x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

The economics of celebrity takes a downturn

The cult of celebrity, which has defined the early part of this century, now appears as bankrupt as a debt-addled eurozone nation.

Illustration by Sarah Lazarovic for The National
Illustration by Sarah Lazarovic for The National

If a week is a long time in politics, as the late British prime minister Harold Wilson once observed, how long must seven days feel now in the gloomy continent where he uttered those words? Europe is in crisis, its political future bound by what was once hailed as the miracle of single market economics, its present hamstrung by the structural weaknesses of a single currency stretched across multiple, disparate nations.

The unanswered question in the midst of the cheers and catcalls that greeted Silvio Berlusconi's resignation in Italy last weekend is whether the current worldwide economic contraction will eventually settle into the shape of the recession that blighted global growth in periods of the Seventies, Eighties and Nineties or, if indeed, the "clear and present danger" the eurozone presents (as the British PM David Cameron would have it) will drag the world deep into another Great Depression?

Paul Hockenos considers the past, present and future of the euro at length in a thought- provoking essay in this week's issue of The Review. He suggests some likely outcomes as the crisis continues to shape an era that now looks destined to be lost to austerity programmes and stagnant economies.

Is that then how this decade will be remembered? For a time it had seemed we were living in the age of celebrity rather than the era of austerity. Reality TV programmes and the cult of personality have been the twin blights of the new century, generating ever more fragile notions of what a "star" should or could be, to fill endless hours on multiple satellite channels, to willingly distract us from the real issues of the day. In the light of two recent incidents, however, the celebrity era now appears as bankrupt as a debt-addled eurozone nation.

Kim Kardashian is the gold standard among today's reality-show celebrities. She leads where the pack follows. Her every move, her every utterance is obsessed over by her millions of fans. Her wedding, in August, was the "media event" of the year, obsessively choreographed, the cynics chided, to cash in on her enormous popularity. She even caused quite a stir when she visited Dubai last month.

The cynics claimed a victory of sorts when Kardashian announced her plans to divorce her husband on grounds of irreconcilable differences earlier this month. The couple had been married for just 72 days. This announcement was quickly followed by news of a possible reconciliation and then rumours of the star being pregnant. Kardashian contends that she is a "hopeless romantic", that she married for love, that she did not profit from the wedding.

Whichever version of events you choose to believe, something cynical is at play here. The twists, the turns, the slings, the arrows seem as carefully scripted as those of a daytime drama. Something sad is going on, too. Namely, that the sanctity of marriage should appear to have been so completely abandoned in the wholly unromantic pursuit of fame and notoriety.

Something troubling has also been at work in a Los Angeles courtroom for the trial of Dr Conrad Murray, Michael Jackson's physician at the time of the star's 2009 death. Murray awaits sentencing having been found guilty of involuntary manslaughter.

Undoubtedly he was negligent in his care, but is he alone in his guilt? Probably not. In fact, the verdict was "a joke" according to Quincy Jones, Jackson's one-time mentor.

The suggestion here is that Jackson was an accident waiting to happen, that countless people around the star (not just Murray) ignored the repeated warning signs about his troubled lifestyle.

It's hard to disagree. In Jackson's life and death, as in Kardashian's marriage, the brittle shell of the celebrity age reveals itself as a broken, empty vessel that should now be set aside. Will we, I wonder, be saying the same about the euro in future years too?