Just say no. To celebrities, that is. Not drugs. Well, maybe you should say no to drugs as well but, personally, I don’t think that they are either as dangerous or addictive as celebrities. We hang on their every word, follow their dribblings on Twitter, let them tell us what to wear and how to look. Now, it seems, we’re going to let them tell us what to think. But the reality is that these people are completely unqualified to lecture us on any subject. Trust me, being famous does not, in itself, make you an expert on anything. Don’t listen to them. Oh, I know, it’s all too easy to fall into the trap of thinking ‘Hey, they’ve been really successful, become wealthy and famous in their chosen field, more successful than me, so they must know something I don’t’. But it’s a myth. Want to know the secret of their success (or anyone else’s, for that matter)? Luck. Yep, it’s that simple. Especially in the world of celebrity. It is all a matter of being in the right place at the right time. Or having the right ‘look’, or the right ‘sound’, at the right time. You just have to catch the eye of the right person. Think I’m being too cynical? OK, I know that about now you are shouting at me, (via the screen of your laptop, tablet or smart phone), that I’m ignoring the advantages that wealth, a good education or just plain hard work can confer. But aren’t these all down to luck, too? After all, it’s just an accident of birth if you are born into a family with the wealth to send you to private schools. Natural talent? Accident of birth – you just got lucky in having parents who could give you good genes. Hard work? Believe me, you can work as hard you like, but if your face doesn’t fit, or if you didn’t go to the right school, then it will all be in vain.
But I’ve digressed already. Although, I think I’ve demonstrated amply why the façade of success projected by most celebrities should not be taken as a reason to trust their judgement. But getting back to the original point – the pernicious influence celebrities are increasingly having on public opinion. Now, to be honest, I really couldn’t care less if people are stupid enough to wear their trousers around their ankles, say, just because some micro-celebrity does the same thing, but I do start getting very worried when I see celebrities apparently being used as vehicles to advance dubious political agendas. Which brings me, finally, to Russell Brand and his appearance on Newsnight. Whilst many have dismissed his chat with Jeremy Paxman about the state of British politics, there seems to be growing number of commentators and users of social media, praising him. Indeed, you could be forgiven for thinking that he had advanced some radical new political agenda. In reality, all he did was try to legitimise not bothering to vote with the tired old argument that ‘politicians are all the same’ and that you ‘can’t tell the difference’ between the main parties. Now, I would hope that the evil depredations being committed by this right-wing Tory-led government are proof positive that all parties aren’t the same – even a right-wing Labour government in thrall to the City and led by Tony Blair did more to advance the cause of social equality than this bunch, under whom we are, frankly, going backwards. Remember the minimum wage, the Human Rights Act, the Freedom of Information Act, increased spending on health and education? All brought in by a pretty reactionary Labour government. So, they aren’t really the same, are they? Indeed, just lately even Ed Miliband has been showing signs of what passes for radicalism these days with his energy policies and talk of a living wage. So there is some choice between the main parties.
Nevertheless, despite all the evidence to the contrary, we have a popular celebrity advancing the idea that it is somehow more virtuous not to bother voting in elections than to take the trouble to actually look into what the parties are saying and make an informed choice. Now, I’m not saying that people who don’t vote shouldn’t be entitled to a say, or that not voting can’t be a legitimate form of political expression. However, in my limited experience, people who don’t vote as a true matter of principal are usually politically active in other ways – they organise protests, go on marches, sign petitions and the like. The trouble is that most of the people praising Brand don’t do any of this. Instead they just sit and moan about how terrible politics and politicians are. I don’t see any of them as being likely to get out on the streets and start a revolution any time soon, any more than I think a millionaire stand up comedian is likely to lead one. Especially if said revolution involves the redistribution of wealth from rich to poor. But let’s be fair here, it isn’t just vacuous celebrities like Brand perpetuating the narrative of ‘broken British politics’. The worst offenders are the press, who like to bang on about it day and night. The trouble is, of course, that people trust them even less than they trust politicians. So I’m sure they couldn’t believe their luck when a popular culture icon started taking the narrative to an audience who wouldn’t usually read the drivel printed in our national press.
Again, to be fair, it isn’t just our sleazy print media who are pushing this nonsense. We’ve just had no less than Jeremy Paxman himself revealing that he sympathised with Brand’s assertion that there was no difference between the main political parties. He even trotted out the same old nonsense about how, at the next general election electors will have the unappealing choice between the party who had given us five years of austerity and the party who ‘left us this mess’. Which isn’t just simplistic and patronising, but also just plain wrong. To say that the last Labour government was responsible for a global economic downturn created by the activities of an out-of-control financial sector is ludicrous. Certainly, they should have regulated the financial sector in the UK more closely, but so should the previous Conservative administration. Moreover, Paxman’s characterisation of British politics as being a ‘green-bench pantomime in Westminster … a remote and self-important echo-chamber’, could equally be applied to the world of celebrity – or perhaps even news media.
To understand why I find all of this deeply disturbing, we have to ask the question: who benefits from discouraging people from voting in elections? To answer that, we should perhaps ask who do multi-millionaire celebrities, news presenters and newspaper hacks really represent? Well, in differing ways, they all represent different aspects of the establishment, those who have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. Think about it – newspapers are themselves owned by multi-national corporations which, in turn, are controlled by a tiny group of vastly wealthy capitalists. News presenters like Paxman – they went to the right schools and universities, know all the right people, work for news organisations dedicated to representing the establishment consensus. As for celebrities, well, they owe their fame and success to those same media corporations, which control their careers and public appearances. Which brings us back to the issue of encouraging us not to vote. Put simply, it reduces the franchise. Before the twentieth century, our ruling elites went to great lengths to restrict the number of people eligible to vote, ensuring, through such qualifying factors as property ownership, that only the ‘right sort’ of people could vote. People who would vote for them and thereby ensure that the social and economic status quo wasn’t upset. So, next time you hear some celebrity endorsing the idea of not voting, bear in mind that if you follow their advice, you are effectively ceding the democratic decision-making process to an ever smaller number of ‘the right sort’ of voters. You are in danger of disenfranchising yourselves. So, just say ‘no’ to those celebrities.