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Celebrity and mistruths

As society moved from manufacturing to consumerist, our celebrities, too, moved away from being leaders by virtue of their achievements to being famous for being famous

They say no news is consumable till it has gone viral in curiosity value, trending on social media tickers or generating coffee cup conversations in between work. That’s why on a day India sent a crucial heavyweight communication satellite into outer space, it was the wedding of actors Deepika Padukone and Ranveer Singh that had extra-terrestrial status through pop-ups and notifications. So much so that one news portal interestingly put out a disclaimer of sorts with a headline ‘10 other things that happened in India’ while Deepika and Ranveer got married in Lake Como. And when two days ago, camera crews covering the Bollywood reception of the two stars called Ranveer bhaiyya and Deepika bhaabi, and the two even acknowledged it with a heartfelt laugh and banter, the celebrity takeover and cooption of social media was complete. Even in neighbouring Pakistan the hashtag #DeepVeerWedding knocked off some pressing problems of the day from the radar. Now it is #Nickyanka, the elaborate coupling of our Bollywood diva Priyanka Chopra with Hollywood’s Disney star Nick Jonas that is defining our transnational alliance in the social space.                                         Days before the wedding, Priyanka herself unveiled a campaign called #SocialForGood, advocating the use of social media for a transformative impact on society, helming a news positive revolution so to speak. But truth be told, that turned out to be kind of a CSR aside for sustaining the wedding franchise that our stars are investing in for personal brand-building but which in the end is leading to a pernicious Bollywoodisation of the entire culturescape. Much to the detriment of real innovators. This is not just setting standards of an aspirational lifestyle that’s unattainable and impossible in most cases but one where celebrities, pretending to be one of us by feeding everyday details of their lives, have turned online media into a giant performance space and are fomenting elitism by legitimising their club rules as the only benchmark of social engagement. Let’s take the #DeepVeer wedding as a case in point. It was beautifully choreographed and synced to charm all of us into submission, “head to toe” as it were. By denying mainstream intrusion, it elevated their shrouded and manicured privacy into the most wanted commodity and kept their couple value going beyond the main event. If it had been available on a mass scale, they would not have been able to sustain their cultivated mystique beyond the event horizon. And where did bits of that appear? On social media platforms from their personal handles and those of their providers and friends. In a full-scale promotion of a mutual admiration society, designer Sabyasachi even turned storyteller, releasing videos of how the ceremonial wear of the bride and groom was part of the Make in India narrative, the boatmen and weavers of Varanasi featured not quite carelessly. Simultaneously, the designer even insta-advertised his two jewellery exhibitions in Mumbai and Delhi, featuring the same pieces sported by the nation’s most adorable couple of the hour. Needless to say this wedding did to Lake Como what no brochure, blog or even PB Shelley’s poetry could do. As for the love story, it was presented cinematographically in a dulcet glow, a bigger hit than their films together, one that was idealised and shareable at the same time. This intimacy got both their fans closer to themselves, who felt they were being embraced in the seeming candid moments than being treated like a fodder for their future sustenance. Both may be individual stars but with social media granted a ringside view of their projected divine union, their fanbases merged and the countless hits and heart emojis raised their dual and individual brand worth substantially. New ads featuring both were released immediately after their wedding. With their relationship becoming a social influencer itself via their photo stories, they have negotiated their shelf life even beyond films to advertisements, reality shows, fireside chats and even pop psychology talks. By refusing gifts and urging well wishers to donate to her mental health foundation instead, Deepika has kept herself relevant for the seminar circuit as well as writing books. But this pedestal, bolstered by exclusive coverage in lifestyle magazines, has set dreamy relationship and lifestyle goals that are impossible to emulate. And because our celebrities are posited as multi-talented enough in achieving them, they are considered good enough to be an advisory for how we minions should run our lives, even enhance them with meaning. This communicability has made them easy role models to follow. Nobody typifies this complete capture of the Indian mindset than Amitabh Bachchan himself, who picks up the broom, hammers home Government propaganda, oils his head, clears farmers’ debts and even pushes toddler carts suggesting winterwear for babies. His pater familias act has made him a real time Mr India, breathing down our everyday moments. He himself has become the gross national product instead of the causes or brands he is promoting. Such is the pervasive celebrity culture in our country today that Andy Warhol’s prophecy of “15 minutes of fame” has leapt to 24-hour highs. The star/icon has seeped so insidiously under our skin that we now almost have a conversational relationship with him/her and claim to be their palliative and significant other instead of being the solo crusader ourselves within our grossly different dynamics. So much so that stars pouring out everything to legitimise their frailties and flaws are now acceptable, from affairs to alcoholism. No need for salacious gossip anymore. The confessional, honest mode is a new tool of trade, seeking instant redemption by virtue of being, for want of a better word, human. Even their irreverence is a matter of consumer reverence. Are we then transferring our weight of expectations on their lives, taking a prurient interest in their private pursuits, deviant or otherwise, instead of looking at our own? As society has moved on from manufacturing to consumerist, the celebrity, too, has moved away from being a leader by virtue of his meritorious achievements to one that is consumable and aspirational, largely fuelled by the media. Be it positive or negative publicity, the media has promoted, created, deified and even sullied the celebrities from entertainment and sports, like commodities on the stock exchange. This extravagant value attached to the lives of public figures — whose accomplishments may be limited than what is projected — has empowered their fans as legitimate stakeholders in deciding their destinies in the multiple and viral media space. Today celebrities are considered functional equivalents of leaders who are just “being human.” And the fan follower feels s/he is sharing the same stage when the star endorses his/her post. Popstar Madonna began selling her “material” image to the media in the late 1980s, promising to be as see-through as long as the media kept her everywhere. This quid pro quo deal has now reached critical mass and is about to explode. The celebrity has acquired a new status in society and is the new thought leader and life coach, articulating our fears and concerns. Even politicians and spiritual leaders want to be interviewed by them. That’s debasing real worth for the misperceived one. More seriously, it is about allowing the cult of celebrityhood to dictate every agenda of our national life, from culture, entertainment, causes, sports and even tourism. At the time of writing, Virat-Anushka’s proposed anniversary celebration at an Australian retreat was being talked about. There we go again. Read more posts… (The writer is Assosiate Editor, The Pioneer) Saturday, 01 December 2018 | Rinku Ghosh | in Opinion

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