Our colum­nist ex­am­ines what it means to be a celebrity.

Friday - - Front Page -

Some­one re­cently sent me a greet­ing say­ing, “May you be­come a world-class celebrity.” Al­though I sel­dom re­spond to an in­sult or a bad re­view of one of my books, I called this friend be­cause it was a greet­ing that trou­bled me on sev­eral lev­els.

First, the airy as­sump­tion that be­ing a celebrity is what all of us crave. Then the airier as­sump­tion that I wasn’t a celebrity al­ready. And fi­nally, airi­est of all, the as­sump­tion that there is a caste sys­tem in the celebrity world: from be­ing a celebrity in your house, on your street, in your locality, in your city, state, coun­try and on to the Tom Cruise of celebri­ties: world class.

From var­i­ous sources, I gather that you need to ful­fil cer­tain cri­te­ria to qual­ify as a mod­ern celebrity (as op­posed to the clas­si­cal celebrity, some­one like Einstein or Pelé): 1. An an­nual in­come run­ning into eight fig­ures (at least one of whom you should be mar­ried to). 2. A track record as a semi-suc­cess­ful artist or mother of oc­tu­plets. 3. Born of par­ents at least one of whom is a busi­ness mag­nate with a string of ho­tels in his name. 4. An un­con­trol­lable urge to visit coun­tries in Africa and adopt ba­bies from there. 5. A film ca­reer that’s on the verge of tak­ing off.

I thought be­ing a celebrity was a by-prod­uct of what­ever else you were – a suc­cess­ful sports­man, writer, movie star or bank rob­ber – but that seems old-fash­ioned.

Be­ing a celebrity is ap­par­ently a full-time pro­fes­sion, like be­ing a driver or stock­bro­ker. You are fa­mous for be­ing fa­mous and fea­ture on tele­vi­sion to tell the world what you think of the sit­u­a­tion in Su­dan or Mum­bai or at the Syd­ney Cricket Ground. When the na­tional bud­get is an­nounced, tele­vi­sion cam­eras rush to your house in the be­lief that if you know about the best way to make pasta, you must be an au­thor­ity on deficit fi­nanc­ing.

Be­ing a celebrity is ap­par­ently a full-time pro­fes­sion

Celebri­ties have a tough time of it, never know­ing when a jour­nal­ist might call for what used to be called a quote but is now known as a sound bite; never know­ing when some­thing they say will ex­pose them for the air­heads they are; never know­ing when some­body might ask an in­tel­li­gent ques­tion and ex­pect a smart re­ply.

Soon there will be celebrity schools where the promis­ing young­ster who has scored well in his pre-celebrity ex­ams (PCE) is put through his paces. On com­ple­tion of his course, he will be en­ti­tled to 100 min­utes’ free tele­vi­sion time on a chat show, re­al­ity show or in­ter­view. And the right to say ‘celebrity’ in the pass­port col­umn where they ask for pro­fes­sion.

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