Why Does Anyone Read Those Celebrity Magazines? by James Underwood

Why On Earth Does Anyone Read Those Celebrity Magazines? All hail the Glitteratti, a materialistically elected neo-aristocracy, whose icons create the lifestyles and moral character of a new world; a world where political debate has been transcended by the power of mass-media cool. Dare you disagree? Any dissent will be reprocessed, re-assimilated, repackaged, rebranded and sold back to you!
My lords, ladies, gentlemen, and most of all wannabes, welcome! Welcome to a world perfected by the striving of millions of artisans and courtesans! A sensual paradise of style and artistic exuberance, a material utopia where only beautiful people live, their Dolce and Gabbana adorned with Bulgari diamond cuff links and necklaces to make Lady Rothschild blush, where even Swarovski crystals are put to shame as the imitation bling of the neo-peasantry, where even the natural oases of the world are overshadowed by the smiles of celebrities conjured in Photoshop!


Hello, OK and welcome to the materialist utopia of today, a world where no excess is beyond the reach of the rich, the beautiful, the talented, and yet a world freed from the constraints of one’s start in life; where anyone with suitable sexual appeal, or a particularly skilled, if superficial, surgeon may rise above their station in life -well that or a lifetime’s entrepreneurial drive, or ten years gambling on oil futures with other people’s money! But importantly a utopia where all enlightenment values have been given full reign, where equality is assured and the successful marked out not by birth but their own virile and vigorous pursuit of fame, fortune and socially acceptable excess! Pete Doherty may not apply! Fear not! The void in our lives left by the death of the aristocracy has been filled, for we now have the glitterati!
Welcome to the world of today, a world open to all and within my grasp, your grasp, anybody’s grasp, yet seemingly, like the trials of Tantalus always just beyond your reach. It is the light at the end of the tunnel, it’s the perfect weekend, the Christmas bonus, the reason we work and how we dream of playing! The lifestyles of the rich and famous have become an obsession to so many millions around the globe as they are not other people’s lives, but their lives idealised for them, and captured in Technicolor print and sold in piecemeal form at a price anyone can afford. No matter how much the interest from the maxed-out credit card is costing you, you can always escape to the edge of the catwalk, where J-Lo and A-Rod cast their connoisseur’s eye over the latest fashion, whose derivatives you will buy from Primark come next season’s sales!
But these riches amongst the many daily rags are no mere procession of style tips, oh no! Indeed they are the new Sunday sermon; how would we know how to feel, or when to give were the philanthropic deeds of those who have proven themselves our betters not demonstrated in the self-effacing interview with benevolent broker, whose Hollywood beauty hosted his charity ball? Would we care for the malnourished 1.5 billion inhabitants of this world had two or three of them not been adopted by someone we watch on the all-seeing-eye in the corner of the lounge? Of course not! Indeed that poor 2.5 billion subsisting on less than two dollars a day would indeed be invisible were it not for a day out sandwiched between Glastonbury and Reading once every decade!

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It would seem that we the eternal teenager locked in mortal combat with the dreaded establishment of our forefathers have won! Our icons, our heroes have now permeated every strata of civilisation; why, it’s been a generation since The Rolling Stones received OBEs or MBEs or whatever royal seal of approval was deemed appropriate to welcome these men of taste and distinction to the world, but it makes you wonder who really won? To the casual observer of popular culture it would seem that we have truly won when once a goth might live in fear wandering the streets at night, boys in mascara generally inviting massacre; now guy-liner is an essential appendage to any self-respecting modern man, Emo is everywhere, an endemic sub-culture phenomenon in every comprehensive, indeed ambiguous sexuality is a trend, even half of Brangelina’s doing it, and that indeed is a very real victory for so many.
But though festivals become ever more popular year in year out, and the Kings of Leon sound like indie, if only indie-light, and I did, actually, like some Greenday and wasn’t it cool when Rage Against the Machine beat that trash from the X-Factor and though Pink may be pop punk, you would wouldn’t you, and Lady Gaga may be but a piece of meat with a mouth, but it’s a mouth that promotes the rights of the sexually oppressed, and a mouth more than welcome to liberate my oppression, did we win or were we wooed by popularisation of the cultures we loved, that improved the mainstream whilst weakening the cultures they came from.

But this is not the issue at hand. In the process of doing so, any sense of genuine rebellion against the established order of our world has withered away . . .

Gone are summers of love one and two and the desire for fundamental reform of our world as the likeness of our heroes became subsumed in the culture of continuous glamour. Indeed in the years that consumer culture and alternative lifestyles have become ever more entwined, the disparity between rich and poor has, throughout the globe, grown wider with the deconstruction of controlled capitalism, only to bite itself on the ass within a generation. But our world where glamour is the opiate of the people, our ‘bread and circus’ distracting us from the real issues of age, the triumvirate of problems poised by poverty, population growth and climate change, the ones we are inspired to care, if only momentarily, by our stars, is one with a curious paradox. Our heroes of stage and screen are daring to be heroic and yet represent the very system whose neglect, oppression and exploitation of the human and natural world is so at fault. Indeed they are of those who have become more enfranchised by the disparities of wealth created by the neo-liberal economic engine that is the underlying driver of our attempted materialist utopia; amongst the amassed ranks of entrepreneurs, industrialists and financiers are sports personalities and our beloved celebrity entertainers.


And then the sham reveals itself as we remember that though the society pages may now be filled with representatives of the new egalitarian world – the erstwhile celebrity – they suddenly are seen hobnobbing with the noble houses of Europe, indeed just this week the majestic children of blue blood lineage went back to school like the rest of the plebs and one has to wonder who now is giving who social acceptability?
I mean does Fergie make Bono cool or Bono make Fergie cool? Our heroes have ceased to fight and joined the rank and file of a society that is not willing to change; instead it is branding our rebellion and selling it to our children all soundtracked by the Prodigy – “babies got a temper, we’ll never tame ya”. A shame as, despite my essentially socialist dissection of the glamorous world we are bred to be a part of and my dismissive attitude toward the icons of our era, I’m not immune to it. Hell, as an adolescent I thought Brad Pitt was the very definition of cool, especially those David Fincher movies.

Se7en showed the depressing depravity of a fallen world and why to fight it and Fight Club, well Fight Club wanted to tear down the world, and so do I, but why? What is it within capitalism that the effervescent Tyler Durden so hates?

The emasculation of man by a materialist utopia that is failing to make us rock gods and movie stars, buying us off with trinkets and toys, the vast majority of us just little units of capital to be exploited at work and then spend our hard earned cashish on goods sold to us by a way of life our popular culture icons exemplify for us; never once does this masterpiece of the post generation-X world mention the exploitation of humanity and the natural world, inherent in neo-liberal capitalism, or the volatility of its financial structure, its tendency towards oppression or it being prone to gross systemic breakdown as any historian of the 20th century should see. No it, like so many media campaigns pulls its punch, stopping short of rocking the world, and my lords, ladies, gentleman and any other fucker still listening, I think this world is in dire need of being . . . rocked.

Licenced under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported.


James Underwood gave this talk at the Palatine bar in 21 September 2010

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