The Big Issue : Edition 496
THE BIG ISSUE 16 – 29 OCT 2015 13 only within these terms and they were congratulated for their abilities as performing artists and/or the shapeliness of their silhouettes. In the primordial broth of the 1990s, someone-or-another decided that celebrities were to have a new and more important function. They switched from being baubles for our entertainment to gods and heroes for our moral instruction. Their lives, hitherto largely ignored or falsely reported by the press as “perfect”, now became imperfect. And when someone did something even a little bit wrong, it was amplified to maximum wrongness on the cover of a magazine. Of course, this presented some inconvenience to celebrities and they protested this incursion by paparazzi and other creatures of the gutter. With their every mug shot, divorce, miscarriage or weight gain up for public ridicule, they vehemently objected – as is, I suppose, only reasonable. Of course, those of us who work nine-to-five for a far paltrier wage can find little sympathy for these celebrities. When they moan about the relentless focus to which they are subject, I always want to remind them, “Well, no one forced you to become a professional, overpaid, show-off.” Scrutiny is not nice, of course, but it’s now, very much, part of the gig. Celebrities should not interest us because of the subject of “rights”. They’re a small and very privileged group of people who are amply warned in advance of their eagerly sought fame that some people might not be nice about you. If there is any real loss in an age that sees celebrity as something by which we assess our morals, it is to us non-celebrities. Back in ancient times, I remember that people were simply either fans or not fans of a particular glamorous person. They either pleased us as artists and charmers, or they did not. Now, across the decades, celebrities have turned from being just potential sites of pleasure to potential sites for ridicule, and now, as real moral leaders or devils. Every week, every other bugger seems to have an opinion on what Velveeta Kafoops or Heartthrob Palaver has said or done. This footballer said something obscene. That swimmer said something wonderful. This actor, pop star or fashion designer did a great thing or a bad thing and we all must talk about how great/quintessentially evil it is until there is no breath left in our bodies. As a prehistoric beast, I also remember that there were other places to talk about the difference between right and wrong. One could ask one’s cleric. One could ask one’s peers. Or, if one was a snob atheist like me, one could try to understand the ethical teachings in books. Whatever the question I seem to recall, it was never posed as, “What would Justin Bieber do?” One can like Justin, curious as this proclivity might be, but one must not use him as a moral guide. Well, not if one wishes for a more informed answer than, “Cheer yourself up with a tasteful new tattoo.” “In the primordial broth of the 1990s, someone-or-another decided that celebrities were to have a new and more important function.” RAZER What Would Bieber Do? PHOTOGRAPHSBYJAMESBRAUND ABOUT A GAJILLION years ago, when anthropods filled the new earth and often had to wait several months for an OS update to their unbearably large phones, I was a child. I mean, my Palaeozoic memory is even less reliable than dial-up, so it’s difficult for me to remember a time before 4G. But I do seem to recall that there was a brief time, long ago, when we didn’t treat celebrities as wise people. When I was an amoeba, I seem to recall people looked to famous entertainers chiefly for their power to entertain. If they were decent looking, could hold a tune and/or act their way out of a damp paper towel, it was largely agreed that they would be tolerated. These millennia ago, actors acted, entertainers entertained and musicians musicked their way to our approval. Their abilities were assessed » Helen Razer (@helenrazer) is a writer, gardener and avid collector of musical theatre memorabilia. Her favourite item is the magical umbrella from Mary Poppins.