The Catholique cimetière in Saint-Loubès, France, is the resting place of Max Linder – the world’s first movie star.
Linder’s on-screen persona was one of a clumsy, bumbling, rich socialite – whose performances were loved by not only the French audience but everyone during the silent-film era. Before World War One, Linder was by far the world’s most popular film-star. His personal life was often speculated in the media, the press followed him whenever he was in public, and his on-screen bourgeoise lifestyle inspired envy in many.
Celebrity culture goes back a long way further, however. The gladiators of the ancient world were celebrities. William Shakespeare was a celebrity. George Washington was a celebrity. John Wilkes Booth was famous even before he shot Abraham Lincoln. There has always been a human obsession with larger-than-life figures. The heroes of the American Revolutionary War were among the first celebrities in the United States, as the country was looking for some early sense of national identity.
After Max Linder, however, a new meaning was brought to the word ‘celebrity’. Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, and Beethoven were famous due to their renown. Isacc Newtown and Charlies Darwin were controversial scientists, whose findings outraged as many people as they inspired. Military heroes were courageous and were seen as a symbol of national pride. During the early 20th century, fame began to shift from focusing on accolades to focusing on an individual’s life. As mediums like film and radio became widespread, the notion of fame became easy to broadcast.
Now, people themselves were celebrated – not the acts they did. The Golden Age of Hollywood dawned after the Second World War and brought figures such as Robert Mitchum, Marilyn Monroe, Cary Grant, and Marlon Brando to worldwide recognition. Their personal lives were often discussed in the media, legions of fans hung on their every word, and their bank accounts became saturated with millions of dollars. Soon, our idea of the person became famous – not the people themselves or their talents. Talent commanded attention, whereas fame demanded attention.
The images of celebrities have been masterfully crafted by PR agencies and agents. They have become so integral to our culture that we can’t possibly imagine life without them. Celebrities give us both inspiration and escape. For a few hours, we can watch a Die Hard movie and pretend we are as cool as Bruce Willis. We can watch interviews with our favorite stars and wonder if they’re just normal people like us. We can be inspired by their success and adopt their philosophies on life for our own good.
And then there’s the ‘famous for being famous’ type. The Kardashians, Paris Hilton, Logan Paul, Kevin Federline. Each as inane and useless as the last. The social media generation has brought with it new ‘celebrities’ whose only output is posting pictures of them drinking cocktails on a beach – and making millions off the insecurities of their often-young Instagram followers who wish to be in their shoes. These ‘influencers’ make a fortune making a caricature of themselves online, and their seemingly perfect lives are lining their pockets whilst affecting the minds of the young and impressionable. They are neither renowned or talented, and are simply the internet’s answer to the question nobody asked.
The recent pandemic has revealed just out of touch some celebrities are. Whether it be delusional film-stars singing ‘Imagine’ from the comfort of their own mansions, or Madonna talking about how COVID-19 is ”the great equalizer” whilst sitting in a rose-petal bath, the claim that ”we’re all in the same boat” could not be further from the truth – everyday folk are desperately trying to keep afloat, whist celebrities have docked their yachts in the harbour for the time being.
I understand that the rich and famous are an easy target. I understand that for every Logan Paul out there, there is a John Cena, Ryan Reynolds, or Ariana Grande in return – humble celebrities doing the best they can to raise money and help those less fortunate. I understand it’s unfair to compare medical workers to actors because they’re entirely different trades that require entirely different training.
However, now the world is focused on simply getting through the day, we have been awakened to just how useless celebrity culture really is, and how desperate some celebrities are to stay relevant. We are to blame just as much as celebrities are, as we have idolised their lifestyles and have been giving them attention for so long. Don’t you just feel sorry for them?
Pictures of them all alone in their stately homes does not conjure up any sympathy. Front-line workers who don’t get paid enough do. People who have lost loved ones do. For celebrities to say that they are ‘just like us’ is both insulting and darkly hilarious. Even more so when remembering that those with money or stardom find it the easiest to get tested – whilst the most important members of society are most vulnerable.
The public is beginning to wake up and smell the coffee. Nobody cares about Jessica Alba’s live stream of a ‘self-care’ party. Nobody cares about Kim Kardashian or Ellen DeGeneres’s ‘quarantines’. It’s a shame that it’s taken a deadly pandemic to realise this.
Whilst some celebrities are certainly doing their part, at least we can all enjoy facepalming at some stars’ attempts of coming across ‘just like us’.
I think this tweet sums it up better than I could: