April 19, 2015
As far as I can tell “ which may not be very far because of paucity of experience “ celebrities in such magazines are never celebrated for their actual achievements but always for the banal travails of their existence. Their marriages break down, often repeatedly, boyfriends are unfaithful to girlfriends, they have paroxysms of jealousy, they fight unsuccessfully to keep their weight constant, they quarrel and take overdoses and become addicted to tranquillisers, and such joys as they are permitted by the magazines are those of common experience, such as marriage and the birth of a child.
So celebrities are inhabitants both of a fairy-tale world and our own rather sordid reality. We set them up and we pull them down, thereby enjoying the pleasures both of hero-worship and of cruelty. We make them pay the price of the luxury which we allow them to enjoy. It is rather like kingship according to Richard II:
… for within the hollow crown
That rounds the mortal temples of a king
Keeps Death his court and there the antic sits,
Scoffing his state and grinning at his pomp,
Allowing him a breath, a little scene,
To monarchize, be fear’d and kill with looks,
Infusing him with self and vain conceit,
As if this flesh which walls about our life,
Were brass impregnable, and humour’d thus
Comes at the last and with a little pin
Bores through his castle wall, and farewell king!
We think we play the part of death while celebrities play that of kings. The cult of celebrity is a form of self-worship, both because celebrities are not threateningly different from ourselves, and because we have the power of fame and ignominy over them.