“Did you see the latest Kardashian episode? Or yesterday’s stoush on ‘The only way is Essex’. Can you get enough of  ‘Big Brother Africa’s’ hottest scandal? How about ‘The Real Housewives’? Miss that and you’ve missed out on the essence of life …”

Ah, reality tv, celebrity news and entertainment. Where would we be without someone famous or semi famous to gawp, laugh or stare at?

However, I can’t help but notice that the amount of trivial entertainment is on the increase. I once regularly visited the Sydney Morning Herald website for my daily fix of opinion and international news, but alas, no more. With at least 50% of the articles online today dedicated to ‘lifestyle’, ‘celebrity’ and entertainment, while politics, insights and opinion pieces languish in the doldrums, it’s no wonder I now turn to Huffington Post and The Atlantic for depth and verita  (if one can call it that as these mastheads are too becoming wishy washy with time). Pity, I’m a big fan of SMH’s ipad app.

While consuming ‘light’ news  is not a new phenomenon, it’s increasing in its scope; and grand theories about the long term side effects of our ‘trivial’ culture have been bandied around for years, none more so brilliantly than by Aldous Huxley in Brave New World (1984) where he brought to life a public oppressed by their addiction to amusement, and further in  The Unreality Industry: the deliberate manufacturing of falsehood and what it is doing to our lives (by Ian Mitroff and Warren Bennis, 1989).

You only have to look at the piles of celebrity magazines’ at your newsstand, the rush of new ‘reality television’ shows and the ‘Kult of the Kardashian’ kraze to realise just how close we’re teetering towards a dark chasm of banality and trivialism.

Sadly too, America’s ‘celebrity’ culture has begun to seep into African media in the last few years – a worrying trend I’d never seen before. Magazines in South Africa, Kenya and Ghana now regularly feature the lives of Africa’s ‘celebrities’ (known only to a handful, so not sure how this title is attributed) – hastily constructed glossy imitations of the western phenomenon edited by ‘journalists’ who’ve clearly have not stopped to ask the question ” Why the hell are we imitating values clearly not of our own?”

It would seem instead of focusing on Africa’s diversity and richness and depicting it with style and elegance, some of my brothers and sisters are more too happy to exchange our latter day warriors, heroes, kings and chiefs for contemporary “entertainers” and “celebs” with sometimes minimal talent as their ticket to fame (a subject which I write more about in my ‘What Africa can teach the world’ post – coming soon). Please note that there are many talented Africans out there that deserve due praise and an enjoyment of their gifts, however they’re a myriad more who are mediocre dancers on the bandwagon of fame.

Entertainment is an important part of life – we need the laughter, the joy and the music to feel alive and connected to one another.  The trouble with our current ‘celebrity’ and light news culture, is when we begin to take the moral and political opinions of ‘celebrities’, musicians, actors and even minor reality TV aspirants as gospel truth, even though their so called lifestyles do not depict any useable nor model moral example.

An example is most young people’s view of Africa. Much of what the world knows about probably derives more from the pronouncements of Bono, Geldof or as we’ve recently witnessed, the Kony 2012 movement, than from any other source of knowledge.

Los Angeles Times’ writer Theodore Darlymple states “While Bono has a heart for Africa, his authority arises from his celebrity, not from his knowledge. An equally knowledgeable but otherwise totally obscure person would not be able to hector the leaders of France, Germany and Italy for falling behind on their promises of aid, as Bono (can). When Bono speaks, they have to listen — he is more famous than they are.”

He goes on to say that in today’s popular culture, fame confers authority, and the principal way of acquiring great fame is via the entertainment industry. Entertainers are the popes of our age, with de facto — though as yet not de jure — powers to call down anathemas on or beatify whomever they choose.

“When entertainment becomes our source of moral authority and when politics and religion are diluted in favour of light hearted entertainment and the “news of the day” becomes a packaged commodity, we’re in trouble people.”

If one derives wisdom from and cannot make life decisions unless they match those of a ‘celebrity’, or find it hard to spend quiet time alone without the endless drum of pop music or E News, or worst still if one’s identity, values and beliefs are based on those of a celebrity or famous actor, then one needs to pause and ask a few hard questions.

It’s my hope that Africa, and the rest of the world’s present and future generations, realise the slippery slope of trivial entertainment and become proud-er of who they are while being committed to a world where celebrating individual identity and values of friendship, kinship and upholding community overtakes the irrational focus on celebrity identities.

 Illustrations: Stuart McMillen’s ‘Amusing ourselves to death’ – is a visual discourse comparing George Orwell’s 1984 to Aldous Huxley’s ‘Brave new world’.

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References:

1. “A world trivialised by the cult of celebrity”, Theodore Dalrymple, Los Angeles Times, 2007.

2. “Amusing ourselves to death – illustration by Stuart McMillen,” Neil Postman, 2009.

 

 

 

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