- Category: Commentaries
- Written by Jane Musoke-Nteyafas
With the bombarding proliferation of reality shows which promise instant celebrity, and the long list of people who audition for them, many of them ready to spend sleepless nights lining up for a chance to audition, it’s clear that many people want to be superstars. Shows like American Idol, Canadian Idol, America’s next top model, Canada's Next Top Model, Making the Cut, the Apprentice, Who Wants to be a Millionaire, Wife Swap, Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire and so many more are raking in viewers and contestants because of society’s obsession with stardom and fame.
Even Africa is not immune. The reality show Big Brother was watched by millions of Africans all over the continent and the contestants were catapulted into African celebrity status. The appetite for celebrity culture is insatiable. It is not surprising that as a society we hunger for superstardom when magazines and tabloids equate stardom and its trappings with fame, money, success, attention and popularity. Who would not want that? After all, all human beings want to be liked. Celebrity superstardom in many people’s mind is the ultimate stamp of approval and appreciation to the highest degree.
We live in a society which rewards and celebrates winners. Writers who win awards are more likely to get publishing contracts with large publishing companies, A-list actors are more likely to win million dollar endorsements, and so are award-winning singers. This is proved with the cases of David Beckham, Madonna, Diana Ross, Michael Jordan and Beyoncé. However, what many people do not realize is the obstacles, hard work and rejections these winners go through to get to where they are. Although we are fascinated by the overnight success sensational stories, the chances of talented people being overnight successes, is as likely as winning the lottery. In fact the only way they can achieve it is through reality shows and even then, many of these people who audition for these shows have been struggling to pursue their art of choice for years.
The beginnings are definitely tough, but once they have made it, celebrities have followings which would probably make many religious leaders envious. They say religion is the opium of the masses. Perhaps that was applicable at the beginning of last century, but today, it seems like celebrity culture is slowly becoming the religion of the masses, at least in the Western world. Nowadays many people read more celebrity tabloids regularly than the bible and other holy books. People live vicariously through the lives of celebrities. There is an aspiration towards celebrity culture with many people dressing like them, behaving like them and trying to consume like them, including the expensive cars and homes. Average Joes and Mary’s are more likely to know the name of Tomkat’s or Brangelina’s baby, which celebrity has divorced or separated and who is feuding than knowing their co-workers of five years children’s names. Instant gratification is promoted at all levels. Without wanting to be or not, celebrities are cultural leaders of sorts and role models for many people, especially the youth. Unfortunately this means that bad habits like starving themselves, taking drugs and being anorexic are copied as well by the most vulnerable minds of our society.
It’s a pity that many celebrities, especially those who are considered authority figures, do not choose to tell the truth about the dark side of the superstardom, beyond the commonality of losing their privacy. It’s a pity that more celebrities do not tell us more about the frustrations, obstacles, rejections, moments of self-doubt, misunderstandings, lack of appreciation and acknowledgement of their talents that they went through and still go through. It’s a pity that many more do not discuss their struggles with the changes fame brings. Not so that we can gloat over their bad moments, but more so that they can be learning lessons for the millions who are aspiring to be them. So that they can be humanized and not viewed as gods or goddesses who can do no wrong.
Aspiring towards perfection is such an unrealistic feat, yet celebrity culture is promoted as near perfect, with a lot of fans trying and failing to achieve this perfect nirvana state. Celebrity lifestyle is portrayed as a stress-free, easy life. But if that is the case, why do many abuse drugs, alcohol and food? Why did David Chappelle leave a successful show and go to Africa? Why did Mariah Carey have to be hospitalized? Why does Janet Jackson’s weight keep yo-yoing? Why is Whitney Houston now a junkie? Despite some critics stating that celebrity management teams carefully script a star''s downfall and subsequent redemption as publicity ploys, there is definitely more to the story. There is definitely an ugly side to celebrity which is not being discussed.
However, there are many celebrities who keep reminding average viewers that it did not come easily to them. Oprah is one of them. She is the epitome of a struggling human being who goes against all odds to succeed and be a source of inspiration for many generations. But she always tells the truth about how hard it was for her and this humanizes her and makes people identify with her because she has gone through what many go through. This is what makers her so popular. On the show, The Actor’s Studio , when Don Cheadle is asked if he would advise younger people to be actors, he says that he would not. Then he goes on to say that if some people are offended by what he is saying, then it’s a good thing because he mentions that it was a tough road he would not wish on anyone else. He says you have to really want it and it has to really be your passion because it is strife with heartache and rejections. The temptation to give up is high and it is only the passion which keeps one in the game.
It used to be enough to have talent, drive and to be ready to work hard to reach ones goals as an artists of any genre. But these days, even those with talent are feeling the threat of less talented ones, who are ready to do anything to reach their degree of stardom. People are even prepared to take off their clothes, strip dance, make fools of themselves, swallow disgusting foods, be insulted (by Simon Cowell,) and many other extreme things to achieve superstardom. But many of those who become instant celebrities on reality shows fall off the radar soon enough, as they do not have what it takes to maintain the status. They do not have the staying power of people like Patti Labelle and Luther Vandross (R.I.P). Who remembers the name of the chick who married the millionaire and then divorced him not too long after?
Many professional actors, writers, singers and artists are feeling the burn of people moving into their territory with the hopes of attaining superstardom. The competition is on and the ante is up. Many of them are complaining that too many people mistakenly think that they can act, write, sing and draw. Many of them say that this is affecting the quality of art that is out there. Even those with talents are forced to try other areas as it is no longer enough to be talented in one area. Samuel L. Jackson made waves in 2002 when he stated that he didn’t want to headline in films with rappers. Recently upon hearing that he would co-star with 50 Cent in his debut acting performance, Samuel L. Jackson turned down a role in Jim Sheridan’s Locked and Loaded, citing that 50 Cent should act in more movies and basically get talent. I hope he got some bodyguards after that. But let’s try and understand where Jackson is coming from. If 50 Cent’s acting career flops, at least he has his rapping career, not to mention his endorsements and brand labels, to fall back to. What do you have to fall back to if superstardom does not pan out?