Fame

rebecca_loos_holland.jpg

Celebrity Capital: Rebecca Loos

Writing in the online Fairfax publication Radar, Ben Cubby asks:

Is Casey Donovan really Australia’s most promising young singer? Possibly. But for every enraptured viewer loosing off votes for Australian Idol there was someone watching the pampered stars and wondering if they could do better. Many of us nurture a private urge to ditch the office job and do something original, but most creative types have to get there the hard way. No free training and advice, no house, clothes and media spotlight, just singing, acting, shooting or writing between waiting on tables and scrubbing floors.

I’ve been thinking about this for a number of reasons. I’m a sometime reality tv tragic, and I’ve been intrigued for a while about the cultural significance of the desire for fame that seems widespread in our late modern culture.

My friend and fellow sociologist, Dr Susan Hopkins of UQ’s School of Journalism and Communication, in her book
Girl Heroes: The New Force in Popular Culture
, wrote:

In this historical and cultural context, the achievement of celebrity is a potent fantasy for millions of girls and young women. Most girls dream of being popstars, models or movie stars because they know from an early age that celebrity means power. Many feel they have not really achieved unless they have achieved some measure of fame. The girl hero is a pivotal figure in girl culture because she knows the way from everyday anonymity to the enchanted world of celebrity.

As the SOOB festival in Brisbane holds an alt.careers day and a Creative Industries Micro-Business Forum, and as my own university, QUT, introduces a generic degree in Creative Industries (not requiring an audition as the traditional Academy of the Arts programmes did), should we be thinking of creativity as something that one works for, or something that is innate and is “discovered”?

One thing that troubled me about the introduction of a vocational degree in Creative Industries requiring no particular demonstration of any creativity was the degree to which it seeks to capitalise on the desire for fame in many teenagers’ minds. Similarly, Schools of Media and Journalism produce many more graduates than will ever find employment in the media. Might these students be better off studying a liberal Arts degree? Or is that just a sign that I’m irredeemably old-fashioned? Am I mired in stereotypical illusions about artists in garrets or the autonomy of the aesthetic?

There’s no question that we live in a culture and a society where the commodification of everyday life and its symbolic referents have been supplemented by the aestheticisation and mediatisation of everyday life. We buy phones as much for their look as their functionality. We gossip about Big Brother. If male, we wonder about whether we are metrosexuals, and we purchase products to construct our own identities. We can express our spirituality through consumption – of New Age festivals and gurus’ workshops, for instance.

We live in an age where celebrity is currency, star capital that can be parlayed into money. Celebrities are famous for just being famous. Think Paris Hilton. Or, a good example who features in today’s bizarre news story de jour, Rebecca Loos. Loos, the daughter of a Dutch diplomat, came to fame as the PA for David Beckham. Allegedly involved in a torrid affair with Becks (himself married to a manufactured celebrity Spice Girl), Loos has parlayed a celebrity scandal into a tv acting gig (playing a sports psychologist for a soccer team), a a reality tv appearance, and is reported to be emulating Bridget Jones by writing a fictional diary for publication.

There’s almost a tension here – not just between ideas of celebrity and creativity, but also between a certain Protestant work ethic and a desire for instant media recognition.

There is no doubt that Ben Cubby is right and the royal road to fame often involves poverty, hard work and a long training in one’s art or craft. But as a society, we don’t support this road. We look askance at claims from budding writers or actors that they should be supported by Social Security payments. We charge big dollars for tertiary acting or dance courses. We underfund Arts institutions, and insist they be subservient to the logic of the market. Is the corollary an acceptance that our entertainment should come from instantly manufactured and branded stars plucked from obscurity and teleported to our magazine pages, tv screens and compact disc towers via reality tv?

About Mark Bahnisch

Mark Bahnisch is a sociologist and is the founder of this blog. He has an undergraduate degree in history and politics from UQ, and postgraduate qualifications in sociology, industrial relations and political economy from Griffith and QUT. He has recently been awarded his PhD through the Humanities Program at QUT. Mark's full bio is on this page.
This entry was posted in Print media, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
9 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

“If male, we wonder about whether we are metrosexuals” …

Really? Not this armadillo. Mind you, I shave most days and my socks usually match. And I generally use underarm deodorant. Does that make me a metrosexual?

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Shaving’s not a necessary condition, Ken – vide David Beckham or Thorpie!

Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor
2022 years ago

“Is the corollary an acceptance that our entertainment should come from instantly manufactured and branded stars plucked from obscurity and teleported to our magazine pages, tv screens and compact disc towers via reality tv?’

Not necessarily. I think there’s a significant difference between fame derived from talent and fame/notoriety derived from PR hype or a one-off event More importantly, I think we’re pretty expert at spotting the difference. Does anyone remember the contestants from the first series of Big Brother? Did any of them achieve enduring fame? Paris Hilton is ‘famous’ only as a laughing stock or as a byword for trashy vulgarity. No-one seriously “admires” her “talent.” Rebecca Loos was momentarily notorious solely for being a hooker without a heart of gold in close proximity to David Beckham (who regardless of his other shortcomings, does have exceptional talent).

Human beings have always been entertained by freaks, oddities and tawdry lowlife antics. I think however that in general we can tell the difference between that and the celebrity that accrues from great acting, writing, dancing and sporting ability. It’s all entertainment ultimately but it’s a mistake to imagine that it’s not being crtically assessed and categorised by the audience.

Mark, you’d agree that most people who aspire to be great writers aren’t going to be. To suffer to some degree in the process of identifying that might not be a totally bad thing. And for all the alleged outrageous expense of pursuing one’s acting dream at tertiary level, NIDA is swamped every year anyway – by thousands of applicants who won’t get in. It’s no bad thing. The majority of those who do get in, don’t realise their dream. Relatively few people possess the attributes and luck to be a great actor, celebrated for her/his craft. At least they’ve now got Reality TV to fall back on. It beats Waitering.

Ken – are they those knee socks that you wear with tailored shorts up in the Territory? If so, be sure not to wear sandals with them.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Interesting thoughts, Geoff. The fleeting nature of fame is demonstrated well by the fact that Rebecca Loos wasn’t the “hooker with the heart of gold” that Becks was having an affair with – that was a Sydney “model”…

I’m a little worried about sounding like Prince Charles now, but I’d agree that in an era when creative writing courses proliferate and everyone is seemingly writing a novel, that the talent to do so well is still fairly rare. The pity is also that the bottom has fallen out of the market for Australian fiction (and also to some degree local acting opportunities).

Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor
2022 years ago

“The fleeting nature of fame is demonstrated well by the fact that Rebecca Loos wasn’t the “hooker with the heart of gold” that Becks was having an affair with – that was a Sydney “model”…”

I mean more in the general sense of both of them flogging their favours for remunerative return – not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s the “betrayal for fun, profit and television talk show appearances ” aspect that I find offputting. However, speaking of Prince Charles, it’s a preoccupation that Ms Loos seemingly shares with just about everyone who ever had contact with the late Princess of Wales so she’s hardly alone in her perdition.

Must check to ensure that the Australia Council isn’t giving grants to struggling, artistic aspirant Kitty Kelley types….

Nabakov
Nabakov
2022 years ago

That’s a good point Geoff. Not wearing sandals with yer knee socks.

But yeah, any detailed look at human history in all big urban cultures from the Romans onwards will throw up scandalous celebrities that were a big deal at time. People like that shit.

The Paris Hiltons, Koo Starks et al have always had their contemporaries throughout history. Remember Nell Gywnne or Madame Pompadour or Lady Hamilton? They had fun, didn’t hurt anyone and provided vicarious entertainment. I can think of worse lived lives.

And if you’ve really got it takes to be famous instead of notorious, then you will be remembered for the most of the right reasons.

After all, the reason Nell could flash her tits onstage and get Chuck 1’s attention was ‘cos a callow young stagestruck country bumpkin, drawn to London’s sexy bright lights by her predecessors, went on to revitalise English theatre. His name’s on the tip of my tongue. Bill, Will someone, from upriver somewhere.

My only issue is with the lack of style in today’s semi-famous demi-monde. Where’s today’s Lola Montez, a horsewhip and a newspaper editor? Much more entertaining than Paris by Night(vision).

yobbo
2022 years ago

Many people are unsuccessful in their dream career. Artists are unique in that they think should be renumerated even if they are unsuccessful.

Personally, I always dreamed of being an Astronaut. Why aren’t you all paying for me to study it while I wait for my call up?

Nabakov
Nabakov
2022 years ago

I wanted to be an astronaut too Yobbo, but lacked the patience and temprement required by the military space gatekeepers of the time.

Now I’m busy getting rich so I can buy a Virgin Space ticket.

What are you doing to make yer childhood dream come true Sam ?

James Hamilton
James Hamilton
2022 years ago

I work at a performing arts institution. The fees for the VET programmes are one of the great education bargains in the country. The acting programme is rated 1 or 2 in the country depending who you ask and where they went and cost to the students is $1200 a year, about $800 if the students have health cards. Contact hours range between 40-60 hours a week. The music theatre programme is the best in Australia by a ring cycle and the students pay normal BA HECS. Cheap as chips.

There are three institutions training actors in Australia that are in the top level. One in Sydney, one in Melbourne and one in, cough, Perth. Applicant numbers may be down this year, I doubt if you asked anyone they would tell you. Still there are many more applicants than places by a factor that is very large. I do not believe institutions are very comfortable releasing those figures becasue they want to see as many applicants as possible from all backgrounds and the statistic may discourage them.

Why fewer applicants? Well I have a theory but it is coloured by my own political view and most certainly does not come close to being anything like a view my employer would endorse or allow me to say.