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What’s So Hot About Celebrities?

Why do pop stars, movie divas and sports hunks drive us nuts?

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What’s So Hot About Celebrities?

A socially conscious friend is astounded at the huge buzz Aamir Khan’s Satyamev has generated. His gripe: “Ek baat batao. None of these rampant social evils Aamir Khan focused on are unknown. Nor were they born yesterday and discovered today. They’ve been around for ages, but nobody — Government agencies, Political Parties, NGOs or media — gave them the kind of aggressive exposure that this show seems to be doing. While the Superstar does deserve to be complemented for what he and his team were attempting, my question is more basic: Why does it need a celeb to publicize, focus or turn on the heat about issues that concern all of us, in very real ways, everyday of our lives? Why does it need an entertainment or glamour backdrop to seduce us into confronting causes and concerns that should affect and motivate us anyway and force us to (re) act? Most importantly, why is such vulgar and disproportionate publicity accorded to a show that is in no way commercial — product/movie launch — but meant to work as an eye-opener and wake-up call at a grass-root level addressing social evils?.... Why are we so celebrity-crazed as a nation, dismissing, ignoring and blanking out everyone and everything once these creatures come on? What’s so hot about these media-made, larger-than-life, cardboard cut-outs?”

His anger at “spoilt, overpaid, luckybrats” is misplaced. Celebrities are created, valorized and consumed not by sponsors, advertisers, media or image-agencies, but by the public. As social Commentator Santosh Desai puts it: “Celebs are nothing but a glittering and magnified version of all our perceived inadequacies and unrequited fantasies. We are forever setting impossible standards, mandating unreal combinations and demanding from the celebs, performances at any and every possible moment (How dare Ash put on weight?).

“In return, we give them our unwavering attention, hysterical adulation and unremitting criticism. We make it impossible for the celebrity to interpret the world in any other terms, except through his/her persona; they are allowed to sense the word only through our reactions. They come to believe in their own magic and mythology but depend entirely upon our credulity, which we withdraw selectively, without warning.”

However this comes with the territory. Journalist Shobhaa De points to the cartoonist Aseem Trivedi whose drawings mocking the parliament landed him in jail. Overnight the media swooped in to unleash hi-pitched stories debating freedom of expression. Articles, marches, TV discussions followed. His release from jail led to jam-packed press conference. Overnight this unknown cartoonist was hurtled into celebrity-dom. Wrote De: “He is now owned by the media. He is hot property. He will make it to international publications and global channels. For a short while at least, Aseem Trivedi will gobble up publicity and share frontpage space with movie stars and sports heroes. Someone smart will ask him to walk the ramp – for a cause, of course. He will be wooed to play show stopper during the unending Fashion Weeks. Reality shows will chase him.” And indeed, he made it to the reality show Big Boss.

Was he a pivot symbol or hero — the right man at the right place touching the right concerns to the right constituency? Dunno, but once his 15 minutes of fame are done, the very media which honored him, put him on a pedestal will yank off the rug under his feet and sling him into nowhere land. So basically it was an unreal journey from obscurity to oblivion with a little celebrity dazzle thrown in between.

Fact is, at the end of the day we need celebrities to look up to, venerate, worship and hold high on a pedestal as dazzling role models. We also need them as sexy, glamorous, hot, gorgeous hunks and babes to add color and exciting distraction to our dull everyday lives, stressed out and complicated as they are in our consumerist society. They are low maintenance creatures and easy to wow or trash at will since they are “thought experiments and societal what-ifs” created for our convenience and amusement.

Sure favorites and loyalties will always be there. High passion (“Shuddup! AK is not a patch on lover boy SRK! He is the Badshah of romance! “Hai, main mar jawa!”) and (“Boss, Sachin is God. Baat khatam, okay?”) will always scorch the skies along with (“yaar, Sachin ko retire ho jaana chahiye! He is a has-been, a great once-hero jisko dekh kar taraz aata hain aur embarrass ho jaat hoon!”) jibes, when we feel let down by them.

This entire crucible of pleasure and pain, highs and low, hi-performances and thuds played out to scenes of exaggerated enthusiasm and theatrical sorrow, melodrama scripted from their gestures of bravado, arrogance or posturing … all these are a part of the stormy universe that we have created in which they are at center. They are divine deities, or fearsome Frankensteins, that we have given birth to.

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Commentary | Magazine | November 2012 | Bollywood | Sports

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