Two years ago Kim Kardashian wrote a letter to her 2025 future self, her dreams then were of ” a green juice to keep her tanned forever” and of breaking “the 100 billion mark of Instagram followers” or “I’ll be very disappointed in you.” It’s possible she might not be wishing for the same. A month after a terrifying armed robbery she is caring for her sick husband in LA. I don’t know much about Kanye West’s usual state of mind but his recent hospitalisation for “dehydration and exhaustion” feels like an ominous warning for the Kardashian Klan. Are they now paying for playing (with) their lives on camera?
The choice to record themselves on TV was one made a long time ago (the reality show Keeping Up With the Kardashians started in 2003). But the game-changer has been their mastery of social media. Taking self-styled selfiedom to it’s limits (and attempts to “break the net”) has transformed them into uber-celebrities. Kim is the number 4 Instagrammer in the world with 88m followers (beaten by Selena Gomez, Taylor Swift, Beyonce and Ariana Grande). The meteoric ride, so far, has rewarded them with immense riches, privileged luxury and mass adulation. But can the future be so rosy?
Maybe they should ignore the stats… the average age of death for celebrities overall, was 58, compared to an average of 72 years for other Americans.
Celebrities are almost four times more likely to kill themselves than the average American.
Daydreaming how our lives would be different with wealth and fame is a diverting past time for us normal souls. But the real experience of being a highly visible person in the media, in this time of easy-access and always-on, is far less attractive. As Kanye’s increasingly erratic behaviour seems to suggest, fame takes a tremendous toll on one’s psychological functioning.
Fame starts as a warm embrace, ego-stroking, a validation. But staying famous is much, much harder to maintain. Celebrities have to keep feeding the beast to remain “on top” – it’s a full-time job (as Kim attests) and it’s addictive (more so than crack cocaine, some say) and it’s restrictive (why child stars rebel so). But it’s the downsides that are much more omnious – a desperation to remain famous or regain notoriety (and in doing so, become prone to risky endeavors or buffoonery); self-destructive behaviors to cope with overwhelming feelings of inadequacy or failure (taboo sexual appetites, scandalous liaisons, volatile moods, uncontrolled substance use); and/or a loss of self that leads to isolation, loneliness, mistrust and broken relationships.
Interestingly (ironically) it’s from Hollywood that come the more cerebal examinations of celebrity-dom. From La Dolce Vita (the parallels between celebrity worship and religious worship), to Sunset Boulevard (fame doesn’t bring happiness), to Being John Malkovich ( the vanity of celebrity in modern society – we want to be John Malkovich because he is famous, but have no idea who he really is), and the prophectic The Truman Show (made just before ‘famous for being famous’ was a thing). But these don’t look at our now – we are living in more high-octane and unstable times than these films suggest – we could do with something more incisive (reality star becomes President, now there’s a story…)
Novels about fame are thin on the ground. We gain insight instead from numerous celebrity memoirs. These tend to concentrate on the background story (the rise to the top..) or feed back what we already know from their carefully constructed public personas. It’s time our creative stars gave us a much more intuitive view but perhaps there is too much face (sponsor money) for them to lose? For now we have to do with their blogs.
Where novelists aren’t venturing, other artists are more questioning – using humour and parody to question our reverence of celebrities. Like the spoofs created by photographer Alison Jackson, who feeds the voyeur in all of us with sneak peeks at the lives of celebrities and public figures.
And video artists like;
Matthew Frost whose short video “Aspirational,” takes a cynical look at the selfie trend and it’s altering of fan-celebrity interactions – starring Kirsten Dunst, as herself
Aspirational – https://vimeo.com/106807552
and Francesco Vezzoli whose work explores the power of contemporary popular culture. Using celebrities (in a parody of themselves) in an emulation of media forms,like advertising and film, he questions the fundamental ambiguity of truth, the seductiveness of language, and the instability of the human persona.
Then there’s Australian comedienne, Celeste Barber who has found a following paroding celebrity instagram pictures.
You don’t see the Kimye smiling much, should they give this a go? A good laugh could go some way to helping Kanye West recover this weekend. Failing that, it might just be time to jump the gravy train.
Before reality stars we had screen stars – and we didn’t want their humanity exposed. Here silent movie star and flapper Clara Bow (known as the original “it” girl) and “mother confessor of Hollywood” tells her painful life story, in her own words, “My Life”, (cover story, Photoplay 1928). Hoping to evoke sympathy, instead she got opprobrium. Readers and Hollywood weren’t ready for revelations, they found her honesty rather distasteful.
Examining the Selfie debate:
Selfies are art. The outcry about teens photographing themselves misses the fact that—like novels, film, or, yes, self portraits—selfies can express all sorts of things.
The future of selfie culture. The next phase in online identity-shaping lies in our verbal and didactic output, not our visual output.
This video takes a look at the evolution and future of selfies and how different industries are utilizing the technology in practical ways.
“If you want to be famous, you will never be famous enough,” 15 MINUTES: A PODCAST ABOUT FAME ,
Desert Island Discs. People of note talk to Kirsty Young about their lives whilst choosing eight records to take to a fictional desert island
Amy – Her talent couldn’t save her; the award-winning documentary of Amy Winehouse’s life, told through archive footage. A sobering tale of modern day stardom.
A list of good celebrity obsession films – http://screencrave.com/2013-06-13/celebrity-obsession/