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Going Gaga

Celebrity is the condition of being famous - people talk about you. Martin Amis predicted our contemporary obsession with it when he said "It's not the case that in the future everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes. In the future everyone will be famous all the time - but only in their own minds. It is lookalike fame, karaoke fame."

We have been obsessed with celebrity for as long as I can remember. J.G Ballard said that it all began in the sixties when "Celebrity was all that counted. If denying God made a bishop famous, what choice was there?"

Historically, celebrity status was achieved through doing something, good or bad, which raised people's curiosity. However, in order to make it more democratic, more evenly spread, fame became available to anyone through reality T.V. One did not have to do anything in particular, one merely had to show up in front of a camera.

We are a long way from the days of naff afternoon T.V shows such as The Jerry Springer Show. The status of celebrity is now more watered down than a homeopathic ointment. 

Amanda Knox decried her celebrity status this week saying that it was "ridiculous."* But it is not ridiculous to talk about her. At least she has done (or not, pending appeal) something to deserve it. What is ridiculous is to talk about people who are thrust on our screens and airwaves by an industrial celebrity making machine. 

The problem with this kind of celebrity is that it is celebrity for the sake of celebrity. A person is famous for being famous and that doesn't leave much material for conversation. All a celebrity of that kind can talk about is the experience of being famous - talking about being talked about. 

It is not that we are ignorant of the ridiculous nature of contemporary celebrity. We are acutely aware of it. As novelist, Zadie Smith, laments: "Generation Facebook's obsession with this type of celebrity lifestyle is more than familiar. It's pitiful, it pains us, and we recognize it." 

Lacking real characters to talk about, one has to make them up. This, I think, is what Martin Amis meant by "karaoke fame." Lady Gaga, the most 'liked' facebook page of 2010,*  is perhaps the model karaoke celebrity. We have no idea who she really is. We only see what she mimics. She is the quintessential imitator, a pastiche of the all pop that went before her, the culmination of the genre. As James Fallows from the Atlantic puts it, she is "the last pop star."*

It might all be a bit of fun, nothing serious, if it wasn't for the people who model their lives on a concoction of reality T.V, soap operas and a bit of camped up pop thrown in for good measure. There is a fine line between celebrity and worship. Worship not only accords a high regard to something, it also seeks to follow after and to imitate its object. To imitate Gaga is to imitate an imitation. 

If we are to transmogrify into facebook pages (our pseudo celebrity selves), we should be careful who we model them on. And if we should ever find ourselves in a position of celebrity we should remember to point to our humanness as Paul and Barnabus did when they were mistaken for deity:

And when the crowds saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in Lycaonian, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!” Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. And the priest of Zeus, whose temple was at the entrance to the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates and wanted to offer sacrifice with the crowds. But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their garments and rushed out into the crowd, crying out, “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them" (Acts 14:11-15)
Zadie Smith, "Generation Why?" The New York Review of Books, 25 November 2010: 57-58.
J.G Ballard, Miracles of Life (London: Harper Collins Publishers, 2008), 236.
Martin Amis, Experience (Vintage: 2001)