I have always liked George Michael. I didn’t like him as a Wham member, but, long before anyone had heard of him being gay, I have appreciated his involuntary manierism as a solo artist. There was something honest about it that made me admire his obvious talent and virtuosity more. What I have always looked for in a music star was a trace of humanity. What I have always wanted was to crack the code of stardom.
People love to mourn the stars. Yes, they love it! They loved it when David Bowie died. And Michael Jackson. And Prince. And Princess Diana, back in the ’97. People love the mass mourning, they love to shed tears for a man or a woman they have never met, they love to wear “I miss Bowie” and “I miss Lennon” t-shirts. Unlike the deaths of their brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, the death of celebrities is never dull. I will not bore you with theoretical details about how collective emotions are being channeled in such cases, all I want is to make a brief note on Leon Wieseltier’s observation: celebrities are not people, except for themselves.
I will start by saying that celebrities are taken-for-granted people; people whose humanity is there only to be overlooked, disputed, or even denied, if necessary. Normally, “the human side” of famous people is something to play with; but whenever their attributes as humans happen to clash with their attributes as products, the human side is rudely dismissed.
I’ve seen non-famous people asking famous people for extremely… human things. These things were actually so human that they couldn’t possibly be asked for without overlooking someone’s very… humanity and the most basic interpersonal rules.
On the other hand, I’ve seen famous people encouraging non-famous people to make use of their advantage of being “consumers of stardom”, and make demands over and above what is normally seen as “human”, but in total accord with what is normally seen as “marketing”: the stars themselves erase their own human significance in order to gain and preserve stardom.
And finally, I’ve seen famous and non-famous people freely using each other’s attributes and roles, thus encouraging an enigmatic confusion of identities and purposes, often recorded by tabloids as “diva-like aura” and by shrinks as “hysteria”: average people acting like stars and famous people ostentatiously acting like regular people.
…And when the “famous” one dies, the “average” one wears the celebrity t-shirt. He should “normalize” his grief reaction by printing a photo of his dead mother on a t-shirt and wear it every day. That sounds insane, isn’t it?
Eventually, a(ny) relationship between famous and non-famous people is naturally built on misunderstandings. It bears little credibility, and requires very little – if any – negotiation. It takes time, good will, and a mountain of wisdom not to lead to disastrous misuses with psychopathologic consequences.