Celebrities: love ‘em, hate ‘em, you can’t ignore ‘em. Fame is a common theme in human history; it used to be ascribed to kings and conquerors, but as monarchies collapsed and artistic expression became an economy, screens became the new thrones and celebrity culture found its beginnings.
In today’s world of connectivity and thriving content, the commodification of art has extended itself to the commodification of lifestyle; we now follow people who have the ability to portray their lives as interesting, from reality television stars to social media influencers. We’re living in an age where the already blurred line between commodity and human being is growing weaker, and the treatment of “famous people” in recent times has cultivated a new strand of social extremism with the rise of “stan” and “cancel” culture.
The rise of reality television in the past decade has displayed a momentous shift in the way audiences consume entertainment. While in the US reality television was largely limited to game shows, the rise of Paris Hilton and the Kardashians pioneered an entirely new direction of content creation. In the UK, reality television made its mark with shows such as Big Brother and Geordie Shore, which gave tabloids enough timber to thrive on. As audiences were let into people’s lives and households, the barrier of the screen began to slowly dissolve.
This was simultaneous with the rise of social media, which in itself changed the platforms of entertainment. Real and ordinary people now had access to creating entertaining content. However, sponsorships and the use of heavy production equipment among other things has turned the platform into merely, a deceptive fiction of glamour that is simply an echo of its silver screen predecessors.
However, it’s becoming clearer now that this economy of lifestyle has purely become a perpetuation of falsities behind a promise of ‘reality’, and in turn, has had its ripple effects across the industry. Famous personalities, who are unwilling to present their personal lives as entertainment, suffer the incessant nagging of the media and the public. High profile blunders are blown out of proportion by harsh judgmental responses on Twitter.
The impact of negative media coverage and cancel culture has been toxic and, in instances such as that of Caroline Flack’s recent death, dangerous. Due to our constant exposure to illusions of reality that are actually products of careful scripting, production and editing, we are beginning to expect perfection; in Flack’s case, this expectation was fatal.
There’s a harrowing irony in the fact that while in some ways we are more connected than ever, in others we’ve never been more isolated. Human beings are not commodities. Lives are not public domain. People are not perfect. These are perhaps the mantras that we need in the wake of this tragic reality check.