13 April 2006

celebrity culture

readers of recent posts will already know that I am a fan of the musical, what with the direct Mary Poppins references. and thus you likely assume that I not only have seen but know most of the lyrics to other similar filmic events, such as Oklahoma!, The Music Man, and the classic, The Sound of Music.

If memory serves, I believe my librarian mother 'permanently borrowed' the two-VHS tape Sound of Music from her library for, say, almost my entire childhood. my sisters and I watched it incessantly. I was, natch, Liesl, for I was the oldest and she is the oldest. plus she gets to sing the 'I am sixteen' song with the guy. we would sing all of the do-re-mi parts on car-trips, including the little round the Von Trapps do while riding in a horse-drawn carriage (if memory serves again).

all of this gives me legitimacy to argue what I am about to argue.

in the British press, the cult of celebrity has a bit of a different flavour than in the US press. Big Brother is a very popular show here, and they have done a 'Celebrity Big Brother' in which they gathered b-list celebrities together into the house and planted a non-celebrity in their midst. if she could make it through the show and 'pass' as a celebrity, she would win. and well, she did, and now she has her own show and she's a celebrity because of being a celebrity. this is nothing new. this phenomenon has been written about by many cultural commentators, from the moment the Milli Vanilli scandal broke (and what a sad day that was, my friends). (ps: how much do you love that there's a wikipedia entry for Milli Vanilli? and this fab article I found too...)

in the UK, this phenomenon of 'get on TV = celebrity' is, I think, a bit more pressing. because the country is small, and so there are simply fewer people around to get on TV, and as a result there's a pretty decent chance you will get on TV one way or another. in the US, I sense that one must go out of one's way to get on TV. one must show up for the auditions for Big Brother, or whatever reality show MTV has going on this week, or Survivor, or whatever, and actually compete for the chance to become a celebrity. I am not arguing that you need more talent in the US versus the UK. that seems about the same in both cases. it's just that the pool is so much smaller here. there's a palpable sense that hey, it could really really be you. whereas with 295 million plus others out there (plus the 10-12 million illegal immigrants, right?), there's just not much chance it could be you in the US.

so, when the story broke last week about kids lining up for hours to audition for the West End revival of the Sound of Music, it surprised me that the story was not about these kids going for their dreams (although that was in there) it was about the cult of celebrity. now, granted, the casting for Maria is taking place via a reality show, sure. but it seems like there's a difference between shooting for celebrity and getting to perform in one of the best musical roles for kids out there, in a high-profile production that will give you amazing experience and perhaps help build your career into an actual career. these kids, it seemed to me, weren't signing up to be instant celebs. it's a stage production, for god's sake. everyone knows that stage 'stars' are only stars to theatre folk, and not the wider public. these kids were trying to get work in a fabulous production where they actually get to work with Andrew Lloyd Weber himself, a dubious honor, but none-the-less.

and I found it insulting to the kids that for the press, this was about insta-celebrity in the same way that Big Brother chick was about insta-celebrity. she looks like Paris Hilton and carries herself in a certain way and is particularly savvy. these are qualities that cannot be underestimated. but can she carry a tune? belt it out 3 nights/week? dance? act? get over stage fright? memorize lines? maybe she can. but that's not what got her insta-celebrity status. and that's not what these kids are going for. they want to perform, to pursue an art. some of them might actually make some art someday. that's different, it seems to me, than sitting up straight, wearing the right sunglasses, and applying lipgloss correctly. and to equate them demeans the craft of acting and the long tradition of musical theatre.

and I'm off the box.

next: Oh........! klahoma where the wind comes sweepin down the plain (oklahoma)

1 comment:

Ruth said...

I'm having a sudden flashback to a night out drinking in Japan...

Oklahoma, indeed.