Sunday, December 19, 2010

Cult of Celebrity

It started as soon as I arrived at Tel Aviv: the capitalist consumerism that has become Christmas. Boy, I'd certainly missed that constant ramming-down-your-throat and in-your-face aspect of the modern-day world. Not.

As I looked up at 20 metre-high hoardings, advertising some scintillating scent for the woman you love, or tripped over 2m-high piles of snickers, toblerone and M&Ms that have become latter-day symbols of the festive season, I reflected upon the first person to have achieved his own celebrity status.

Instead of focussing over the centuries on general traits in the human spirit, and how to improve it, or on over-arching philosophical meanderings on what it means to be human, for just over 2000 years now we've been idolising and deifying one person: the original celebrity. Followed by loyal fans at the time, and recorded accurately in Python's 'The Life of Brian', these were the beginnings of what has today become the X-Factor. This was the robe HE wore, these were the teachings HE taught, this was the water HE drank. Whistle forward a few years and you get me in tears over Donny Osmond, and a few decades more and you have Susan Boyle, David Beckham and Byonce making an unholy trinity.

This is true across the religious spectrum, of course, and we have seen where it has led us: fighting over what Paul Theroux was surprised to discover were tiny little countries, fighting over our own view of history and of who did what to whom. Fighting over dry, dusty hill-tops that afford the very opposite of a peaceful home environment, surrounded as they are by barbed wire and fences.

The relentless flight home: did I want an instant coffee? A silicone sandwich? A cuddly bear? A plastic watch-strap? Upon arrival at Luton, did I want that last-minute Yuletide litre of Scotch? A phone-card perhaps? Ten minutes on the internet for £1? Or maybe a snow shovel?

The best part of Christmas 2010, so far, has been watching the 1951 version of Dickens' Christmas Carol, with Alastair Sim as Scrooge. As a young man he gives up working for his generous and benevolent employer to pledge allegiance to a far more business-like man, played by Dixon of Dock Green, Jack Hawkins. The latter's words of welcome to the young Scrooge, played here by George Cole, rang out of the 78-inch flat-screen and into the living room: 'He who controls the cash box, controls the world'.

Touche! I can add nothing more.

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