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15 Minutes Of Fame For A Lifetime Of Shame

Jul 5, 2008
A celebrity is the term used to describe someone who is famous and attracts attention from the general public and the world's media. Traditionally, a celebrity would gain the title by his or her work or achievements in a particular field of expertise. Actors, musicians, politicians and inventors have all become celebrities in the past. However, as we fall deeper and deeper into the cesspool of the 21st century a new celebrity has arrived - the nobody.

Cultural commentator Daniel Boorstin stated in his 1961 book, The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America, that a celebrity was "a person who is known for his well-knownness". Nearly fifty years later and his theories of pseudo-events are still as apt today with the current trends of reality TV and celebrity culture. So where did we go wrong, and when did it become so easy to become famous?

In 1968, prominent artist Andy Warhol commented on the state of society and its infatuation with celebrity when he exclaimed that 'everyone will be world-famous for fifteen minutes.' This brave claim may have seemed a little misguided but the previous forty years have proved his point emphatically. However, I think he may have been a bit ambitious with the length of time as some stars of reality TV arrive and disappear in the blink of an eye.

So we arrive in 2008 with the words of both Warhol and Boorstin ringing in our ears. We sit down, we turn on the TV to see what audio-visual treats await - every channel fills our living rooms with 'real people' doing 'real things'. As you peruse the glossy TV magazines notice the amounts of reality shows that now dominate our screens - Wife Swap, X-Factor, American Idol, Britain's Got Talent and the reality pioneer Big Brother. The concept itself of Big Brother is everything that Boorstin and Warhol warned us about, 'normal' people are thrust into the limelight to be mocked, glorified, vilified and humiliated in equal measures. And we lap it up.

Since Big Brother first hit the UK's screens in the summer of 2000, there have been nine series (including the current one) and nine winners. The 'housemate' that is eventually voted BB Winner 2000 and whatever is not necessarily the most likely to gain fame and fortune from their appearance on this cultural phenomenon. The champion of Big Brother earnings so far with estimated earnings of three million pounds, entered the house in 2002, finishing a lowly 4th before embarking on a successful career in television, fitness DVDs and perfume. Jade Goody is the epitome of the pop-culture phenomenon that the UK will continue to see if reality television continues to dominate the ratings.

To achieve the financial security and national fame that Goody now possesses, she had to perform some pretty embarrassing acts while on BB3, as it was often called. The immature 21 year old was constantly belittled by her housemates and embarrassed herself with her apparent lack of basic intelligence and knowledge. Goody was famous for misinformed comments including 'Do they speak Portuganese in Portugal? I thought Portugal was in Spain' and 'I knew Lynne was from Aberdeen but I didn't realise Aberdeen was in Scotland'. Stupidity and a lack of pride had quickly become Jade Goody's most profitable asset, and she was set to milk it for all its worth.

Goody reentered the Big Brother House in 2007, but this time as a fully-fledged celebrity in the show's spin-off Celebrity Big Brother. She had grown into a national treasure in some people's eyes, a real story of rags to riches, a modern day fairytale. Goody's decision to take part damaged her reputation immeasurably as she became the centre of a racism row amidst comments made about Bollywood star Shilpa Shetty.

Goody's career appeared to be coming to an end as her perfume was withdrawn from certain shops and her public perfection had reached its lowest point. As Boorstin and Warhol hinted towards, the public's attention span continues to dwindle allowing Goody to regain her place on the celebrity merry-go-round. Voted third most pointless celebrity behind Paris Hilton and Chantelle Houghton (?), Goody has announced the launch of a second perfume as well as a re-release of her autobiography in 2008 so we can expect to see even more of this pseudo-event for many years to come. Fifteen minutes of fame? If only.
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