Why do they all clamour to be a big cheese?

2nd May 2008 at 01:00
"Miss!" comes the anguished cry
"Miss!" comes the anguished cry. "There's a cheese under my chair." Indeed there is. A large lump of Edam. "Mine, Miss!" shouts Thomas. When he grows up he is going to be a celebrity chef; and he does make exceedingly good brownies. Note he does not want to be one: he is going to be one. The cheese acts as a reminder, apparently. His mother wants him to read history at university, but Thomas says you don't get to star in a reality TV show if you do that.

Celebrity chef. Celebrity footballer. Celebrity hairdresser. A-list, C-list, or even Z-list: this is the career choice of the class.

They aspire to marrying Keira Knightley or Brad Pitt. They want cars that cost in excess of pound;100k. I admire their optimism, yet when I ask how they intend to fund such a lifestyle, they look puzzled. Their response is simply to be a celebrity. Yes, but doing what, I ask? On the TV, apparently, dancing or ice skating their way to fame.

My hairdresser, yet again, is unable to find an apprentice. They all begin optimistically, yet leave when reality dawns that they won't be famous and have their own-name range of shampoos within six months. Where is the concept that young people will have to support themselves - pay the rent and put food on the table?

Even my local bookshop has succumbed to the cult of celebrity. Biography is divided into three sections. One is general biography - home to Mandela, Churchill. Then celebrity: Jordan, Leslie Ash. Then misery lives: A Child Called 'It'. Reality. Celebrity. Misery. I kid you not.

Such an obsession with the cult of the celebrity. No surprise, then, to find that the favourite reading material of young teenagers is Heat magazine, according to a report by the National Year of Reading. Second favourite was Bliss magazine. Both are full of banal celebrity gossip and photos; their bad hair days; cellulite in bikinis. Has she put on weight? Who is he dating? Why have a trade or a profession when you can get snapped by the paparazzi and make news just going out for a pint of milk in celebrity world.

Bored by celebrity? Why not be a bimbo? Teenagers can practise by playing the internet game 'Bimbo City', to become the "hottest, coolest, most famous bimbo in the whole world". Wow. You can use 'bimbo dollars' to buy sexy outfits and secure plastic surgery, even choosing your own breast shape while buying diet pills.

I wish that I was making this up but, sadly, I am not. The game's makers insist that it is "harmless fun". Nothing wrong with a bit of escapism. But at the age of 12? Such escapism, if taken too far, can lead to places more menacing than the one we are trying to escape from.

It's 4pm. Thomas sticks his head round the door. For a moment I think he's lost his cheese again. "Help me revise, Miss? Got a test tomorrow." We settle down. "Bit of cheese, Miss?" I politely decline. That lump of Edam looks like it's had a tough day. He takes a bite. Welcome back to reality.

Julie Greenhough, Teacher at a boys' secondary in London.

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