Tag Archives: celebrity

WORLD CUP WILL BE A MONTH-LONG ADVERTISING CAMPAIGN

Q: What’s this? The first World Cup ad?
A: Yes, adidas has launched the first commercial of its campaign and, as you can see, it’s provocative.
Q: Why provocative? I can recognize Kanye West on the soundtrack, but so what?
A: Because adidas have edited the track so that the references to “cocks” and “muthfuckas” and so on have been expunged.
Q: Perhaps that will make adidas appear edgy and appeal to the demographic they want. But, hang on a minute: doesn’t Kanye do something similar for adidas’s arch rivals Nike?
A: He did. Last year, he switched to adidas: the terms of the new deal mean that, just after the World Cup, there will be a new lines of shoes and apparel bearing the Kanye West imprimatur.
Q: Eh? What’s an imprimatur?
A: A sort of personal guarantee. West licences out his name. Most A-list celebs do this sort of thing nowadays. It’s pretty standard practice: you’ll notice Kanye West-themed adidas gear everywhere.
Q: I can see the logic of this if an athlete endorses the clothes and shoes. I mean, Nike and Michael Jordan was the most productive marketing tie-up in history. But Kanye West is a musician. What’s he got to do with sportsgear?
A: The only thing that matters is that consumers know and identify with West. Precisely what he’s known for is irrelevant. Sports stars are used to advertise all sorts of products that have nothing to do with sport. Musicians can reverse the process. Anyway adidas has done its homework: the company will know its customers like and follow West.
Q: It’s clever marketing for West too, I suppose.
A: Definitely. He’s trailing the new track “God Level” in an ad that is going to be seen and heard globally. So it’s effective advertising for him as well as adidas. It’s called cross-promotion. Advertising today combines products in such a way that the consumer isn’t expected to know it’s actually an ad at all: they just immerse themselves in the video. In this sense, I think you’d have to conclude the new ad is successful.
Q: This is the first seriously big ad campaign, isn’t it?
A: Yes, over the next couple of months, we are all — and I mean everybody in the world — going to be bombarded with ads for so many products it will make our heads spin. The World Cup is, on one level, a sports tournament; on another level, it is an marketing extravaganza. It has become such a globally popular event that advertisers know they can get the attention of literally millions. Fifa has been criticised for inflating viewing figures, but there is still nothing to touch the World Cup when it comes to bringing viewers to their screens; and remember people will be watching on portable devices too this time. You also have to remind yourself that the advertising doesn’t stop when the whistle goes. Hoardings will display ads for the whole game, players will wear branded footwear and, on commercial tv, halftime breaks will be crammed with advertising. Britain’s ITV will probably charge £300,000 for 30-second slots during the pregame, halftime and postgame intervals.
Q: I hate to bring this up, but it strikes me that when we are watching the games, the advertising will still be working on us.
A: Which leads us to ask: are we being entertained by the competition, or are we being sold stuff? The answer is, as you’ve already guessed: both. Everything comes with a price tag, right? Even watching a game on commercial-free BBC will implicate you in an advertising interaction. Consumption doesn’t just mean buying products for their use: it’s become a relationship through which we gratify ourselves and, strange as it seems, make our selves. Things are parts of our identities. adidas may sell products, but they also provide identity accoutrements.
@elliscashmore

 

Studying Beyoncé

Beyoncé studies anyone? 8 other ridiculous university courses1) Harry Potter studies Fierce In some ways Harry Potter is Britain’s own version of Beyoncé – he is pretty fierce against Voldemort and his popularity following could rival hers. Which means it isn’t too surprising that Durham University offered a Harry Potter course in 2010 .

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WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM CELEBS?

Beyoncé is the subject of a course at Rutgers University, in New Jersey, USA. Apparently, the course uses the artist’s music and career to “explore American race, gender and sexual politics.” Similar courses have been offered on Madonna and David Beckham (though the latter is actually called Football Culture and runs here at Staffordshire University). Ten years ago, this kind of course would have been dismissed as another example of the dumbing down of higher education. Now it seems perfectly legitimate to use a prominent figure to analyze race, gender, class, politics and any other feature of contemporary culture. I’ve written a book on Mike Tyson that attempts to do exactly this. So what can Beyoncé teach us? Well, I have to put my hands up again: I’ve also written an article on Bey. You can read it and decide for yourself click here for the full text: Buying Beyoncé

Our parasocial affair with Nigella

WE THOUGHT WE KNEW HER, BUT WE KNEW NOTHING

Nigella Lawson

Why do we know so much yet so little about Nigella Lawson (above), the domestic goddess who brought sensual pleasure to the mundane domestic chore of cooking? It seems only yesterday, she was a regular in our homes. Now, we’re not so sure know her at all. We thought we knew her. But it seems we didn’t know the first thing about her. While neither she nor her ex-husband Charles Saatchi is in the dock, for the past few days, they have been the centre of attention: she and her marriage have been opened up for public inspection. Nigella’s court case, which started last month, is actually the trial of the celebrity couple’s two personal assistants, Italian sisters Elisabetta and Francesca Grillo, who worked as Nigella’s and her husband’s personal assistants. The Grillos are accused of fraudulently using the credit cards of Saatchi’s private company. But they have barely been considered: all attention is on Nigella. Every day, it seems we have learned something new about her private life that has systematically disabused us of any fanciful notion we knew the first thing about her. It started last June with the release of a picture of her being, it seemed, throttled by Saatchi. Since then, her relationship with Saatchi has been methodically cut up and its internal parts displayed.

Celebrity relationships have been dissected publicly before, of course; usually as they happen. Brangelina and Bennifer were narratives the media asked us to share. But the analysis of Nigella’s multi-dysfunctional relationship — Nigella characterized it as “intimate terrorism” — is particularly enlightening: it’s taught how little we really know about people with whom we feel close. This is a condition of today: we assume we know people from the two-dimensional images we see of them. Let me explain how this happened.

During the second half of the twentieth century, television transformed the way we thought and behaved. It affected the way we relaxed, the way we learned, the way we communicated. The complete cultural landscape was transfigured by television, to the point where we can’t recognize its presence. So much of what we know about the world is gleaned from tv that we find it tough to think where else we find out about some event or other. The internet has, of course, emerged as an alternative. It barely needs stating that Nigella or the celebrity culture she inhabits wouldn’t have been possible without television. Prior to its acceptance as a domestic appliance in the 1950s, we knew about prominent figures mainly by their names or artist’s impressions, still photographs or newsreels shown at the movies. “Television, bringing famous faces and sounds into our homes, has created different kinds of celebrity,” writes the social psychologist David Giles in his book Illusions of Immortality.

Television brought with it intimacy: we were able to see moving images and hear voices — in our own homes. It also brought replication: those images and sounds were not just one-offs: they could be repeated time and again, exposing us to the famous in a way that stirred us to new interest. We saw people that were previously remote and perhaps unknowable as ordinary humans with the same kinds of mannerisms, faults and maybe foibles as the rest of us. Giles argues that the proliferation of media, specifically television, in the late twentieth century expanded the opportunities for people to become famous. In material terms, there were more tv screens on which they could appear and become known. Viewers could not only see and hear a new array of people: they could almost reach out and touch them. In a way, they could almost swear they knew them. The more they felt they knew them, the more they became entranced.

Giles invokes a term from to a 1956 article in the journal Psychiatry to capture the emerging relationship between tv figures and viewers: “parasocial interaction.” The 1950s was the decade of growth for television: at the start, few households had a tv; by the end over 90 percent of household in the USA and 70 percent in the UK had at least one set. Viewers were forming unusual attachments. They were developing “friendships” with television characters, some fictional and others real (like announcers, or weather forecasters). They also “hated” some of them. Familiarity led to a sense of intimacy. Viewers actually thought they knew the figures they saw on their screens. They interacted with them parasocially. The relationships were and still are strictly one-way. It’s called parasocial because para means beyond, as in paranormal. The attachment might only have been as strong as a beam of light from a cathode ray tube. Yet it was experienced as strong and meaningful. Viewers actually felt they knew people they had never met, probably never seen in the flesh and who knew nothing of their existence. So there is no actual interaction (inter means between): it’s oneway. This doesn’t stop viewers feeling like there’s a genuine interaction. In this sense, it’s an interesting term that captures the way we think and feel about people we don’t know and who don’t know us but who sometimes unwittingly and unknowingly move us to act, occasionally in erratic and irrational ways.

Since 1999 when she appeared on our screens in Nigella Bites, the domestic goddess has been in our homes, our kitchens even. This is, I think, the reason why we assumed we knew her so well: seeing celebs on stage, in movie roles or even in the contrived circumstances of reality tv shows is one thing; but seeing them in the kitchen doing nothing more sensational than preparing food, contributes to an especially close parasocial relationship. @elliscashmore

 

They must be worth it

…  SO WHY DO CELEBS ADVERTISE STUFF? (CLUE: 5 LETTERS BEGINNING WITH ‘M’)

adele

Selecting a celebrity to advertise a product is a science, like astrology or alchemy; in other words, a nebulous, imprecise and uncertain one. The metrics are equivocal. Media visibility (exposure in print, television, radio and online) is a key factor. Hence film and television actors, tv personalities, models, sportsmen and woman, authors, musicians, comics and, of course, reality television figures are obvious candidates. Their visibility is measurable in terms of appearances and namechecks. Beyond that, the science becomes, at best, art, and, at worst guesswork. Celebrities like Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, or David Beckham offer continuity and consistency in the way they go about their business efficiently and reliably: the chances of a scandal erupting around them are slim and they are known to a wide spectrum of people. Not that a hint of indecorum is a bad thing. Sales of Katie Holmes’ high-end ready-to-wear fashion line, Holmes & Yang, increased in the wake of her unsavory divorce from Tom Cruise. “Unsurprisingly, the label has benefited from Holmes’s increased visibility,” confirmed Charlotte Cowles, of New York magazine (July 30, 2012).

Jennifer Lopez, a prodigious endorser of, among others, Kohl’s clothing and lifestyle collection, was caught up in an eighteen month on-off relationship with Ben Affleck in 2003 and 2004. The Latina singer-actor was one-half of “Bennifer” as the couple was known. The tumultuous relationship coincided with a career slump defined by boxoffice flops (Gigli, Jersey Girl) and disappointing cd sales (Brave, Como Ama una Mujer). Becoming a judge on American Idol smacked of desperation, yet it turned out to be a career saviour and, by 2012, at the age of 42, she was, according to Forbes, the most sought after celebrity by advertisers. Idol regularly pulled 26 million viewers to their televisions (i.e. a 9.8 per cent of the total potential audience), most of them in the 18-49-year-old segment advertisers love. JLo used the series as a showcase to premiere music videos and perform singles. “On the floor” went multi-platinum, and the music video amassed over 530 million YouTube views. Mariah Carey must have been enthused by the prospect of emulating JLo when she accepted the offer of becoming a judge on Idol, though the $18 million (£11.6m) one-off fee was a further incentive. Mariah’s advertising file included T-Mobile, Mariah’s …  fragrances and Jenny Craig, for whom she directed a diet plan commercial.

JLo and Mariah are among an elite of celebrities whose name or image adds value to a brand and, in turn, make products move off shelves. And you imagine L’Oreal considered Adele (above) in the same league when the company offered her £12 million to appear in its advertising a couple of weeks ago. The big surprise was: she turned it down. This is an exceptional occurrence nowadays. A huge endorsement contract is almost a membership card to the A-list, and Adele would have become one of the highest paid advertisers in L’Oreal’s stable, which includes the likes of Cheryl Cole, Eva Longoria and, of course, Beyoncé. Of all the endorsers used by L’Oreal, Beyoncé is perhaps most closely associated with the brand and its signature tagline “ … because I’m worth it” (a slogan dreamt up by Ilon Specht, of McCann Erickson, in 1973 and which is now recognized by 70 per cent of consumers.

But seriously: does anyone else in the world believe Kim Kardashian or any of the other celebrities are sincere when they advocate, recommend or vouch for a cellphone? Sharon Osbourne is hardly likely to shop at Asda, particularly after that same supermarket chain paid her millions to appear in its ads in 2005. Is anyone in the world unable to spell out the motive behind celebrities’ behavior (clue: five letters beginning with “m”)? Adele earned over £11m last year, so maybe she doesn’t need the extra cash.  Is anyone so absolutely, completely and utterly gullible that they are prepared to accept the word of a well-paid mercenary when they part with their hard-earned cash? We’d probably like to say the answer to all these is an emphatic no! On inspection, though, we probably conclude that it’s no-ish. I’ll explain what I mean in a later blog. @elliscashmore

Naomi Campbell — hellcat from the catwalk

… and anti-racism campaigner

“I’m no perfect human being.” When Naomi Campbell stated the obvious on the Jonathan Ross Show, she might have been quoting Grace Jones’s 1986 track “I’m not perfect (but I’m perfect for you).” The “you” in this this context is, of course, you and me and all the other gawkers who have followed Campbell since she became the first black model to appear on the cover of the French edition of Vogue. That was in 1987. Since then, she has rarely out of the news, though often in stories completely unrelated to modeling. Now she is hosting Sky Living’s new talent show, The Face, which has effectively replaced Britain and Ireland’s Next Top Model.

Between the two events, Campbell has not led a sheltered life: in fact, she has crashed unstoppably into practically every kind of scandal you could imagine – she has been a hellcat from the catwalk. Now at 43, you might expect her to be solemn, mellow and, given her well-documented habit of consuming alcohol and drugs, ravaged. She seems reassuringly maturity-proof and looks radiantly svelte. Her latest project is an initiative to expose the dearth of “models of colour,” to use her term, in the fashion industry. Fashion is popularly regarded as colorblind: top models from all ethnic backgrounds sashay at all the major fashion shows in Milan, New York, London and Paris and adorn the covers of Elle, Harper’s Bazaar and Marie Claire. When the Streatham-born model arrived on the scene, there was bewilderment: what chance had a young black woman got of crashing into a predominantly white industry? The late French fashion designer Yves Saint-Laurent (1936-2008), was a stalwart supporter of Campbell and threatened to break all ties with Vogue if Campbell was not put on the cover. Campbell became part of the elite group of supermodels, modeling for the world’s preeminent designers before, perhaps surprisingly, posing nude for Playboy in 1999. Surprisingly in 1999, that is: over the next decade, Campbell became involved in several shenanigans that served to maintain her public profile, not always in a dignified way.

Elite model agency boss John Casablancas – who died earlier this year at 70 – once described Campbell as “odious” and concluded she was “a manipulative, scheming, rude and impossible little madam who has treated us and her clients like dirt”. Campbell herself believed her refusal to accept less money than her white colleagues at the agency initiated the attack. “It doesn’t matter if you’re the first black woman on the cover of French Vogue, I was still getting less,” said Campbell. She has since reiterated that she was offered less than her white counterparts. In addition to verbal assaults on hotel and airport staff, she whacked her housekeeper (for which she was sentenced to do community service). Campbell won a privacy case against a British newspaper that had published pictures of her leaving a Narcotics Anonymous meeting in London in 2001, while she was receiving treatment for drug addiction. Her brief appearance at a United Nations war crimes tribunal investigating Charles Taylor, the former Liberian president, was made eventful by impromptu remark that the trial was a “big inconvenience” to her. Campbell’s turbulent, but supremely newsworthy career, was ornamented with serial affairs with some of the world’s best-known and eligible men. Campbell seems to have made a career rebelling against blandness and, as such, still commands the attention of the global media.

If there is a way of causing outrage, she can find it:  in 2009, for example, she modeled clothes by the luxury furrier Dennis Basso. While wearing fur is itself an incendiary act, Campbell’s action was near treasonous. In 1994, she had appeared with other supermodels in a campaign for PETA (People For the Ethical Treatment of Animals) in which the strapline was, “We’d rather go naked than wear fur.” Tyra Banks, shows, she interviewed Campbell. “I was tired of having to deal with you,” she told Campbell, accusing her of having tried to sabotage her early on in her career. The implication was that perhaps both of them recognized the limited number of places for black models at the top table. Campbell never acknowledged the rivalry, though it became a matter of public record. Last month, Campbell launched an anti-racism Diversity Coalition with David Bowie’s model wife Iman and agent Bethann Hardison. The Diversity Coalition sent an open letter outlining the extent to which a form of institutional racism affects the industry. Hardison wrote, “No matter the intention, the result is racism. Whether it’s the decision of the designer, stylist or casting director, that decision to use basically all white models, reveals a trait that is unbecoming to modern society.” (Click for the full text of the letter.)  This reflected the general state of the fashion industry. The Coalition pointed out that at New York Fashion Week just 6 percent of models were black and 9 percent were Asian and that fewer black models are used now than in the 1970s. One of Campbell’s first targets was Victoria Beckham, about whom I blogged recently. Of Beckham’s 30 models who appeared at the London Fashion Week, only one was not white. Some may find it strange that Campbell is taking time out from causing mayhem and applying herself to what is, after all, a serious social issue. But maybe the fury that at times seems to engulf her is the result of her own forceful efforts to claw her way to the top of a profession that offers slim chances to black aspirants.

@elliscashmore

Sir Alex’s torment

“The big problem for me … he fell in love”

I remember getting a call in my hotel room in Manchester in February, 2003. It was from a radio station that wanted me to go on air to talk about David Beckham’s fraying relationship with the then manager of his club Manchester United, Alex Ferguson. “Why? What’s happened?” I asked. “Apparently Ferguson has cut Beckham’s eye.” It became known as the “flying boot incident.” Ferguson had vented his rage at Beckham after an FA Cup tie against Arsenal and, for some reason, kicked a stray boot, which flew through the air and collided with Beckham’s face. With his typical flair for dramatizing small incidents, Beckham wore his hair fastened back with an Alice band so that the wound – treated with steri-strips – was clearly visible. The professional relationship between the two men had probably been deteriorating for a while, but this was the first tangible evidence. I could only speculate on radio that this was probably the beginning of the end. Ferguson was irritated that the player had become a focus of more media attention than Manchester United. One can only imagine what torment Victoria caused him: it seems she was pulling her husband in many directions, all of them wrong from Ferguson’s perspective. If she wasn’t taking him to Lenny Kravitz’s birthday bash, she was displaying him on the front row of Giorgio Armani’s new launch or introducing him to her friends Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana. For the hard-bitten Glaswegian, it must have been purgatory.

Ferguson’s new autobiography confirms what we all knew about his loss of patience with Beckham, though at the press conference to accompany the book’s publication, Ferguson let slip arguably an even more interesting insight: “The big problem for me [was] he fell in love with Victoria and that changed everything.” Read that again: the big problem for Ferguson was that Beckham fell in love with Victoria. This is exactly the kind of blunderingly insensitive remark that earns Ferguson respect from many people, who regard him as a kind of master of the dark arts of psychology. But is he?  He’s a good … no great football manager, perhaps the best there’s ever been, but he can also be boorish, crass and frequently shows no feeling or concern for others. How unfortunate for Ferguson that Beckham met a woman, fell in love, had children and became a celebrity athlete on par with Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods. Beckham, writes Ferguson in the book, thought “he was bigger than Sir Alex Ferguson.” The very idea, eh? “The name of the manager is irrelevant. The authority is what counts.” Football fans might argue that successful managers have to be authoritarian in the sense that they need obedience from players at the expense of personal freedoms. But this statement sounds like it comes from someone who can’t bear the prospect of one of his minions having the temerity to challenge him or even occupy other people’s attention. When Ferguson writes, “I could see him being swallowed up by the media or publicity agents.” You wonder what irked him more: the fact that Beckham was distracted by the lure of celebritydom, or that global interest in Posh and Becks, as the couple was then known, eclipsed interest in either the club or Ferguson. There was clearly a clash of egos at the club and, with no prospect of limiting Beckham’s celebrity ambitions or prising him away from Victoria, Ferguson’s only option was to release him. Beckham transferred to Real Madrid within months of the flying boot incident. Ferguson regards this as a “shame because he could still have been at Manchester United when I left. He would have been one of the greatest Man United legends.” We’re all sure he could too. But instead he became just a common or garden global icon.

 

The X Factor — cool or cruel?

X-Factor at the O2 London

How the show offers a perverse empowerment

The X Factor has turned into torture porn – that’s the film genre that specializes in exposing audiences to the wilfully cruel and sadistic infliction of pain, suffering and humiliation to others.  I’m exaggerating a bit: torture porn, as exemplified in movies such as Hostel, Vile and the Saw series, is intentionally about hurting people. The films attract audiences who share a taste for watching others in pain. The X Factor, by contrast, is supposed to be a talent contest. But it now seems to appeal to the torture porn sensibility: its viewers might once have been drawn to the singers and allowed themselves the indulgence of laughing at the manner in which the judges expressed their disapproval. But the current series seems vicious: the entertainment value of others’ pain seems to have been foregrounded to the point where the singing is almost supplementary.

A few weeks ago, contestant Hannah Sheares and two friends auditioned as Daisy Chain, a band, only to be told that, Hannah herself was passable, but her friends were useless and would have to be dumped. Presumably forgetting that bands like the Supremes, the Three Degrees and Destiny’s Child all did pretty well with a strong lead and two backing singers, the judges offered Hannah the chance to progress as a solo performer. Amid much crying, she did so and lost her friends. “We don’t talk any more,” Hannah stated the obvious. She was eliminated from the show a couple of few weeks later. When the panel gave the same choice to another band, the trio refused, though a week later, the lead singer mysteriously re-appeared minus her two friends, meaning that she had been persuaded. It’s not the first time the show has made enemies out of friends and it could always be argued that the choice always remains with the contestants. Yet it seems a peculiarly vicious and unnecessary way of filtering out “talent” and, if we are honest, the way in which the camera dwells on the breakups suggests the producers think we enjoy becoming voyeurs. Maybe they are right.

The X Factor is not just a television show, it’s a cultural phenomenon. There has never been anything quite like it in the history of television. Starting in 2004, it has launched the careers of Leona Lewis, Alexandra Burke and, of course, One Direction (about whom I blogged a few weeks ago). It has also given career boosts to panellists, particularly Cheryl Cole, Nicole Scherzinger and Tulisa Contostavlos. Its viewing audience is barely believable. Over the years it has regularly snagged 40% of the total audience share and, even in slumps, draws in 10 million viewers. At its historic high point in 2010, 17.2 million tuned in to watch Matt Cardle triumph – that’s over 27% of the total population of the UK. It’s perfectly in sync with today’s culture, inviting audiences to vote using their phones and to tweet, text and engage fully with social media. In a sense it offers a perfect cultural democracy. But, as the show morphs from a talent contest to an all-purpose entertainment platform, its benign character has changed. It is now a heartless, insensitive and callous psychodrama in which astringent is poured on open wounds.

Like the torture porn filmmakers, the X Factor producers would probably shrug and say, “That’s what the audience wants.” They have a point: no one points a gun to the heads of 10 million telly watchers and demands they stay glued to their screens every Saturday and Sunday anymore than filmgoers are scooped up from the streets, strapped into place and forced to watch people having limbs cut off without anaesthetic.  Viewers not only want to watch, they feel entitled to watch the slaughter and the human response that accompanies it. As the torture porn fan delights in witnessing the pleading, the whimpering and, best of all, the sobbing, the X Factor fan enjoys the privilege of observing human emotion at its most painful. We can identify with the rejected wannabes to whom winning would mean “everything” and this confers its own empathic rewards. Living in celebrity culture makes us realize how fragile hopes of instant fame are popular currency. But the real bonus is that we can also identify with the torturers … I mean, the judges: the power to grant someone’s wildest dreams or consign them to oblivion is something viewers have never had, and probably never will have. But by aligning themselves with Sharon or Louis as they traumatize young hopefuls and reduce them to incoherent losers, they get to identify with the powerful too. And the best bit is this: no one feels bad about this. There may be a brief moment of sorrow as the losing contestant blubs inconsolably and either promises to come back stronger or just go back to stacking shelves at the supermarket, but it passes as soon as the next TalkTalk commercial arrives. The perverse empowerment offered by the show is too good to risk undermining with sympathy.

Now the filmed sequences are over, we are into “live” shows and audiences will bear witness to exhibitions of inconsolable distress as their judges deliver their agonizingly prolonged verdicts (“I’m gonna say … ” followed by a 10-second wait). Years ago, we might have felt uncomfortable and switched channels. Who takes pleasure not just in other people’s distress, but in their shameless, often excruciating public display of that distress? I know the answer to this question. So do you.

@elliscashmore

 

 

 

 

 

Celebrity afterlife

Film immortalizes more surely than human memory. This week sees the release of two films, each dealing with the life of dead people on whom we confer enduring fame. Diana, as we all know, is the already-panned biopic focusing on the last two years of the Princess’s life. Rush is about James Hunt, the F1 champion, who led an epically hedonistic life and died from a heart attack in 1993 at 45. Diana died in 1997 aged 36 after a road accident in Paris. But they both live on in the popular imagination, not in a morbid kind of way, but in a spirit of reverence and, in Diana’s case, adoration. We imagine Diana as everlastingly radiant, not as the 52-year-old she would have been had she lived. And, while Hunt would have been around the same age as Bruce Springsteen, David Bowie and Jeff Bridges – all still relevant figures, of course – we think of him as the rakishly handsome roué he was in the 1970s.

Diana and Hunt are not alone: our imaginations are full of famous figures who seem as real and relevant today as they did when they dominated the headlines. There are many, many more famous characters who we think about, not as historical figures, but as contemporary presences. “Our contact with celebrities is so limited that we view them as mirages until the one event that restores them their real physical presence, their deaths, the moment of our greatest intimacy with them,” writes the American scholar Daniel Harris in his 2008 essay “Celebrity deaths.” Harris’s argument is that the death of celebrities is “the ultimate democratic epiphany” in that, in a sudden moment of revelation, it their demise reminds us that, despite their status, they are “as liable to physical misfortunes as the best of us.”

The reaction to death serves to reinforce what Harris calls solidarity, by which I presume he means a unity or harmony that endures long after. Posthumous exposés may lay bare aspects of a celebrity’s life that may change our evaluations, but a dead person can’t actually do anything to alter a bond forged by death. Marilyn Monroe may have set a deplorable example of ostentation and promiscuity in the 1950s, but on her death she was beatified. Indeed, later revelations made her seem more a victim than she ever did in life. Elton John and Bernie Taupin memorably used T. H. White’s 1958 phrase “Candle in the wind” to capture her fragility in their 1973 song; they modified the lyric in 1997 to eulogize Princess Diana, who was also worshipped more in death than in life.

Norma Jeane Mortenson may have died, but Marilyn lived on, making hers the first death to lead to a renewal and, for this reason, the first celebrity death. (James Dean died earlier, in 1955, aged 24, and his image was borne on countless tee-shirts and posters. But his life was never probed and exhibited, and he was respected as much for the postwar rebellious spirit of youth he personified than himself.)

Wheeler Winston Dixon, a professor of film studies, observes how images of dead celebrities become frozen in time, surrounded with manufactured fantasies, immune from aging. The everlasting image of Marilyn, who like Diana, died aged 36 is of a lucent-eyed, smolderingly vivacious and affectingly shallow blonde. Her depths were plumbed only after her death. Hers was a death that guaranteed immortality. And there were others. Jimi Hendrix (1942-70), Elvis Presley (1935-77), John Lennon (1940-80) and Tupac Shakur (1971-96) were all sanctified in a secular sense. “Any negativity [about their lives] has long been digested by the popular culture – and they’ve stood the test of time,” writes historian Robert Klara.

Helping them stand the test are corporations with interests in resurrecting them via film, music and merchandise. Digital technologies have facilitated their appearance in advertising and, in the cases of Frank Sinatra (1915-98) on stage – in the form of a moving holographic image. All have been subjects of biopics, in Diana’s case several times over. Her death started a cycle of renewal as writers, film makers and corporations revived not just her image, but her existence in any exploitable form. Journalists Ross D. Petty and Denver D’Rozario have produced a cold-hearted analysis of the bonuses offered by departed: “Living celebrities are both expensive and risky … Deceased celebrities have the advantage of being both less expensive and less likely to suddenly lose popularity.”

Exposing our private parts

Keith Lemon thought

Privacy. Has it vanished? Is there part of your life that you jealously protect, don’t want observed or discussed with other people and restrict to yourself and perhaps very close confidantes? Or do you live a life that’s pretty much open to inspection by all and which you’re happy to share with others, even people you don’t know and will probably never meet?

In the 1980s when BBC launched its show Through the Keyhole, it was a daring innovation: the host Lloyd Grossman led viewers into the homes of famous people, scrutinizing the décor and furniture in an effort to disclose aspects of their character. The show was predicated on the intellectually respectable assumption that the physical places in which people live offered a reliable reflection of aspects of their “real” personality rather than the public persona they presented to their audiences. It was a legitimate invasion of privacy and offered viewers a rare sight of the largely hidden side of the rich and famous.

Last Saturday, ITV revived the concept, replacing the vowel-strangling gastronome with “Keith Lemon,” alter ego of Leigh Francis. Unsurprisingly, the show removed any intellectual pretensions or ingenuity. The formula was camped up, but the pleasure it offered viewers was essentially the same.

At the time of the original series, most people would have felt slightly uncomfortable about wandering into the homes of other people and poking around their personal belongings. But only slightly. And when viewed through the filter of television, the whole experience seemed completely wholesome. The beauty of the show was that it effectively turned us into shameless peeping toms.  No one felt guilty about invading others’ privacy.

Since then, we have less respect for other people’s private lives. Celebrity culture is founded on our curiosity: we don’t just want to know about other people’s private lives – we demand they don’t have private lives at all. We insist on having access to all areas of their lives. And, in exchange, we’re prepared to share our own lives. Facebook, twitter and other social media have painlessly removed any semblance of privacy – or perhaps, more accurately, they have turned it inside out. Many people provide minutely detailed logs of their daily lives, complete with accounts of their own views, opinions, feelings, emotions and all kind of personal states that they wouldn’t have dreamt of discussing in public in the 1980s. In recent decades the old-school privacy has receded. Television has both initiated and responded to this. Just look at the Jeremy Kyle Show: people clamour to appear on telly to reveal the most intimately embarrassing details of their lives in front of 1.5 million viewers.

Privacy has been under assault in all sorts of other ways: CCTV cameras surround us, many of your newspapers and magazines are dedicated purely to discovering dirty little secrets, credit card companies store an astonishing amount of detail on us. And we don’t seem to mind; we just accept that today’s society is like a vast panopticon – a circular prison in which prisoners can at all times be observed.

We’re both parts of and creators of a voyeuristic culture: we neither object to be being watched and infiltrated, nor mind admitting that we enjoy watching and infiltrating others.  Ravenous for information on other people, not just celebs, but anyone we care about, we’ve become nosey parkers. If you don’t probe others’ lives, you can’t really care about them at all. No one, it seems, feels embarrassed about tweeting the kind of information that would have made them squirm a few years ago.

The new show is in this sense catches the zeitgeist much more than the original. Back in the 1980s every scene set a question and we, assisted by Grossman and, later, the recently deceased David Frost, were invited to supply an answer. Lemon is less complex. The problem is: does the new show still have the power to surprise? After all, part of the pleasure of the first show lay in the little thrill of penetrating someone else’s private domain. Now we know full well the homes may be owned or rented by someone else, but we also know they are allowing cameras free entry because they have to: they are just filling their side of a bargain. That’s part of the deal in celebrity culture: anyone with aspirations to become a celebrity has to surrender their private life. In a way we all surrender our private lives.

Consumers today insist on a constant stream of information and, if they don’t get it, they lose interest. Once that interest has gone, the celebrity is effectively consigned to oblivion. This is a problem for the new show: it’s going to have a tough time presenting us with anything new; so it can’t really surprise, less still shock us in the way the Grossman show managed. We’re no longer peeping toms who need our pangs of guilt assuaged. We’re inquisitive, intrusive, snooping eavesdroppers and not the least bit embarrassed by our nosiness.

What connects 1D fans with the girls in Peru?

One Direction

Chaos theory concerns connections between seemingly unconnected events: like a temperature rise in the Atlantic initiating a hurricane across the Indian Ocean and a tsunami in the Pacific. 70,000 young people flocked to London’s Leicester Square to catch glimpse members of One Direction as they attended the premiere of the band’s film.  6,000 miles away in Lima, Peru, two 20-year old women attended their first formal hearing after being caught with £1.5million worth of cocaine hidden in their suitcases at the airport. They face up to 25 years in prison, if found guilty. The two events have a common source.

Young people today are fascinated by glamour: the attractive and exciting quality that makes certain people or things seem appealing has never gripped them so tightly. They are enchanted, captivated, thrilled by the glitz and pizzazz they find not just surrounding them but invading their imaginations.

<p class="MsoNormal" Directioners are not dimwits: they love the band, but they know that, in a sense Liam, Harry, Zayn, Niall and Louis are their proxy: after all, the band is a product of The X Factor and its success on the show (3rd place, 2010) was made possible by viewers’  — in other words, their — votes. 1D fans are rightly proprietorial – they behave as if they own the band. So when they see the band enjoying the highlife, appearing in every conceivable media, leaping from one triumph to another, they too experience a strong vicarious gratification.

Michaella Connolly and Melissa Reid may be fans of the band.  Even if they’re not, I’m sure they share with Directioners the craving for what the writer Christopher Lasch called “the good life,” in which there is  “endless novelty, change and excitement [and] the titillation of the senses by available stimulant.” (Check Melissa’s Facebook photos.) Exotic images of luxury, romance and affluence dominate the media that engulfs, not just them but all of us. This is modern consumerism and, whether we like it or not, we are part of it.

Michaella and Melissa are indistinguishable from the thousands who congregated at Leicester Square. They’re products of the same culture, one that emphasizes impulse rather than calculation as the determinant of human conduct. They’ve all learned to spurn traditional values of thrift and self-denial and respond to every new demand our media issues. But young people are not hapless fools. Anything but: they know there is a manipulation going on. When they see the latest smartphone dangled in front of them, they tumble to what’s going on. Use values have been replaced by exchange values, events by images and quality by newness.

Obviously, I can’t know the exact motivation of the young women now awaiting their fate in South America. But I’m pretty sure their ill-starred adventure had its source in the desire to find an alternative to the unendurable settled life they saw lying ahead of them at home. They were prepared to travel thousands of miles to escape their humdrum existences. Their restless ambition and nagging dissatisfaction with things as they were encouraged by an appetite for excitement, glamour and celebrity. In this sense they are connected as if by an invisible chain to the thousands of worshipful young fans of 1D.