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New opiate of the people

Anna Bluston on popes, royals and the cult of celebrity.

There is always a lot of hype across the media about ‘celebrities’. Celebrities are increasingly people who are famous for being famous: traditionally stars of television or films. But over the last few years, ‘ordinary’ people who appear on ‘reality TV’ programmes, who suddenly find the media spotlight is on them, when they haven’t really done anything remarkable, become celebrities. The term ‘celebrity’ also includes upper-class people from the ‘party scene’: people born into wealth who seemingly do nothing except get drunk, take lots of cocaine and behave in a vulgar manner. But these people are ‘celebrities’ because the popular media has decided that they will sell newspapers.

There have always been famous people. But it was not until the last century with the advent of recordable and broadcasting media that the cult of the celebrity really took off. Suddenly, you could see your idols from anywhere in the world, and cameras could follow them round, projecting their images, and indeed creating them.

When television became common, you could see them every day in your own home. Now, it seems that everyone is a celebrity. People who are famous because of status or influence, such as the Royal Family and the Pope, have suddenly become just an extension of media hype. Two immediate examples are the incessant coverage on the last days and funeral of the Pope; which has never before attracted so much interest from non-Catholics in the history of the Papacy; and the hysteria over Prince Charles’ wedding. The way these events were presented across the media made them seem like just another form of the coverage of the antics of footballers or pop-stars, without any sort of grading of what may be more important or relevant to the public interest. To confirm this point, Britney Spears’ pregnancy made terrestrial national television news!

The tabloid press, claiming to distinguish between ‘red-tops’ (meant to be ‘working class’) and the other, supposedly ‘middle class’ type, actually only vary in style rather than substance. The Daily Mail devotes double page spreads to Wayne Rooney’s new mansion, and compares which Party leader’s wife is the better dressed. The Sunday Express asks for text voting from readers on views such as fox-hunting and immigration in such biased, inflammatory language, in order to ensure that the vote comes out in favour of their own views, that would be laughable if people weren’t convinced by this nonsense and use it to confirm their own beliefs.

The incessant coverage over the death of the Pope was fuelled by countless world leaders, faith community leaders and politicians all falling over themselves to say how wonderful the Pope was and how much good he did. Did I miss something? Although it is true that John Paul II did do much for interfaith relations, he was still one of the most conservative Popes, and has strictly opposing values and views to what most European politicians believe. Could there be a correlation between this outbreak of emotion and seeking to jump on whatever bandwagon seems to be promoted by the media, in order to gain popular support? Or is this too cynical?

At least the Daily Star, Sun, Mirror and the like are honest about what they represent. Though I personally find their contents uninteresting, not really caring what type of bikini Wayne Rooney’s girlfriend wore on holiday, it is clear that many people enjoy reading this type of stuff, or it would not sell, and therefore would not be printed. But the hypocrisy of the so-called ‘middle class’ tabloids gets to me. It pretends to be for ‘middle England’ readers - a ‘higher class’ of people, yet presents exactly the same sort of rubbish, but in slightly more refined language.

It is clear, therefore, that all of the press is equally obsessed with the same topics. Why? For the same reason that footballers, models and actors are paid obscene amounts of money for not doing anything useful, while people with important jobs that actually benefit society such as nurses, teachers and carers get paid a pittance. This nonsense is perpetuated by the capitalist media, which contributes to the ‘dumbing down’ of society by its endless celebrity diet, ensuring that the masses are so obsessed with the lives of the rich and famous that they are unaware, or can’t be bothered to care, that they are being oppressed and exploited? Forget religion. It is the mass media that is the opiate of the people.