Last night Channel 10 news reported on a study of 2500 Australian women about their fascination with celebrities. Apparently 66% of women discuss celebrities at least once a week; the percentage of women who discuss politics in a week is only 6%. Favourite celebrities were ranked - Nicole Kidman was No.1 for the women, Johnny Depp was No.1 amongst male stars - and it even looked at the effects celebrities have on peoples' lifestyles: since Angelina Jolie adopted a baby from Ethiopia, applications to adopt Ethiopian children have reportedly doubled.
Where did the cult of celebrity come from? There's always been famous people. But it's only in recent years that celebrities have become fascinating for their own sake. I bet Judy Garland was never the subject of a magazine spread merely for taking a holiday. Visit any newsstand today though and the shelves are packed with magazines solely about the famous; the exploits of stars are presented on evening news bulletins as though it all were, in fact, real news. There are more celebrities these days than there are things worth celebrating. Who are these people anyway? I feel like I fell asleep in 1998 and woke up to a world filled with Linday Lohans, Hillary Duffs, Sienna Millers, and the Olsen twins. (Ah now, the Olsen twins I do know. They played that toddler on Full House - essential viewing for a ten-year-old in the late Eighties.)
Anyway, I don't know what they do. We even have our local Australian abberations, such as Bec Hewitt - pretty blonde girl who appears in a soap, quits to marry a petulant tennis player, and is suddenly splashed across magazines as though she'd achieved something, from her romantic "the suspect was led away from the court..." hidden under a blanket apperance at her wedding to protect the photo exclusive, to articles telling us all just what a joy she finds motherhood. For the love of God, can the next we hear of her please be "Brave Bec Hewitt faces life after Lleyton"?
And why are we so interested in celebrities anyway? What do they have to say?
I performed a little experiment. Kate Hudson was (for all I know, still is) recently in Australia to promote her latest film, You, Me and Dupree. I watched all the interviews and publicity events surrounding her that I could find on TV.
It was all truly awful. Ms Hudson answered the same questions, made the same cheery remarks (and apparently yes, she does love Australia and the movie was fun to make), gave the same giggles, over and over again. It was coma-inducing to watch; I can't even imagine how boring it was for her to do. But then I thought about how much money she must be getting paid, and I stopped feeling sorry for her.
Sure, I guess most people would say that the fascination with celebrities is a form of escapism. But is it really? When you look at a magazine spread of the stars in their frocks at the Oscars, or showing off their new Malibu dream house, the basic message is You don't have any of this, and you never will.
Maybe it is for the best though. Imagine a world where the cult of celebrity revolved around the kind of luminaries folks like me admire. No one would want to "follow Michael Moore's diet plan", it would be hard to report on Margaret Olley's wild drinking spree when she's probably never had one (certainly not recently) and who'd want a fashion magazine telling people how they can get the Bob Ellis look for less?