Jonathan Miller was taken to task (again) in the Independent yesterday for criticising celebrity culture, in particular the casting of ‘stars’ in theatre plays, particularly in London.
While there have been notable exceptions to this rule on the London stage recently: Pitman Painters and (arguably) Jerusalem, (depending on your view of MacKenzie Crook) celebrities still do gobble up more than their fair share of pretty much everything. And it certainly isn’t confined to the stage or London. Most of our culture now, as shown on TV and to a certain extent radio, whether it be cooking, cleaning, buying a house or having a bowel operation, is approached in a ‘particularised’ rather than a universal way.
In other words, we are not encouraged to see PAST the person and AT the experience but to entirely focus ON THEM or at least their reactive surface in an act of compulsive but highly superficial voyeurism – a fetishistic voyeurism. It is an individualised not a universalised experience. So, to return to the stage, for example, David Tennant is a good actor; but the majority of people who went to see his Hamlet, probably went to look AT HIM not at Hamlet or what the play is about. This is why celebrity diminishes experience rather than expanding it.
Literature operates differently to this, (or certainly should); it does work through specifics, but (at its best) these specifics provide portals to the universal and enrich our sense of being and living rather than leaving us with the hollow sense that we have just been on the outside, witnessing someone else’s fascinating experience or talent and that comparably we are considerably poorer (in every sense) and less interesting than they are.
True literature expands us, rather than diminishing. Jonathan Miller criticised the idea of people wanting to be ‘taken out of themselves’ in the theatre; saying he wanted to ‘take them INTO themselves’. I agree. We are ALL interesting and far bigger and more complex than we are given (or give ourselves) credit for. Celebrity culture puts us on the outside looking in (enviously); literature opens others up and consequently ourselves, breaking through barriers and showing our interconnected humanity.
Real lives, lived outside what is spot-lit, are far more interesting than that which gets constantly shoved in front of audiences via the broadcast media. Literature finds the hidden parts of people’s being and lays out their extraordinary precious uniqueness while at the same time connecting to and illuminating these aspects of our own experience.
So called reality TV was so wide of this mark it was, in the words of another writer, “closer to Restoration Comedy than real-life.” A passingly amusing, but ultimately degrading, souring exaggeration and reductive travesty of human experience.
I hope Britain is moving out of this nauseating trend and seeing it for the pap it truly is.