No More Heroes

(Previously published in the McTavish Opera blog 4 December 2013)
The Cult of Celebrity; why it is out of control, and why it is dangerous.

On 23 August 1926 Rudolph Valentino, movie heartthrob and star of silent movies, died of peritonitis and pleuritis in the New York Polyclinic Hospital, aged only 31. The aftermath of Valentino’s death sent shockwaves among his great many fans, the overwhelming majority of whom were girls and women. The following day saw an all-day riot in New York City, requiring 100 New York Police Department mounted officers called in to restore order, as women tried to get to his body, some of them not believing the story. Some women even committed suicide, including two outside the hospital. When Valentino’s body was taken to funeral mass at Saint Malachy’s Church on 49th Street and Broadway, approximately 100,000 fans lined the streets to pay their respect.

People have always had, and seem to need, heroes. And the “cult of celebrity” was of course nothing new. Naturalist Charles Darwin (1809-1882) enjoyed celebrity status in his day. Possibly the first ever professional model, Lilly Langtree (1853-1929) – known as “The Jersey Lilly” – had picture postcards of herself produced and had cult status around the world; including even the tough ‘Judge’ Roy Bean had the Texas town he brought peace to renamed ‘Langtry’ (sic) in her honour. And the actor and playwright Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) was both extremely popular and despised in equal measure; seeking notoriety where he could not find fame – a “cult” of a different kind.

Valentino’s death was however a watershed. It marked a new milestone in the cult of celebrity, as never before had so many people been so deeply affected by a death of a public person. The still new media of the motion picture had taken the great on-screen lover, Rudolph Valentino, to the hearts of millions of women and girls. Seen as an Adonis, practically a demigod, his death could not be believed by many and left others confused, disturbed, hurt and heartbroken. And so it was that the cult of celebrity entered the modern age.

Increasing technology saw the cult of celebrity soar. As silent movies gave way to the ‘talkies’, both women and men found new heartthrobs among the many actors. Magazines such as Variety started including photographs of actors and actresses which found their way onto the walls and locker doors of many girls, women, men and boys. Cigarette manufacturers started including collectable cards with pictures of the most famous actors of the day.

In the music industry, the Edison wax reel gave way to the phonograph record, just as ragtime was making it’s transition into jazz. From Jazz, swing and the big band sound would be born. Everyone was astounded when at the height of war, the doyen of all band leaders, Glenn Miller, disappeared on a routine flight. Then a young man from Tupelo, Mississippi, USA, burst onto the scene with his eclectic mix of Rock ‘n’ Roll, blues and country music. And when he appeared shaking his hips on the relatively new medium of television, teenagers across the USA, then worldwide, went wild. Elvis had entered the building. And he took the cult of celebrity to a whole new height.

He was not alone of course. Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard and Bill Haley among others were enjoying similar adulation, and the thing got to such a level that the US government got together with the record companies to produce “clean cotton” – a soft, harmless form of ‘rock’ which they felt would not lead teenagers astray. In came the “Bobbys” – Bobby Vee, Bobby Gentry, Bobby Goldsboro – and the like with their “tum-te-tum” music, and suddenly clean-cut good all-American boys were teen idols. Even Elvis, feared by parents and moralists at first, cleaned up his act. A spell in the army established him as America’s favourite son, then some idiot suggested that he should act in his own movies, thereby further entrenching his celebrity status. Elvis was indeed a great singer, guitarist, songwriter and showman. He was never an actor. However, the public bought it, and attended his movies in droves.

But Rock being a living thing, nobody could halt it’s natural evolution. So it was inevitable that something had to fill the void. Enter four young men from Liverpool, England. The Beatles took the cult of celebrity to fever pitch like nothing ever had before (or possibly has since). With thousands of screaming, hysterical teenage girls and the police struggling to keep order, it was obvious there was a new phenomenon at play. All four of the Beatles, and their families, were constantly stalked by fans. John Lennon’s first wife, Cynthia Powell, writes in her story of life with John, A Twist of Lennon that she and other girlfriends and wives of band members would routinely receive death threats and would at times require police surveillance to prevent attacks.

The Beatles also appeared in their own movies, but these were pretty much tongue in cheek and never serious efforts at cinematography. They did however change the UK – and the cult of celebrity – forever. They were recognised by the establishment in 1965 when each was presented with the MBE (Most excellent Order of the British Empire) for ‘Services to Entertainment’. This caused a lot of consternation with the fuddy-duddies of British society, not least because not one of the Beatles had ever seen any military service. Some other recipients of medals returned theirs in protest. However, the awards stood and the cult of celebrity had been put up another notch. John Lennon returned his MBE in protest to Britain’s support of the USA in the Vietnam War in 1969. The Beatles split to pursue their own careers at the end of 1970, and there were many fans in tears, unable to believe or comprehend that the dream was indeed over. John Lennon’s second wife, Yoko Ono, was unjustly blamed for breaking the band up, became a hate target and like Cynthia before her, received death threats.

Amidst all this in the 1960s, celebrity status was beginning to creep into politics, and never more so than with the youngest president the USA has ever had. John F Kennedy, elected in 1961, was extremely charismatic. When he said “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask rather what you can do for your country.” it was a soundbite which struck a chord with millions of Americans from all backgrounds. His virulent anti-Communism, being the only president to face down a Soviet premier and make him blink first, his commitment to the USA taking the lead in the space race, and his stance on Civil Rights all made him extremely popular. As he was being driven through Dallas, in the staunchly Republican bible belt of the deep south on 22 November 1963, even there thousands turned out to see him. And the last words he heard were perhaps those of Governor Connolly when he turned in his car seat and told Jack Kennedy “You can’t say Dallas doesn’t love you, Mister President.” Seconds later a bullet smashed through the president’s brain, killing him.

The reaction to John F Kennedy’s death was enormous, not just in the USA but all around the world. He was well-loved and represented new hope for a tired and war-weary world. With his death, many dreams seemed to be smashed, and it became a common soundbite that everyone knows where they were the day Kennedy was shot. That is just how much high regard he was held in. The same can be said of his brother Robert, who was equally charismatic and charming and enjoying his own celebrity cult when he too was assassinated.

Linked to the Kennedy brothers was the foremost actress and pin-up girl of the day, Marilyn Monroe. Born Norman Jean Baker, Monroe was America’s favourite daughter. Through her many movies she had become the blonde bombshell who outshone all other actresses of the day. Marilyn was portrayed of something of a gold-digger and a bimbo, when in fact she was neither. She in fact said a great many things aimed at American girls of the day, telling them that they could be anything they wanted to be. These things ensured that she would develop a cult which would never diminish. And when she was found dead of a drug overdose, American and the world were shocked. Despite the evidence suggesting that Marilyn Monroe accidentally overdosed, there were those who refused to believe that this doyen of American womanhood could do any wrong, and fingers began to be pointed at the Kennedy brothers.

Ever since the 1960s, therefore, the cult of celebrity has indeed been huge and ever with us. The 1970s brought huge adulation, goodness knows why, to among others The Osmonds, my home town’s own Bay City Rollers, and (shudder) Gary Glitter and the Glitter Band. Elvis Presley, now sweaty, drugged to the eyeballs, and so fat he could only fit in a jumpsuit, was still enjoying the adoration of his fans. Then on 16 August 1977 the years of excess of drug taking and overeating finally took it’s toll. Elvis had left the building forever. The immediate reaction was that of ‘grieving’ fans in hysterics, and a great many believing it was a hoax, that he was still alive and – like some latter-day King Arthur – would one day return to rule again. Incredibly, there are still some people who believe this to this day.

Having taken five years out to bring up their son Sean, John Lennon and Yoko Ono cut a new joint album, Double Fantasy, in 1980. On 8 December that year, the couple were returning home from David Geffen’s studio, The Hit Factory, in New York City when they were approached by a young fan, Mark David Chapman. Chapman, mentally ill and convinced that he was John Lennon and the former Beatle was an imposter, emptied a gun into John outside the couple’s home. Lennon, aged 40, died from loss of blood. The reaction was immediate. As news spread out across NYC, thousands gathered outside the Dakota Apartments where John and Yoko lived. Many to pay homage, many – just as so many had done with Elvis – simply not believing that John was dead. Just like Valentino, there were suicides reported. Probably one of the most unsavoury aspects to John Lennon’s murder was that of some fans calling for the death penalty for Mark Chapman, whilst others wanted to take the law into their own hands and kill him with their own bare hands. John Lennon, a strong believer in human rights and a committed pacifist, would have been the first to condemn such views.

The 1980s brought in a whole new concept to the cult of celebrity; the spin doctor. Perhaps it was the fault of the USA, electing former movie actor Ronald Reagan as president, but suddenly and increasingly politicians were being coached on their dress, appearance, body language and even what to say. It was the age of cheesy soundbites. “U-turn if you want to,” quipped UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, “The lady’s not for turning.” Ronald Reagan, attempting to emulate Jack Kennedy (and failing badly) went to Berlin and said over the PA “Mister Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” Even in the opposition, the spin doctors were having a field day. Neil Kinnock, leader of the Labour Party in the UK, was filmed cavorting on a beach with his wife Glenys, and the two of them falling into the surf. A move which backfired badly when it was likened to a parody of the beach scene in the movie From Here to Eternity. Yet the ‘charisma’ of both Thatcher and Reagan seemed to have worked. Despite pursuing disastrous economic policies and a great many questionable foreign and domestic policy acts, Thatcher won three consecutive elections; 1979, 1983 and 1987, while Reagan was successfully re-elected in 1986. Perhaps it was that Thatcher was the UK’s first woman prime minister, and that Reagan was a former actor and familiar face which were factors in their success. There is one thing for sure, spin certainly played a strong part in the way they were portrayed.

The cult of celebrity took a new turn in 1986 when as well as the USA having an ex-actor as a president, the actor Clint Eastwood was elected as mayor of Carmel-by-the-Sea. This was followed two years later by singer Sonny Bono becoming mayor of Palm Springs. Had these men not been famous, it is extremely doubtful that they ever would have been elected.

The 1990s were the decade when I believe the rot really set in. After the dull Prime Ministership of the gray man, John Major in the UK, the spin-manufactured Tony Blair with his ‘New’ Labour Party was just waiting to step out of the wings with his “third way”. Young, charismatic, vibrant, Blair was portrayed by his spin doctors as the man of the people. There were interviews and photoshoots on hot days, showing him with jacket off, no tie, and patches of sweat underneath his armpits. Blair was all show and no substance – and the people fell for it when they elected him as Prime Minister in 1997. There was definitely a cult of celebrity around Blair when he was elected and for a short time afterwards. For all the good he did the UK, the people would have been as well voting for Lionel Blair.

As well as Blair however, a new phenomenon entered British politics when one Martin Bell decided to run for parliament in the 1997 General Election. What past experience and qualifications did Martin Bell have to be a Member of Parliament? Absolutely none. His past job in fact had been as a well-known BBC News correspondent. Bell had widely covered news in some of the hottest trouble spots around the world and had been wounded by shrapnel in Bosnia in 1992. He was awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE) the same year. Martin Bell, known as The Man in the White Suit due his trademark clothing, stood as an Independent candidate in the Tatton constituency in the 1997 election. The sitting MP, Neil Hamilton, had been involved in sleaze allegations and was thereby deeply unpopular. Tony Blair’s spin doctor, Alastair Campbell, decided it would be a good idea for Labour to withdraw their candidate. Martin Bell romped home to victory, overturning a Conservative majority of over 22,000. Bell was in fact rarely active in the House of Commons, and when he did – which must have been to Campbell’s anger – he generally backed the Conservatives. He certainly was against reducing the age of consent for gay men and opposed the ban on fox hunting. He stepped down at the 2001 election. Not that it mattered; the crossover from television personality to politician had become reality in the UK.

Not that Martin Bell was alone. The actress Glenda Jackson had been elected as a Labour MP in the 1992 General Election. Give her her due, Glenda Jackson more represents grass roots old Labour and was often highly critical of Tony Blair and was to eventually openly challenge Blair for the Labour leadership, and in 2006 joined the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru as well as 30 other MPs calling for an inquiry into the Iraq war.

The 1990s were the decade of falseness. These were the boom years of music company manufactured boy and girl bands and ‘Britpop’. The Spice Girls, completely manufactured, burst onto the scene in 1996 and almost every one of their cheesy songs was an instant hit. They went on to make a movie, Spice World, a mere year later, which was little more than a rip-off of the Beatles movie A Hard Day’s Night; thereby underlining their manufactured image of “the female Beatles”. Most people should not have been taken in by the falseness of the Spice Girls or their inadequacy to do much other than look pretty and lip-sync poorly written songs. Continual and prolonged media bombardment however saw them constantly in the limelight, and their falseness did not prevent band member Geri Halliwell becoming a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Population Fund in 1997, despite having no qualifications for the job. That was the same year by the way that Geri left and the band split. But then, the 1990s were notorious for here today, gone tomorrow, disposable bands.

In 1981 the heir to the British throne, Prince Charles, married Lady Diana Spencer, who portrayed herself as a shy, shrinking violet. Once the ring was on the finger, all that changed and she showed herself to be a fun seeker and somewhat domineering. The marriage of good time girl Diana and the Prince of Wales was showing strain in the late 1980s. By the early 1990s, it was common knowledge that both were having affairs. They finally divorced in 1995. This left Diana free to party on as much as possible and she soon surrounded herself with showbiz friends such as Elton John, George Michael, Phil Collins, and the Scots comedian Billy Connolly (no longer making jokes about the establishment but now brown-nosing them). Diana was still officially a royal princess and said she wanted to be seen as the “Princess of Hearts” (God gie us a guid conceit o’ oorseels). She made a great media play of her hugging AIDS sufferers and highlighting the carnage that landmines cause. She also took up in a relationship with Dodi Al Fayed, son of millionaire businessman and then owner of Harrods, Mohammed Al Fayed. The two left the Ritz Hotel with security guard Trevor Rees-Jones in Paris at approximately 12:20am on 31 August 1997 and were sped away in a Mercedes by their driver, Henri Paul. Nobody knows exactly how it happened but five minutes later the car smashed into a pillar in the Alma Tunnel. Paul and Al Fayed were killed instantly. Rees-Jones and Diana were seriously injured and she died on the operating table at Pitié-Salpétrière Hospital at 4:00am

The reaction to Diana’s death was ridiculous. There was hardly a TV station one could escape from it, not just on the day but for days afterwards. The entire UK – the world – behaved as if they had lost a close family member. Five days later Mother Teresa of Calcutta died and there were t-shirts produced showing the two of them hand-in-hand as angels. There were even calls to have Diana canonised as a saint. The newspapers were full of false outpourings of grief which a great deal of the UK – and world – population joined in with. People were caught on camera openly crying and saying how sad it was and how they were ‘devastated’. Elton John reworked his 1970s hit about Marilyn Monroe, Candle in the Wind, with new words, renaming it Goodbye England’s Rose. Earlier in 1997 the capital of the island of Montserrat, Plymouth, was abandoned after it was buried in volcanic ash. The Montserrat governnent proposed renaming the new capital, Brades, Port Diana (although this has never been carried out). When Diana’s funeral took place, it was broadcast simultaneously on all the major TV networks, and as ever the public fawned all over it. A few of us however, looked upon it as nothing more than the rather sad and untimely death of yet another victim of drunk driving. The only bit that got me was when the coffin was led into St Paul’s Cathedral and there was a small white wreath on the front with the single word “Mummy” on it. That did make me choke back the tears – that her two little boys, William and Harry, had lost their mother.

Diana had set herself up as this great carer about children – and there may be some truth in that. So the final irony came when a memorial fountain was opened in Hyde Park, London, dedicated to her. Kids were supposed to be able to play in it, but in the first few days of it being opened, children slipped in it and cracked their heads off the hard concrete. The entire thing had to be closed, redesigned and rebuilt to make it safer.

Feelings still run so deep about Diana that I know I am going to get stick for writing these things. I couldn’t care less. Tragic and sad, yes. But then so is every innocent victim of a drunk driver, and so is every kid losing a parent, and these things happen all the time. I never knew Diana, neither did you, the reader. Since her death there has been an entire industry of Diana momentoes grown up – and the gullible public are stupid enough to buy them, even when most of them have never been authorised. In the end she was a human being with human failings, just like you and I, no different. She was certainly no saint, and I am sure that if she could hear any such suggestion, she would laugh herself back into the grave.

If the 1990s were the decade of falseness, then one would have thought we would have learned as a new millennium dawned. No such luck. In fact, the ‘noughties’ brought in a hideous new concept which curses our televisions to this day – the reality show. The first and most odious of these was Big Brother; a show in which a number of people are put into a house to be filmed day and night. For the life of me I cannot see the appeal of this show, although it was and remains enormously popular. Out of Big Brother grew a new and insidious trend; those who had appeared on it suddenly were given ‘celebrity’ status; they were sought for newspaper interviews and made other TV appearances. The concept of ‘famous for being famous’ was thus born.

Of course, not content with hosting members of the public, there had to be the spin-off of ‘Celebrity Big Brother’, which featured mostly forgotten and z-list celebrities. Then the disturbing concept of politicians entered their ranks. First off the rank was the far-left leader of the Respect (no irony intended) Party, George Galloway. Galloway actually used to be a fine thinker and once had a lot to say I agreed with. However, since his publicity seeking on Celebrity Big Brother (and the fact he has a handshake like being handed a wet fish), prancing about in a leotard and pretending to be a cat, I lost all respect I formerly had for him. Since then his mind appears to have become increasingly deranged and I reckon he is best ignored. For me personally the most painful time was when Scotland’s own Tommy Sheridan, leader of the Scottish Socialist Party, went on Celebrity Big Brother. Tommy was once something of a hero of mine. In the 1980s he was leader of the Scottish anti-Poll Tax rallies (which were always entirely peaceful, unlike the riots which ensued in England), he was a fine socialist orator, was an effective Member of the Scottish Parliament, and he was responsible for devising the Debt Arrangement Scheme – designed to help people in debt and keep them away from loan sharks. So I found it rather sad that he felt it necessary to court publicity by appearing on Celebrity Big Brother. Worse than that, Coolio was on the same show – and Tommy shamefully talked to him in an poorly attempted effort of African American ‘gangsta’ talk. I recall stating online “Let’s see him go to LA and try talking to the Bloods like that.”

Following on from Big Brother came a flood of other “reality” and talent shows, featuring both members of the public, forgotten celebrities, and of course publicity-seeking politicians. Pop Idol, American Idol, X-Factor, Britain’s Got Talent (yes, but very little), Celebrity Fit Club, Hell’s Kitchen, Strictly Come Dancing, Celebrity Dancing on Ice, I’m A Celebrity (questionable) Get Me Out Of Here… the list goes on and on, and there does not appear to be any sign of it stopping soon. And this is not lost on politicians who go on these shows. Any publicity – even bad publicity – is good publicity. This was certainly not lost on the Conservative MP Ann Widdecombe who went on Celebrity Fit Club while still a serving MP. And while she had retired from politics before going on Strictly Come Dancing, the show nonetheless raised her profile, which had the potential for her to spread not only her dubious politics but also her odious uncompromising Roman Catholic religious views. Ann Widdecombe, now aged 66, maintains that she has stayed a virgin for religious reasons. The main one being that if there is a God, he made her incredibly ugly.

And this is where the dangers creep into these shows. They have taken the cult of celebrity higher than it has ever been in history; virtually creating ‘celebrities’ out of nothing, and making people famous for being famous. What is worse is that the mass media is happy to play along with it. Since the 1980s gossip or other articles about so-called celebrities have been a staple of the mass media. Newspapers and magazines thrive upon the phenomena, and ‘celeb’ stories will often take precedence over more important and much more serious news stories. The saddest part of this is that the public seem to thrive upon it, as if they need it. If it were not for the public buying the newspapers and magazines, they simply would not be considered ‘newsworthy’.

And there is another danger which comes from the cult of celebrity, and that is creating idols then deciding that they are fit to govern. Apart from the examples I mentioned earlier, consider baggage handler John Smeaton. On 30 June 1997 three radicalised Islamic terrorists attempted to crash a car loaded with explosives into Glasgow Airport. The explosives failed to go off, but one of the men set himself alight. Baggage Handler John Smeaton, seeing this man who was shouting “Allah. Allah.” kicked him in the testicles, then punched him out. Smeaton was regarded all over Scotland, the UK, the world, as a hero. He said he was only doing what anyone else would have done (not sure about that John). Smeaton was subsequently awarded the Queen’s Gallantry Medal (QGM), has made a plethora of personal appearances (including Ground Zero in NYC) and even had a column in the tabloid newspaper The Sun.

Then someone decided it would be a good idea for John to stand for parliament. He duly stood as an independent candidate for Glasgow North-East in the 2009 by-election. In the event he polled only 258 votes, with Labour winning 12,231 votes. I do not for one moment think that members of the public should not stand for election. On the contrary, if you think you can make a difference, I say go for it. What I do question are the circumstances behind John Smeaton standing for election, when he had never considered doing it before the abortive Glasgow Airport bombing.

Standing for elected office takes a lot of doing, which is precisely why I have never stood myself. Being an elected politician is not as simple as it sounds. You have to be informed and somewhat expert on a great many issues, both domestic and foreign. You particularly need to have a good knowledge of economics. You need to keep fully up to date on news stories and developments. You need to be able to hold your own in an argument and not become overheated when putting forward to your point of view. You have to be as devious as opponents and be aware of potential traps and pitfalls, how to avoid them, and how to turn them on those against you. Politicians also should (although few do) be prepared to admit where they are wrong and apologise humbly for that. But most of all, politics is very much the art of compromise and any politician needs to be able to bend wherever it is pragmatic to do so. I do not have all of these qualifications for elected office; neither, I would suggest, does John Smeaton. And nor do a great many celebrities who think they can make the crossover into politics. Those who would wish them to do so should bear that in mind.

In 1977, The Stranglers released the song No More Heroes. The message behind the song was clear; we should not have heroes, because being human, they can only possibly fail to disappoint our expectations of them. One could take any historical character and if you look carefully enough, you will find flaws in their character. Jesus was shamed by the Canaanite woman into helping her after he derided her as “a dog”. Robert the Bruce changed sides between the Scots and English more times than he changed his underpants. Joan of Arc may have been schizophrenic. Cromwell was a bloodthirsty mass murderer. Abraham Lincoln had 18,000 suspected confederates imprisoned without trial. Winston Churchill was an anti-Semitic, racist, elitist alcoholic. Gandhi was naive in thinking that women should will themselves to die instead of being raped.

And even when we look at the few mentioned here, of a great many more with a cult of celebrity behind them, we find out that Rudolph Valentino was apparently unattentive to his many lovers and lousy in bed. Darwin plagiarised the work of some others. Lilly Langtree became a royal mistress. Oscar Wilde’s attraction to young boys was questionable to say the least. Elvis’s excesses for food and drugs are now stuff of legend. Both John and Robert Kennedy were adulterers and alcoholics, and the Kennedy family were not above buying their way to office nor using the mob to achieve their aims. Marilyn Monroe would not have died were it not for her weakness for substance abuse. All four of the Beatles were notorious users of hard drugs, including LSD and heroin. John Lennon was ill-tempered, angry at the world for his shitty upbringing, and apparently impossible to live with at times. Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan destroyed the lives of millions, then blamed them for their own plight. Their foreign policies killed millions of innocents. The same can be said for Tony Blair – on both counts; a man who openly lied to the UK to take the country into an illegal blood-for-oil war. Princess Diana adored attracting publicity, then complained about it when the press were all about her (the same can be said of Eminem, trying to get his music sold – then whining about press intrusion and fan adulation in his songs). She was a good time girl and an adulteress to boot – which actually could have cost her her life for High Treason at the time. Geri Halliwell took her UN post, pontificating about population nine years before having a child of her own. I could go on, but I think you have got the point.

More recently there has been the uncovering in the UK of a man who most certainly was considered a hero and had a huge cult of celebrity built around him; Jimmy Savile. Jimmy Savile was a radio DJ and presenter on the weekly BBC music programme Top of the Pops for many years. The BBC gave him his own show Jim’ll Fix It which ran from 1975 to 1994, in which he arranged for children to do extraordinary things. Saville popularised charity walks and fun runs, which he attended regularly, supposedly to raise cash for Stoke Mandeville children’s hospital. He was also a regular visitor to that hospital and others at Broadmoor and Leeds. Regarded as a national icon, Jimmy Savile was first presented with an OBE and later knighted as Sir Jimmy Savile. A working class guy made well who loved his old mum and worked tirelessly for children’s charities, no-one would hear a word against Sir Jimmy. There had been allegations laid before him during his lifetime of inappropriate behaviour with young girls, but he always managed to fend these off. After he died however, the flood gates opened and exposed cases of serious sexual abuse by Jimmy Savile against little girls dating back to the early 1960s. As more and more cases came to light, more and more of his victims felt brave enough to come forward. In 2012 the number of people phoning the National Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) reporting being sexually abused by Jimmy Savile reached over 300. A specialist police task force investigating believe he could have abused well in excess of 1000 little girls, many of whom were sick, some of whom were special needs. Now tell me the cult of celebrity is not dangerous.

I am writing this in the wake of the untimely death of actor Paul Walker (aged 40), famous for his roles in The Fast and the Furious movies. The same day that Walker was killed, there was as train derailment in New York City which killed four and left over 60 severely injured. Two days previously a helicopter crashed into the Clutha Vaults Bar, Glasgow, killing 8. On many ‘news’ sites it was Walker’s death which took priority as top story. What is worse that I noticed a great many more postings on Facebook ‘paying respect to’ and ‘grieving’ Paul Walker than about either tragedy. Indeed, of the NYC derailment, there was hardly any mention. Have we become such a society that the deaths of 12 ordinary people are equal to one celebrity on the stock exchange of life?

And the cult of celebrity carries another, much more insidious danger; it is dangerous to democracy. We have a society which will happily sit and vote for their favourites on reality shows week in, week out – sometimes day in, day out. When many of these people are asked to get of their lazy fat arses for a few minutes once every few years to go put a cross in a box, it suddenly becomes a different matter. Yet if these same ‘celebrities’ were to stand for election, I have no doubt it would suddenly become a different matter; with the public voting for people who are ill-qualified to govern.

And that even applies to professional politicians. We should always be wary of any charismatic politician and the spin which makes them appear so attractive. All too often we are nowadays being sold a pup, and it is the equivalent of the pre-senile old lady voting for the sleazy guy because “he’s such a nice man”. I would even go as far as to say this applies to US President Barack Obama. Was he selected by the Democrats because he was competent, or was it purely because he is black? Was he elected – twice – because of his policies, or was it because nobody wants to be the person who did not vote for the black guy?

All that glisters is indeed not gold, that which is beautiful is not always true, nor is that which is true always beautiful. This is not lost on politicians in power who are happy to keep the electorate stupid and uninformed. Any other way and we may just learn that we can live without them and may just vote them out of office. Doubt that? Go have a look at the percentage of eligible voters in your constituency who bothered to vote in your last election, then come back and tell me I am wrong.

Celebrities are just people; human beings with the same human failings as you and I. When we set them up on a pedestal, or adulate them, then we are always going to be disappointed. And the extent society does so to this day has the potential to make us lose sight of the truly important things, as well as making a rod for our own backs and getting precisely the sort of government society deserves.

I leave the last word to John Smeaton, as he told newspaper reporters in 1997;

“Would you stop it with all this hero worship?”


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