Questioning haul of fame

5th May 2006 at 01:00
Let's call it Sod's Law mark 2, that your talents are in roughly inverse proportion to your rewards. Like half the population, I will be spending much of June glued to my TV screen watching the World Cup. But, when I hear that David Beckham is worth pound;85 million a year (interesting definition of the word worth, don't you think?), I can't help wondering whether his efforts really are that many times more significant than those of the average teacher, nurse or fire fighter. When there are stories about young Master Rooney blowing a cool pound;700,000 on gambling or the Chelsea squad spending the equivalent of the gross domestic product of Bolivia on a day at the races, you do wonder whether it is right to make them heroes to a generation of kids.

And these preening, pampered, overpaid and overworked exponents of the beautiful game are at the more admirable and cost effective end of the spectrum of celebrity. At least they can kick a ball and thrill us with the odd breathtaking feat of athleticism. But what are we to make of the instant celebs fashioned by reality TV?

I read somewhere that inflatable Barbie doll Jordan was recently heard mouthing off about Big Brother "star" Chantelle ("Oh my God, I did nothing, so they gave me a big bag of money and my own TV show!"). Jordan opined, in a moment of jaw-dropping cheek, that it was about time Chantelle: "did something" to earn her fame. Er, I'm thinking pots, kettles and the colour black. Our blond chums are famous precisely for one thing, being famous.

Then there is one Jade Goody, famous and worth a couple of million pounds because she was recently bad in the Big Brother "house". That's right, for being inarticulate, uninteresting and disliked by millions.

What an odd world we live in. After all, that megamouth master of mediocrity Christopher Woodhead, could do that for half the price! Just imagine him in an orange leotard lapping milk from Tony Blair's fragrant palms.

Now, none of the money and adulation showered on the Petes, Prestons, Jades and Chantelles would bother anyone very much if it all took place discreetly out of sight in some faraway place. Let's call it Planet Ohmigod. Sadly, it doesn't. I read The Guardian and The Independent. Even there, I can't escape the marshmallow behemoth of celebrity culture.

I earn my living as a children's author. This takes me into 150 schools a year. There are the usual questions you get everywhere: "Where do you get your ideas from?" and "How long does it take to write a book?" Those I don't mind. Then there are the celeb-world questions. Here are the five most asked ones: 1. Are you famous?

2. What car do you drive?

3. Have you met anyone famous?

4. Have you got a big house?

5. Have you got a swimming pool?

My answers are, if you are interested: no; a Toyota Prius; does Scary Spice count?; no; and no.

Sometimes I reverse the question and ask the youngsters what they want to be. Lots want to be doctors, sports people, models or writers (maybe they're just saying that). Hardly any of them say teacher, by the way. But a growing number of youngsters just say that they want to be famous. That's when I spring my surprise.

"What for?" I ask.

A blank look usually follows.

"What do you want to be famous for?" I explain.

And there's the rub. When our children see the dumb, the dim, the self-obsessed, the ignorant, the bizarre and the downright woeful feted by the media, is it any wonder they want a piece of the action?

After all, it's quite an attractive proposition, isn't it? You don't want to work, or apply yourself? You don't want to train or study to develop a skill? Well, just get yourself on TV. Then you can be famous for, well, just being famous. Cool, huh?

So what are you going to need on your CV if you're to become a professional celeb? Vacuousness helps. So do pettiness, self-absorption, self-dramatisation, the ability to sob copiously at the drop of a hat, and gross egomania. Celeb culture doesn't create the inattentiveness and lack of application a substantial minority of our pupils display. But it is a pretty good excuse. You've got more rabbit than Watership Down? That's what they're like on Big Brother. You've got the attention span of a lobotomised goldfish? Look at Chantelle ("Ohmigod, I've just found a brain cell!").

You've got all the charm of a self-indulgent piranha. That's the way John McCririck behaves, isn't it?

Officially, we profess to value education, hard work and self-discipline.

But in our popular culture there's more GBH than GCSE, more desperation than aspiration. Lured by a get-rich-quick gravy train as a reward for doing nothing, many young people are seduced by the candyfloss culture of Celeb-land, and act accordingly. And there's me thinking you should be known for what you do, to achieve professional satisfaction, yes, even fame, through talent and hard work.

Somehow, I don't see that happening.

Alan Gibbons's latest novel, Rise of the Blood Moon, is published by Orion children's books on July 6

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