Tuesday, April 07, 2009
The point that lay behind my news piece on Jade Goody's funeral has only just become clear to me. (I had only 1200 words and an hour to write, I was sitting in a pub garden surrounded by screaming brats, the wind kept blowing my papers away and it was for the news pages, all serious obstacles to speculation.) The points lies in my two sentences - 'To say that her life was a tragic absurdity, that she was an artefact of vacuous celebrity culture, is true but it is not the whole truth. The other truth lies in the fierce possessiveness of her people.' Celebrity culture is routinely kicked in conversation and in print - sometimes by me - as the source and symptom of all our contemporary woes. It deserves kicking, it's pretty stupid and very destructive. This kicking has become a great consolation to the chattering middle classes, it seems to give them a handle on the great confusion of their lives. This, at least, they can tell themselves, is plainly horrible and wrong. It can also provide them with the effortless superiority of delivering moral homilies to their social inferiors. They are like nineteenth century temperance campaigners, except that the temperance campaigners probably did some good. Or they do not kick, they indulge. They gossip archly about the celebrity stories of the day, but, if asked about this, we are assured it is all being done in a cool, ironic, postmodern kind of way. One way or another, celebrity culture fills many middle class hours. But this, as it were, emotionally remote contact with the phenomenon is nothing next to the working class engagement that I encountered at both Diana's and Jade's funeral, the ecstatic piety at the Pope's funeral and the tribal defiance at George's Best's. It's easy to say that Jade wasn't worth it, but it's not Jade that's the point, it's that 'it'. She was merely the occasion for a ritual of identity and belonging. In the past such rituals were inspired to imperial pride, patriotism and they are still linked to football. This is not just about big events like funerals, but also about little observances in pubs and in the minds of the people. Celebrities, beneath all the the hype and the irony, are a way of fulfilling the need for story and ritual. Of course, the existence of this need is cynically, cruelly exploited for profit by the media and, of course, there are reptiles out there. But to see only that is to fail to see the truth and purity of the people's passions. And I do mean purity. For the truth is that it is not the working classes who have been corrupted by celebrity culture. It is the middle classes.
Posted by Bryan Appleyard at 5:08 am