It seems there really are stars and celebrities really do occupy another realm. The everyday lies beneath the communication networks which wrap themselves around the planet. It abides; meanwhile, there is a celebrity cosmology, a collective dream (or is it an advertising campaign?) alive above us like the aurora borealis. Sometimes a few of us are allowed into the celebrity cosmos; sometimes, a few of us return.
I enjoyed the documentary on Abi Titmuss because I'd known nothing of her origins; she had seemed to appear from nowhere. In fact, this good natured woman was the girlfriend of a disgraced television presenter. She had supported him through his trial for indecently assaulting another television presenter. Titmuss had been a nurse earning the small sum nurses earn. When the trial was over, according to one of the talking heads, Titmuss allowed herself to appear in more revealing clothing. She had an ample bust, an attractive face and stardom was hers almost instanteously. She accepted an agent's offer; she became uniquitous, earning thousands of pounds an hour for public appearances and hundreds of thousands a year writing columns for men's magazines. She appeared on the front of dozens of red top newspapers earning money from the photos used to illustrate the latest scandal in which she had been involved.
Who blames her for launching her own career? She is clever enough to know it won't last; she works hard. Men like her, according to a talking head, because they feel they have a chance with her; she is not a goddess. Titmuss suggests women like her because she is like them, admitting to sexual fantasies (she is launching a series of women's erotica). Who is she? Each of us, any of us. For a moment, a glorious moment - how I wished I had followed the story from the start - she was no one in particular. Titmuss was no one and nobody but she was everywhere. But then, because a vacuum is intolerable, we needed to know everything about her.
But isn't Abi Titmuss a media creation? Wasn't she born from the pages of the same tabloids who, before and after her, will find other young women who will play her role? Isn't she a placeholder for a privilege each of us would like to grasp for ourselves? If she is admired, it is because she has achieved what each of us would want. If she is despised, it is for the same reason.
True, almost anyone could have taken her role. But it is because she was anyone at all that she became famous. Now she is like any other celebrity: remote from us, separated by limousines and bodyguards, and by the velvet rope which keeps us from spilling onto the red carpet but close to us too, as we become more familiar with her body than our own.
In one sense, the media defines the tastes to which we must conform. Abi Titmuss is part of the vast entertainment empire and celebrity culture risks vanquishing any other claim on people's attention and imaginations. She is part of that great dream machine of advertising and publicity, news and entertainment which has supplanted any real engagement with the world. Isn't celebrity culture part of the huge advertising campaign that has replaced reality?
Who is Abi Titmuss? The one the media would want us to want to be. The servo-mechanisms of publicity sell an image of the public back to itself. But what is the image that is being sold to us as Abi Titmuss? Isn't she as ordinary as we are? Titmuss participated in a celebrity cookery programme to show us she was a nice person, she said. Cue footage of Titmuss being dealt verbal abuse by a cross celebrity chef. Yes, she is likeable, ordinary. But isn't her ordinariness part of a great sustaining myth of the ordinary which is maintained by celebrity culture?
It is in the name of the ordinary that Heat will picture a celebrity having what it calls a bad hair day, or being issued a parking ticket. Readers send in sightings of celebrities shopping or dining out in the world: they are real, like us, they pass through real streets, like us. Heat even prints photos which bear traces of their passing. Yes, they pass through our world, our everyday; it is glorious. But funny, too - and Heat is good at this - because of the incongruity. How funny it is to see film actor X at Blockbusters!
The celebrity passes through our world. But what happens when one of us without talent, without special merit passes into the realm of celebrities?
Abi Titmuss fascinates not because she has been lifted from the everyday, but because she performs what Husserl would call a reduction of that same everyday as it lays claim to us. What does she reveal? The vacuum that the media rush to fill in almost immediately: a void in the shape of a young woman. Who is she? Each of us, any of us in the interval between the ones we experience ourselves to be and the other who appears on a television screen or on the magazine cover.
Some argue a kind of banalisation of celebrity has occurred. Shane Richie says when he is recognised in the streets, it is as the actor he is, rather than the character he plays in Eastenders; this, he comments, is a real change. There is a change in the nature of the transaction between the everyday and the media sphere. Yes, a real change has occurred: it is now necessary to understand the ordinariness of the celebrity. They are just like us. Last night, it was as though Abi Titmuss was an exploratory shapeship sent into the strange cosmos of celebrity: she came, she saw, she reported back. But then each of them, all of them are made to become vessels of this kind when interviewed in a magazine like Heat as it demands we learn something about their ordinary life.
It is that peculiar yoyoing between the everyday and the realm of red carpets that we now require of our celebrities. One which pushes both realms back into themselves, rendering them purer and almost infinitely separated from one another. Earth and heaven, and the celebrity the brave adventurer who can cross that distance. This is why celebrities, now, have to come from the ordinary. To come from there, and to carry our dreams across the great distance. The celebrity does not belong to the spectacle, but is our avatar there. She travels and returns to share her wisdom. She comes back to us, infinitely more glamorous for where she has been. But if she is so, it is only because of the one we knew her to be before her ascent.