It’s holiday time, and for me that’s a moment to catch up on various writing projects, and to sit back and think about some of the things that make our world what it is – stuff, in short, that I can write about.
Everything is fodder for a writer. Take women’s magazines. I saw a pile in the supermarket checkout queue yesterday. They’re the same the world over. And they’re a scream. Not for what they say, but for the culture they present.
Famous people, it seems, live wildly erratic lives filled with eruptive anger, lurching from crisis to crisis, endlessly obsessed about their body image, and playing ‘I’m not your friend any more…oh yes I am’ games with their loved ones.
It’s the same every week. You know – ‘first-name only’ star 1 issues a ‘final ultimatum’ to ‘first name only’ star 2. who they’re married to. Next week we’re told they’ve been living happily together since, well, forever. And if it’s not the latest ‘it’ actor from Hollywood, it’s the latest ‘in’ member of the British royal family. Every week, famous people turn up with ‘new bodies’, ‘bikini bodies’ and ‘baby bumps’, they are too fat, too thin, on death’s door, or stunningly healthy. Sometimes all at once. It’s not unusual to see two magazines offering contradictory stories about the same people. In the main it is about women and the celebrities women are meant to be interested in - and not in an empowering way. Men appear as foils in this particular sub-culture, or to be shown up as badly behaved cheats.
What does this mean for writers? Employment, for a start. I don’t write for those magazines myself, though one of the magazines I do write for is part of a ‘stable’ that includes a couple of them.
But really I’m talking about what writers can learn from this. Putting on my writers’ hat – as an observer of people – I have to wonder about what this portrayal reveals. Not, of course, about the people involved. It is, I think, highly unlikely that all celebrities have the emotional view towards child-bearing of eight year olds, while suffering from borderline personality disorder complete with symptomatic dissociative splitting and co-morbid body dysmorphia
It’s possible, though, that modern western society does.
The notion of celebrity culture as a commodity started off in the ealy 1920s as a Hollywood marketing exercise. The need for celebrity spectacle has become ingrained into western culture, its pace dictated by the publishing schedule of the magazines – and now, blogs. It’s fiction, mostly. Even if the headline correlates with the content (and often it doesn’t), we all know it’s going to be a beat-up. Something told us by ‘sources close to…’ the target, a weasely way of telling us the thing has been fabricated out of a few loose words. Or nothing. A while back a New Zealand journalist revealed she’d been responsible for some of the local fabrications – she got told to write a story about Michael Jackson’s nose falling off.
My cousin was introduced to the system about thirty years ago. He’d had an extraordinary life – gone touring in places most people didn’t tour to, back then. Like the Soviet Union. Greece, just after the ‘colonels coup’. Central Australia. He could play the didgeridoo. Then he and his wife were critically injured in a motor accident, and the surgeon used their wedding photos to reconstruct their faces. Hey presto, gossip magazine angle.
There’s plenty of fodder there for writers. A novel, set in the editoral office of one of these magazines – contrasting the real (adult) lives of the people with the stuff they make up. Then a real celebrity has a go at them, and meets the editor, romance follows in which the celebrtity is revealed to be a deep and real character, as is the editor…oh, what am I saying?
Ahem. Back to the phenomenon. What does this particular train wreck, with its fantasy portrayal of celebrities all having a fairly specific psychological condition, really tell us about the nature of western society?
Any thoughts, folks?
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2011