Our columnist examines what it means to be a celebrity.
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.