Fishing for the Force of Celebrity

By Jason Menard

We question why a fish, once he’s escaped certain death at the end of a hook, would so readily lust after that oddly hanging, totally-out-of-its-element, worm the next time it cross its path. But it does, just as we do whenever Madonna goes out on tour.

They say fish have painfully short memories, but what’s our excuse for biting down again on the same old tired bait.

Newspapers, television shows, and the Internet are rife with images of the largely Immaterial Girl symbolically crucifying herself on a mirrored cross. And, instead of ignoring the bait, the Catholic League just couldn’t resist and now finds itself dancing on the line that is Madonna’s publicity machine.

Really, do we care what Madonna does? Are we at all surprised with what she does on stage? Should we be? Honestly, it’s not as if this is Barry Manilow we’re talking about here. It’s not like Madonna doesn’t have a history of turning taboos into television time. Yet, like the spoiled child who gets attention by throwing a temper tantrum, Madonna is able to use outrageous behaviour to gain her attention when, perhaps, her music no longer warrants it.

Cone bras, bisexualism, dancing as a peep show stripper with an underage child, alleged carnal explorations of Dennis Rodman and Vanilla Ice, burning crosses in Pepsi ads, simulated masturbation on stage – really, did nobody see the precedent here? Are we really supposed to be shocked?

If she managed to come out with a movie that didn’t suck – then, that would warrant attention. But no, we’re hooked like fish on a two-pronged rod – one reeling us in, the other one hooked into our wallets – and Madonna manages to leverage her lifetime membership in the Cult of Celebrity.

What is it about us that values style over substance? Madonna’s imagery was always an interesting side project to the fact that her music was, in large part, entertaining and danceable. Before she was a trend-setter, now she jumps from trend to trend, canoodling with today’s starlets (hello Ms. Spears) in an attempt to have their star power rub off on her. She, like so many other entertainers before her, is living off her legacy and has long moved past the stage of titillating into the realm of creepy, reserving space on the discount rack next to Sharon Stone’s Basic Instinct sequel.

It seems when superstars reach a certain status, their need to actually put out quality work lessens – for a time. While U2 is back on top of their game, there were quite a few albums there where it appeared they were just going through the motions. Yet fans would still try to justify the work, analyze their new directions, and come up with plausible explanations for why the new stuff sucked.

Here’s a news flash. Musicians can suck. Actors can plateau. Life moves on. Talent isn’t absolute. Keanu Reeves: good in Bill & Ted’s, bad in everything else. Yet, somehow he continues to get roles – including a new film with the similarly inexplicable Sandra Bullock — despite showing the acting range of the average piece of theatre popcorn. Al Pacino, once a celluloid force is now just cashing checks and shouting his way through scenes where he once gave consideration to acting. And what deal with the devil has kept Bon Jovi recording albums while similarly (un)talented acts like Helix and Nelson are pushing brooms in the local mini-mart?

Celebrity is an odd force. It’s inexplicable and defies talent. The magazine racks are filled with images of starlet racks. Their talent is secondary to their “talents.” Going by the gossip mags, our Hollywood celebrities spend most of their time in bikinis. But sex sells — which may explain Paris Hilton. Our modern-day Zsa Zsa Gabor, famous for being famous, Hilton represents everything that’s both wrong and right about fame.

It’s mercurial, it’s fortuitous, and it’s inexplicable. It can prop up the talentless, while crushing the dreams of those with real acting or singing chops. It’s a force of nature that we’re all moved by but have no control over. And it makes us suspend our otherwise common sensibilities and blinds us to reality.

So the next time Madonna does something predictably outrageous, feel free to be offended. After all, it’s just the force of celebrity moving you to take the bait, yet again.

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

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