Jade Goody - The Ups and Downs of Celebrity Culture
Newspapers and media outlets across the UK this week have been filled with news and comment surrounding the death of Jade Goody.
In almost every story, she is referred to as 'reality TV star Jade Goody'. In one sense, this is natural, as it was through the Big Brother series that the public first became aware of this largely uneducated, yet obviously ambitious and clever young woman.
It is right for us to mourn the passing of such a young person, someone who so obviously connected with the aspirations and challenges faced by other people. And if the coverage following her death raises awareness about the risks of cancer, this is something we should welcome.
However, we should also pause to take stock of the possible downsides of celebrity culture. As a society, we should think long and hard about where the culture of celebrity is leading us - and our children.
There is no doubt that celebrity can be turned to good purposes. The publicity surrounding Ms Goody's battle with cervical cancer led to a measurably greater awareness of this disease in the UK, particularly among young women in her age bracket. Doctors reported a rise in the number of women seeking smears after the news of her cancer broke.
Sadly, though, one has to wonder how long-lasting this impact will be. One of the fruits of a constantly morphing celebrity culture is shrinking attention spans.
Celebrity is built on novelty; but novelty, by definition, is short-lived. Already we see celebrities, their stars beginning to wane, turning to shock value to rescue them from obscurity. When that shock ceases to make an impact, something even more shocking must take its place.
When it was reported that Jade Goody might allow cameras to track every step of her gradual decline and perhaps even her final moments, there was a debate about the propriety of invading someone's personal space in this way.
Thankfully, there was more dignity in Ms Goody's final days than some imagined there might be.
Yet, perhaps 'reality death' is the next natural step in the genre. Perhaps dying on TV, or offering to do so, may even be seen as a new 'career move'.
And, when it comes to the individual involved, the fact that they've drawn so much of their identity from 'reality' coverage may lead them to think it's natural to leave their final mark, to ensure their place in history, in the only way they know how.
there was a debate about the propriety of invading someone's personal space in this way.
Of course, that such a possibility could even be floated says much more about us, the viewing public, and what we consider to be entertaining and educational than it does about the celebrities involved.
Entertainment is a wonderful part of life and those who have the gift of entertaining others are worthy of our respect, admiration and appreciation. But when entertainment becomes little more than watching real people squirm, struggle and fight their way through crises that have been manufactured for the camera, perhaps we need to rethink our motives. Even more so when we're talking about tracking a person's ultimate fight - against death.
Today's ubiquitous celebrity culture encourages a taste for electronic voyeurism.
By imbibing celebrity news and reality programming ad infinitum, some people seem to become mindless drones who would rather watch the unfolding minutia of other people's lives - real or imaginary - than live out own great adventure and achieve something truly notable.
It's time we showed our young people in particular that achieving something noteworthy is a very different prospect than merely achieving notoriety - and far more important.
The generational aspect of this is very important. What generation tolerates, the next generation often treats as the norm.
Perhaps we will soon see, in the ultimate expression of 'showbiz parents', people having children with the prime intention of making them celebrities from birth - and making money from their fame.
Fly-on-the-wall celebrity may literally become a cradle-to-grave proposition and The Truman Show may prove prophetic.
In a sense, celebrity is the ultimate expression of branding - instead of prominent people endorsing a product, people become the product. Among its consumers, celebrity tends to distort a sense of virtue and value. Mark Twain once remarked that many a small thing has been made large by the power of advertising.
Like all products, celebrities are at the whim of the consuming public. When they cease to meet a perceived need, or merely scratch an itch, they're often discarded like yesterday's newspapers.
Already, there are claims that movie companies want to turn Ms Goody's story into big-screen drama, while certain publishers want to republish older books about her as if they were new releases, by adding a few lines about her death.
We can only hope that in the long-term Jade Goody's short life will somehow count for more than that. We can hope that her life will be measured in more than just the column inches she filled in tabloids - not only by those who knew her personally, but by the wider community.
Copyright Mal Fletcher 2009.
Watch Mal's Video Comment on this issue at www.YouTube.com/MalFletcher.
Keywords: jade goody | celebrity culture | celebrities | celeb | ms goody
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God is true to His word. [Recently] it seemed as though I faced an entire mountain range. A friend blessed me with the Next Wave site. God bless you Mal and all the saints who knit your ministry together. On to massive revival in Europe.
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Ben, United Kingdom
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