The celebrity memoir: why are we so invested in this new trend?

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Aristotle once said in his book, Metaphysics: “All men by nature desire to know”. To translate and erase the sexist terminology, he is saying that all humans have a deep urge to understand. To learn new things. To stay updated. To simply avoid not-knowing. This desire is the undercurrent of, well, everything. It is why the media exists, why books are written and read, why the education system was invented, why activists protest, and why the world is forever modernising. Knowing equates to being in-the-loop and avoids the frustration of not knowing what everyone else appears to know.

Simply put, we are nosey by nature. It is why drivers start to slow down at a crash scene; or why crowds gather when a dance flash mob breaks out; or why so many people tune into BBC News at Six. We want to know what is going on. And although some may appear an exception – they claim to ‘protect their peace’ and believe all news outlets are corrupt – this does not make them any less curious. If their time is instead dedicated to falling into the TikTok trap – the act of being physically unable to stop scrolling – this app sponges off our curiosity. We give in to watching another video to see if it is any better than the last until we are four-hours deep and cannot break the trap.

So, when A-list celebrities package their life stories into a 400-word airbrushed hardback of them probably staring into your eyes, we just can’t resist. It would simply be against our nature to do so. The memoir has become a bestselling genre because you and me cannot suppress our curiosity. It is why Prince Harry’s questionable memoir, Spare, broke the records for the largest first-day sales for any non-fiction book ever published by Penguin Random House at a record of 1.43 million copies sold. In. One. Day. Or why Barbra Streisand’s upcoming memoir, My Name is Barbra, is already a No.1 Bestseller and is yet to hit the shelves for another six months.

These memoirs tell us about everything and anything about figures who recluse into the shade of their mansions. They unpack secrets of their dating lives, childhood experiences, friendships, failures and successes, regrets, religious beliefs, all down to their favourite breakfast. Most memoirs are ghost-written – the process by which celebrities dump their stories onto poor ghost-writers who must transform it into something intelligible – because God forbid celebrities writing their own book.

There is something so fascinating about reading about the lives of people who seem so alien from us

And this is why many memoirs read as a long therapy session. Some have no chronological order whatsoever despite the editor’s attempt to create some clarity. But this is what readers want. We want to see the raw version of celebrities we see on big TV screens smiling with teeth brighter than the sun itself. We crave the dirty details of their career, how many secret relationships they had, or the lengths they went for fame and fortune. Sometimes it feels like I shouldn’t be reading some of the things these celebrities admit (I wish I could unread Prince Harry’s frostbitten penis story). But that’s the joy of the memoir: feeling like you are sitting in on a celebrity’s confidential therapy session.

Yet, I believe our obsession with memoirs runs deeper. We generally wouldn’t buy the biography of our postman or someone who spends all their time at home. It does not interest us enough. There is something so fascinating about reading about the lives of people who seem so alien from us. Perhaps it is our attempt to relate to them; to discover that they are not just Wikipedia pages and airbrushed faces, but like us, are humans who experience the joys and tribulations of life.

I was left with this feeling after reading Paris Hilton’s recent memoir creatively named Paris: The Memoir. Her memoir is dominated by two things not known about Paris: that her parents sent her to various abusive ‘reform schools’, and that she is diagnosed with ADHD. It is the first time she has spoken publicly about her raw path to stardom and readers have started sharing their own journeys using #ThisIsWhoIAm. Paris’ memoir is moving, honest, and it is what I would consider the perfect memoir: it satisfies a reader’s ‘desire to know’ whilst simultaneously being something we can relate to.

So, whilst some memoirs may just be commercial endeavours to increase fame (cough cough, Spare), they are important in communicating that celebrities are more than just what we perceive them as. That they have feelings like us and that their lives are not picture perfect; if anything, the opposite.

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