We live in an age where most celebrity is manufactured and unmerited, and as a result it is now abundant. If you’ll pardon the double entendre, there are tiers of fame. Which category the consensus prescribes them is widely understood to be a universal concern, so universal in fact, that in an effort to preserve the salience of their exceptionalism, all celebrities ultimately become faced with the question – is just being famous now enough?
This existential conundrum is faced by three sage celebrity wankers, who, in the most glorious of ironies, reside on a judging panel for a trite talent show which churns out disposable celebrities that are diluting the status. Wanker one is a B-lister, the second wanker is a generic ubiquitously available media personality, while the third is a celebrity for his acerbic criticism of more sophisticated entertainment, whose fame has increased exponentially since he ‘sold out’.
You see, and it’s crucial to understand this, our three wankers believe they had earned their fame. They’d routinely woken up at 4:30 am to self-publicise on drab breakfast shows, taken low paying parts in bad movies and television shows, worked eighty hour weeks as a newspaper editor, spent many a grey Thursday afternoon promoting at local community centres and all else in-between. Everyone has to start somewhere, and our three wankers had started at the bottom doing things that they loathed. This too, in an era where the route to fame was often not instant, nor was it cultivated entirely in the media glare, their rises predating social media and even the internet.
So, it’s understandable that the wanker’s views of these wannabees are jaundiced at best, but often latently resentful. By comparison these wannabee wankers have it easy. The only hardship for them is some ritual (and often willingly self-inflicted) humiliation and the absolute invasion of privacy during the proliferation of their fame. These auditions, the pre-sifting through hours of detritus to find something or someone with any discernible talent, often tested the wanker’s well-paid motivation to be forgiving or polite.
If we’re being cynical, and, as you’ve surely gleaned by now, we are, it’s clear the producers filmed the audition stage to induce scorn, and for additional profit. The auditions supplied the audience’s demand for gratification by reaffirming that normalcy is still the prevailing sociological construct. There was nothing more normal or satisfying than drinking a warm cup of schadenfreude at seeing the equally unexceptional fail on a cold day. That’s why, in part, the wankers were paid so handsomely, when faced with someone or something so dire, it was their responsibility to make a spectacle of vanquishing hope for a baying horde of losers.
As a formula it is despicably simple, when cuntishness and awfulness meets the scope for infamy is considerable. The ultimate aim was the same for the wankers and the show’s producers – to create an incident so exotic, idiotic or inexplicable that it embeds itself in the public’s hive memory, as the public reaction to, and media coverage, of the death of Princess Diana, the disappearance of Madelaine McCann or the 11th of September attacks have. That, in the twenty-first century, is the zenith of fame. The wankers failed to appreciate that they were perpetually on the precipice of such immortality, and no wonder, they were six hours in to their fourth day in a row of wading through wannabee wankers, and then Conrad appeared.
‘Oh fuck, this one looks comatose’ muttered wanker one to his colleagues.
‘Do you prefer them verbose?’
‘I prefer them to be something, to do something.’
‘Take your time pet.’
‘Ok, ok, ok.’
‘Right, what’s your name?’
‘Tell us more.’
‘I live in Reading, but I’m from Grimsby.’
‘No jobs back home…but I do miss my mum and dad.’
‘Grimsby’s not that far.’
‘What do you do’, wanker two conscientiously changing the subject upon resumption.
‘Work in KFC’ he offered sheepishly, visibly hesitating before continuing, ‘The great thing about missing home is it makes you realise who you are even more.’
Wankers one and two maintained physical diplomacy but their stomachs recoiled or they felt the urge to vomit at such rehearsed, disingenuous sentimentality. Wanker three reacted differently, his guffaw was reminiscent of someone evacuating in the toilet stall next to you – a reverberation followed by hushed exhalation. Wanker three’s tone was misanthropic, revealing absolute disgust that he was guilty by association of inculcating such scripted sentimentality. Everyone, including Conrad, was taken aback by wanker number three’s candour. It didn’t fit in with his phlegmatic droll, the instantaneousness of his response also betrayed his proclivity for dramatic pauses, which doubled as an overarching attempt at being enigmatic, so much so it had become a cultural meme.
‘You look a bit sad, c’mon lad.’
‘Well, you look like Rolf Harris, dad.’
The producer winced in the control room and demanded the wankers divert the conversation away from famous paedophiles. Meanwhile our third wanker visibly froze. Still trying to kerb their laughter at Conrad’s quip, but failing to do so, wanker one muttered to number two that three ‘looks more like the KFC Colonel than Rolf Harris’ but conceded that they did look somewhat similar. It should be noted that number one’s critiquing of others appearance was astonishingly hypocritical. Thanks to an addiction to diuretics, a bulimia regimen and a DIY corset created by a high waist line and a canny stylist, one managed to retain a slightly overweight physique that the Glossy Mags agreed remained just on the acceptable side of slovenly.
‘You fat bulbous…fat, fucking fat twat, fucking fat cunt, the state of…fat bastard, Oprah, lard arsehole, globular…fuck, fucking, fuck, fuck, fat chip shop cunt, you, Mr Blobby…shit, fucker, fatty, fatso, you waste of flabby skin, you fucking cottage cheese cunt! Take your tits and fuck off, back to whatever fucking northern backwater you…fucking…how fucking dare you say that to me! Who the fuck are ya!’
At the halfway point of this meltdown the studio cameras were switched off at the behest of the production team, pointlessly. Smartphones had been produced en-masse by runners, sound technicians and other assorted onlookers to record the rant. You might expect they’d upload it to YouTube for posterity. Wrong. They had no altruistic motive to disseminate it. The person with the best copy would receive a significant sum of money from a Redtop for its rights, who then would. After an interval of forty minutes, where apologies were made and smartphones recharged, the auditions continued with Conrad being given a mulligan as a placatory measure.
The pathos of the wankers is a symptom of the vacant banality of fame, which, when exposed to persistent displays of unwarranted adulation, warps any affinity with commonality. The wankers are expected to be aloof, perhaps coldly distant, as the expectations of celebrity practice, maintaining a distance, to preserve their privacy, has supplemented their self-indulgence in elitist behaviours. These include shows of bourgeois or narcissistic processes related to wealth and vanity; preposterously white veneers, or having a larger entourage than necessary. Such uniform conformity from the ‘out of touch’ is disingenuously lamented, but its existence allows reversion to a vainglorious analysis, that placed in their position we would behave differently.
This egotistical myopia, itself a cultural phenomenon, also explains another – why the victims of infamy are seldom remembered. It’s always the perpetrator, be it serial killers, child killers or spree killers. For behaving so differently, they become celebrities after the fact, but there’s another echelon which confounds us all – a celebrity who becomes homicidal. That is being different, and abusing your celebrity status. Its effect is shockingly emphatic because homicidal acts by those who stand to lose a lifestyle, status and affluence so many covet is unexpected, and to them inexplicable. It reveals an uncomfortable truth most seek to avoid, that wealth, status and fame are not synonymous with contentment. Take OJ Simpson, you remember him, you remember his wife, but what about her name? Does it roll off the end of your tongue? Or that other fella she was fucking? Exactly, who cares? You remember OJ because he did something exotic, something extreme, something obscene, and he didn’t apologise for any of it. OJ (probably, but this doesn’t matter either) wiped both of them out in oversized gloves then drove around in a white jeep harbouring suicidal thoughts for hours, in full knowledge that most of this was being televised. That’s panache. That’s memorable. But just how to eclipse it?
As Conrad retook the stage wanker one found the answer with an epiphany – he’d try and kill wanker number three. Whether he succeeded or failed would be neither here nor there. Disfigurement of some kind would suffice. With video evidence of the contestant’s fat shaming sure to be committed to mass media, the foundations of a road to absolution followed by redemption and then ultimate immortality were laid. All he needed was wanker three to relapse spectacularly, offering an incitement to violence.
‘What’s your name?’
‘So, what are you going to perform for us today.’
Wanker two’s face began to sink.
‘It’s called General Gayboy, about an ordinary Gayboy who just happens to be a general.’
A disbelieving silence descended, a tense eagerness began to build as the soft whirling of the air conditioning was punctuated by impatient indeterminate shuffling, sniffling, coughing and scratching. Everyone was waiting for a cue, and thanks to a mixture of boredom and disgust, wanker three happily obliged.
‘Right, this lad’s a fucking a plant?’
‘Oh, c’mon now!’
‘Fuck off. There’s shit, then there’s this.’
‘This is taking the fucking piss, I’m not doing it, not this.’
‘Sit down and control yourself.’
‘Fuck off Aaron, back in your fucking box.’
‘Take your headset and ram it up your fucking ringpiece, or are they attached?
‘Calm down, you’re embarrassing.’
‘Fuck off. He’s a fucking vegetable, a total fucking loser, fucking get rid of him.’
‘Who are you talking about now?’
The ostentatiously delicate architecture of wanker number two’s bouffant allowed it twitch before her body could flinch. One sound followed another; the back of a chair slapping the hard laminated floor, soles screaming on that same surface, typical male grunting and gnawing. Close your eyes and it could be anything; snuff porn, a basketball game, or a Michelin starred chef working frantically. There were enough people in attendance to form an enthusiastic hiss of bewilderment at what they were now witnessing, that it failed to subside doubled the anticipation as to what would follow.
The second wanker’s shame at being associated with a vulgar form of self-loathing machismo was fleeting, it quickly turned to envy whilst watching the first wanker attempt to garrotte the third. It was going to be pervasive; the producers would construct the footage into a narrative that would demonise and demolish wanker three over several media cycles. She envisioned how the audience of acolytes and wannabees would reach a unified state of delirium at watching and re-watching this over generations. Wanker one was going to gain millions of followers on Twitter, perhaps even enjoy a Howard Beale-esque reinvention. In the short term, her profile would gain traction, but it would not last, as her role in the scene was insignificant. She just happened to be there, like Conrad, who cut a solemn figure in the spotlight.