I read an interview with Jarett Kobek about his novel, I Hate the Internet, the other day, and thought some of what he had to say about celebrity and the internet was particularly interesting. Kobek argues that celebrities have now transcended a distinct personality, gender, or sexuality, and instead, are simply ‘celebrity’, as if it were a whole separate breed of person. Leaving that aside for a moment, I found myself thinking about the whole idea of celebrities when I was watching some Dylan Moran videos later in the evening.
I’ve enjoyed Moran’s comedy for a long time, since I first discovered Black Books around a decade ago. It’s been a while since I saw any of his comedy, though, and so I did a bit of searching on him, and found his Wikipedia page, which is fairly light on personal details, and heavy on the work he’s done in entertainment. And I found myself somewhat dissatisfied with the lack of personal information. I know from this that he has a wife and two children, and lives in Edinburgh. But there isn’t a lot more–or at least, not without more digging, and let’s face it, I’m not that curious. Because in the end, why does it matter?
There is often the argument made (by the tabloid press and paparazzi, especially) that if you’re in the public eye, the public have a right to know about you and your life. If you earn your living on presenting your personality to an audience, they want to know more about you, identify with you. This includes your off-stage as well as your on-stage life. To some degree, I suppose there is an argument for this. The public is paying, and they want to know about the person behind the character. But how much is enough? At what point does the famous person get to shut the door, to sue for defamation or invasion of privacy?And what is it we’re hoping to learn about this person?
I suppose it’s simply that we want to identify with someone famous. We want to feel as if, were we to meet in other circumstances, we might be friends. I like Dylan Moran’s comedy, and I find his observations clever and interesting, so I imagine that he would make a good friend, if life were different, and we happened to live next door or down the road. The idea that someone, whose work we admire, might share something in common with us, gives us a sense of connection with a person who is otherwise so very distant.
As humans, though, we always seem to want more. It’s not enough that someone might appear amusing, or intelligent, or talented. We want more of them. We want to see them in interviews, read about their daily lives, find out everything there is to know. If anything, to our detriment and disappointment–once we know it all, they lose some shine. They become normal, just like us. Is that what we really want? To some degree, yes, but I think we also want them to remain the celebrity, to continue to produce art or play sport, or do whatever it was that made them famous. We want them to be accessible yet special. How can they possibly be both?
I’ve caught myself, more than once, being disappointed after seeing an actor or author I’ve admired in an interview, when they didn’t perform to my expectations. I thought they would be funnier or more intelligent, and they turned out to be… normal. But what was I thinking? Why is it not enough, that they’re amazing sportspeople or writers? Nobody can excel at everything, and we should appreciate that these people are good at what they do, and they don’t have to be good at everything else. What’s more, they don’t have to live up to our expectations of how they should act, not least of all in TV or newspaper interviews.
Imagine, if we could just separate the public from the private, and appreciate facets of a person’s life, rather than what we want from them, based on our idea of who they are. Then our celebrities might appear less one-sided, less superficial, and they’d have more of a private life, to be able to do what they wanted without fear of being photographed or having to deal with rumours of impropriety or misconduct. How would that affect our relationship with celebrities, I wonder?
And how would affect the celebrities’ relationship with us?