You’re Having a Laugh – Politics, Celebrity Culture and Social Issues

Posted: 18 November 2013, in Blog

You’re having a laugh

Given the state of the nation, or nations if you prefer, would you personally look for guidance to resolve our complex social and economic problems from a celebrity?

Modern celebrity culture is an interesting phenomenon. We have always had drunks, addicts, the sexually incontinent, the self-promoting, fools and the brass necked in our society. Previously we had the good sense not to pay these folk too much attention and occasionally used specific examples to warn children of the dangers of poor mental health, moral degeneracy, bankruptcy and shame.

What we did not do was glorify these people, as moral relativism had not been widely accepted back in the day. Instead we focused on achievements and virtues as aspirational issues for our children and society at large. That is not the case today. We seem to prefer to reward infamy rather than fame and regard the former as more accessible and achievable than the latter because the latter requires hard work; usually involving self-denial, study, thought, craft and skill.

Celebrity culture can allow the maladroit to open their pitiful lives to public gaze. Social media assists in the subsequent mass voyeurism that leads to the creation of “celebrities” (sic) or more accurately and unfortunately, “slebs”, who achieve a curious social status and new image. This achievement is often the trigger for a wider public desire to then destroy “slebs” in the most public and humiliating manner possible. This is the 21st century role of the gutter press who are ably supported by the baying mob through Twitter etc.

My real irritation about celebrity culture however stems from the recent Russell Brand contribution to the state of the nation and the reaction to it from folk who probably regard themselves as progressive or at least are the type of folk who might/ought to support social entrepreneurship.

For someone whose schtick is being garrulous and imaginatively verbal, Brand is cringingly inarticulate when it comes to ideas about what to do about the state we are in. Snot fair seems to sum up his latest analysis of the sorry mess we are in and the vague advice he offers is to either not vote or have a non-violent revolution ‘cos folk get hurt otherwise and that is not good/fair/funny etc.

The emails and YouTube links I have received regarding his Newsnight and New Statesman efforts seem to have elevated him to some sort of spokesperson (he might prefer Messiah) for the underclass, the excluded, the powerless and the alienated. I am at a loss to explain why other than that he is famous, is obviously concerned about these issues and is able to use his celebrity to get attention. But what next? Where’s the beef? Where are the ideas or alternative solutions or are we merely left with stunts that in themselves generate more “sleb” coverage?

I recall attending a major voluntary organisation board meeting many years ago and the big debate was about Royal patronage. The old guard saw no harm and some possible good re having a Royal connection/patron through increased media attention etc. The republican young team thought that the Royals were a blot on the good name of the organisation and society in general and that as Royals; “they” could not comprehend the problems the organisation was trying to resolve because they were rich, powerful and privileged. I’ve cleaned that latter description up but you’ll get the picture.

In the end it was decided to hang onto the Royal connection. They were hoping for Diana but never got her. Are Brand and his fellow “sleb” commentators the new Royals? Do they have access to power? New Labour elevated celebrity culture into the political realm with all that Cool Britannia nonsense. Alan McGee described it as “having the political wool pulled over my eyes and that the whole experience was PC-generated; consumer surveys and focus groups – it was all spin, spin, spin”.

So, who should we want to talk about us if they are a celebrity or does celebrity endorsement and support give us greater media attention at the danger of confusing our mission, messages and intent?

Interestingly, my young, PC and anti-monarchist chums would probably have been mortally offended by old fashioned “traditional working class” sexism and humour but probably less offended by Brand’s drug taking, sexual antics and his abuse of his ex-wife in the media, on Twitter and in his act. You may recall that this was over his lack of excitement during congress with her. Is that the power of modern day celebrity – we choose the bits we like and ignore the stuff we ought to disapprove of? She of course retaliated as only a “sleb” can – the revenge song lyric!

Anyway, perhaps social entrepreneurs should consider what celebrity or royal endorsement has to offer and measure it against adding value to their efforts in achieving social mission rather than increasing tabloid and public (prurient?) interest.


NOTE: This opinion piece blog does not necessarily reflect the views or beliefs of Social Enterprise Scotland.