Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Absolutely Famous

Cabinet reshuffles (is there any other organisation that does this?). Actors and TV presenters writing books. Pop stars acting – and vice versa. Actors doing voice overs, adverts. Just about everyone writing a children's book. Once you're in the public eye (ie rich and famous) for doing one thing, you can pretty much dabble in anything else. It doesn't really matter what. A footballer becomes a chef. A comedian writes a football column in the Guardian. A film director writes restaurant reviews. A chess grandmaster becomes a politician. Soap actors become pop stars. The minister for education becomes the minister for transport. An MP presents a cricket programme on Radio 4. Two actors embark on a motorcycle adventure around the world with only millions on their credit cards and a camera crew filming them. This is released as a TV series, DVD and book. None of it has to do with talent. It's about fame and getting noticed. Celebrities can't just stick to one thing. They are brands and the purpose of a brand is to invade as many media outlets as possible. That's as many books, TV programmes, films, magazines, newspapers, websites, adverts... as possible. Does it sometimes feel like wherever you look you see the same annoying famous face?

Can you imagine this kind of thing happening in real life to normal people? Although we change jobs more often nowadays than, say, thirty years ago, we tend to stick to the same kind of job for most of our careers. Imagine the accountant becoming an actor. The librarian becoming a bricklayer. The doctor becoming a archaeologist. It doesn't really happen (okay, begrudgingly, it does happen; people do retrain). But mainly we tend to be pigeon-holed, we get in a rut. After a few years in a sterile office, the world doesn't present itself as a vast sea of limitless possibilities.

I got thinking about fame reading Alex James's – from the band Blur – autobiography. Towards the end of his music career he got into astronomy and, naturally, instantly managed to meet Patrick Moore and watch scientists putting together the Mars Challenger and now James is a farmer making his own cheese/one-off TV journalist exposing the cocaine trade. Other ex-pop stars have had similar unlikely (this is my point) post-pop careers. Did you know that Alannah Currie from the Thompson Twins now makes macabre furniture with real stuffed animals incorporated?

BBC2's Faking It documentary series suggested even ordinary people could switch to more interesting/exciting jobs (from web designer to professional surfer; bicycle courier to polo player; newsagent to showbiz reporter; punk rocker to classical conductor) with relative ease (after some intense training – the sort you could get if you were rich), given the chance. And that's the crux of the matter. The rich and famous get infinite chances and possibilities to try and do whatever they want.

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