastered by anyone from any class, that we can surprise the audience by bursting our lungs out and memorising lyrics. How easy a once privileged business can be wiped out by the courage to utter in front of microphones.

It is not uncommon to see that celebrities are stripped of defences in front of the paparazzi. They allow us to spend time on scurrilous gossip about them over cups of coffee and packs of biscuits by articulating their pens over ambiguous images that hint at something about their immoral habits and relationship status. Their divine images can suddenly degenerate into the profane which suggests that they are just as secular as us.

If blogging is to have any benefit, then perhaps it provokes in us a democratic vision to be writers. Though it is hard to determine what might be so attracting about writing, what precise aspect their celebritarian identity would be violated without writing, celebrities always find it irresistible to take their precious time out to participate in this unpopular industry. A leisurely stroll in a bookstore confirms my point. In spite of our prediction of the commercial future of books, though most sections of the bookstore are dedicated to loneliness and the death of literature is exaggerated, a specific corridor that is crowded with people always gets our hopes up about people's literacy in this society. From a sufficient distance, this corridor seems to be filled with notable novels and essays. On closer examination, those are actually journals written by different celebrities who wish to strip off their mysterious appearance and expose their personal lives to their fans, therefore successfully downplaying their artistic superiority.

Perhaps the most decisive blow of celebrities is the emergence of second-rate imitations of Britain's Got Talents and The American Idols. The preponderance of these shows seem to allow easy access to the entertainment industry. It inspires in us a democratic outlook that we all can see ourselves as stars. Being a star is not as unapproachable as it used to be. It helps to defend the fact that our society is based upon meritocracy that the system is fair and just. It draws a sharp contrast with the tedious working routines of laymen. Who would want to work a job that has us deal with insincere handshakes and work overtime that does not guarantee any extra pay while success is highly rewarded if we get to win a prize in these shows?

What we are witnessing here is the emergence of what the British journalist Toby Young calls a celebrity class, namely, the "celebritariat", which places itself between the rich and the middle class. This industry is no longer controlled by a few professional elites. It shortens the gap between amateurs and professionals. Unfortunately, this is all illusion. Just as meritocracy is a tool to justify economic inequality, it also creates an illusion that it constantly needs new blood so as to make it seem we are allowed easy access to it. It does not guarantee a long-term fame, but rather just to satisfy our vanity. It follows a similar trajectory as meritocracy to endanger its existence by closing off to new members. If meritocracy is a system that is critically dependent upon personal achievements and talents, why, then, can't people use the same reason to expel us out of the top of this hierarchy?

Moreover, the celebrity class has devalued the notion of stardom. It destroys our fantasy to become pop star because it becomes as easy as breathing. The charisma of a celebrity lies not in a longing for expression, but in how to defy the audience's ease of understanding, creating a sense of ambiguity as something secular yet unreachable, just like a prophet who acquires human characteristics but at the same time a messenger of God. If the easiest people to fall in love with are those whom we know nothing, it is because we are creatures of habit and liable to grow contemptuous of what is familiar.

The "celebritariat" has risked inspiring the delusion of meritocracy and an unfair neglect of stardom which is entirely destructive to the show business. It has made us lose our hopes in perfection. It has made us realise truth is always painful. Next time when we gather around meditating on gossips about celebrities, rather than concentrating on topics whether who is married to whom or whose breasts are bigger than whom, perhaps we should contemplate the place of celebrities in our lives.


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