Posted by BigWords on November 9, 2013
People say that you can tell a lot about a society from its treatment of animals, but I’ll wager that a better gauge of a society’s standing is by looking at the celebrities de rigueur. Go look at the covers of this month’s magazines – take your time poring over the glossy, airbrushed covers, often overlaid with impenetrable acronyms such as HIMYM and TOWIE, as if by speaking in Tweets they are going to appear fashionable rather than desperate and pathetic. I would offer to buy the publishers of such atrocities a dictionary, but I’m not entirely sure that some of the authors of those lines would know what to do with one. Seeing the dull, vacant eyes of our “national obsessions” staring out of the magazine racks like women in the windows of Amsterdam brothels, my first feeling is one of pity. Then embarrassment on their behalf.
One of the major problems, when standing staring at those magazines, is that nothing stands out. Magazines have becomes clones of each other, with no originator to follow. Pod-people publications; uniform in appearance. It is no surprise that some people are moaning and griping about slipping sales. When standards slip, sales slip. It is almost an inevitability that random purchases aren’t going to be followed up by regular purchase or (as some are praying for) a subscription, just by looking at the covers. If the highest level of “celebrity” you can bag is some non-entity, fart in the wind who will be an unknown in a couple of years time, then maybe, just maybe, it is time to throw your hands in the air and say “fuck it, run the pic of the two-headed cat.” Or anything. To make a statement with covers beyond “we are shallow and unimaginative.”
So, the covers. I can’t say that I recognize the majority of faces. The anorexic blondes all look the same to me, and even the male “celebrities” are becoming rather alike. The days of stars with character in their faces… Tura Satana, Theda Bara, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson… even that old louche Sinatra – those days are gone and buried. We have pod-people personalities posing for pod-people publications, and nobody seems to find the mundanity of it all bothersome. It is a different age – these people aren’t distant icons. They aren’t mysterious, nor (in a great swathe of cases) all that interesting. The faces on at least two covers are people whom I could easily imagine tweeting about their bowel movements, which removes any incentive to read what comes out of their mouths.
Warhol got it wrong – we aren’t going to witness masses of people attain fifteen minutes of fame. What we are witnessing, at this present moment, is the slow death of celebrity culture. People wrung out like sponges, every moment of their lives scrutinized, then discarded once they have seeped out every last detail of their personal lives.
The covers I commissioned for the monthly were in gouache. There is something about great paintings which speaks volumes, and I have always had an affinity for the boldness that a painted cover brings. You can strip away so much of the ornamentation which is expected, retaining the essence of identity through subtler means. I don’t think I asked for any major alterations – I know that on one painting I suggested that the sky ought to be two shades darker, though that is hardly the most extravagant of demands. Despite everything that happened after, and all the negatives which went with losing the title, I still have those on my wall. Not the cheapest paintings ever purchased, all things thrown into the cost, but much more satisfying to look at than a nondescript photograph.
And on celebrity again, for a moment – I spent a little time putting together a list of names of people I found interesting enough to warrant running features on, but the first thirty names (the choices which I would have ran first) met with blank stares from nearly everyone. I nixed the idea, desperate to keep from turning the open-to-all nature of the title into a closed-off community of geeks with long memories. One of these days, when there’s less possibility of things going completely tits-up, I’ll come back to some of that material, which I still think has the potential to do interesting things. At the very least I would love to see some of the daguerreotypes preserved in print, as a few of them are starting to look very sorry for themselves indeed.