Celebrity Big Brother

Thursday, January 6, 2005 by

Celebrity is a strangely-shaped biscuit whichever way you dunk it. I have found myself cringing at the screen twice lately, once in horror and once in delight, and both times guiltily. Let’s clean up the crap first. Paparazzi (Wednesday 05/01/05, BBC1) is a fly-on-the-turd documentary following the Big Pictures celebrity picture agency, in which sad (mostly) men with telephoto penises scramble and grunt over each other towards the climax of the latest Charlotte Church leaves-pub-after-having-a-drink-or-two exclusive and similar dismal missions.

I have no objection to the premiere/awards/generic-celeb-photo-opportunity assignments. However, there is something sinister as well as tragic about a couple of blokes sitting together in silence in a Ford Focus outside a hotel for hours on end in the hope that they might get a sight of a teenager going to her 18th birthday party (they didn’t). Obviously I have no time for Ms Church or her career, but regardless of her media whoreage even she does not deserve to be stalked by some raincoated fiddler trying to poke his lens up her frock, anymore than a checkout girl should have to put up with a stranger waiting outside Kwik Save at closing time to leer at her. Famous or not, it amounts to the same thing.

As for the man behind the Big Pictures operation, he has progressed from award-winning photo-journalism in the Bosnian war-zone to directing his own empire of showbiz spume. He seems to regard the bodies of famous people as his property, ordering his team to sniff around hotels and family homes, or flash through car windows outside nightclubs in an effort to catch some soap star or pop singer in their anorak or knickers, for the benefit of whatever magazine will pay out. The paparazzi are the oil in the celebrity machine. It all adds up to posh nosh and cheap thrills for Mr Big Picture (clearly a wannabe celeb himself), who presides on his office throne playing with his random cleavage generator, as supplied by the dribbling gang of ex-decorators and lorry drivers who make up his arse-crack squad of photographers.

But why go out looking for celebrities to humiliate when sooner or later they will do it for themselves? Watching an ex-royal servant squirm and chew insects on television is a money-shot beyond any paparazzo’s zoom lens. And so I have to confess to a fair amount of anticipatory pleasure waiting to see which creatures had been dredged up from the murky showbiz canal for the new Celebrity Big Brother. The in(s)ane juxtapositions, the sheer stage-managedness of the whole thing is pure disposable “kitsch and sink” drama. The first night is invariably the best as the trash talent is lovingly unveiled. It’s all downhill from there.

As the desperate cohort stepped onto the ramp I failed to recognise half of them; maybe the programme-makers had to shove some of their own researchers in to make up the numbers and hoped no-one would notice. (The celeb and non-celeb reality shows will finally coalesce into one glutinous mass – it will be a fitting end for such a fleshy genre.) However, there were a couple of jewels in the mud. Germaine Greer is that rare species, an intellectual and an icon. Big Brother is in a sense her natural habitat, a kind of pornographic cultural studies seminar to which she should add some much needed academic rigor.

And then there is Bez. Yes, that’s Bez. Bez …? Jesus Christ, it’s Bez! Sorry, my mind is still trying to assimilate this information. What a trip it must have been, from Happy Mondays’ hallucinogenic freaky dancing mascot to a life of anonymity wandering the moors befriending trapped sheep and living next door to Shaun Ryder (a couple of hopeless illiterate romantics, a kind of hash-smoking Coleridge and Wordsworth), and then into the balmy end-of-the-pier world of Celebrity Big Brother with its surreal repository of models, boy band singers and Brigitte “Tree” Nielsen.

What’s going on? I trust Bez and Grez to make sense of it all between them. Rave on, sorted, emancipation, etc.


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