Posted by Tania Kindersley.
Have just spent thirty-six hours ill in bed, feeling rather doleful and old-ladyish. I consoled myself with Nick Cohen's excellent new collection (the section on quack medicine is worth the cover price alone and reminds me that I must go back and re-read Francis Wheen on why mumbo jumbo has conquered the world) and also those kind of forbidden publications that feature large glossy photographs of the famous. I pretend that I never read these because I am excessively highbrow, and far too busy thinking about quantitative easing and the scourge of moral relativism to have time for fripperies. But occasionally even I have an unconquerable urge to find out what Brangelina is up to. And I was shocked, shocked I tell you, when I saw a banner headline yelling: Stars in Crisis!
I was concerned to find out what this crisis could be. Had the San Andreas fault finally taken its cosmic revenge? Were the studios going bankrupt because Bernie Madoff had run off with all their money? Was the collapse of Western capitalism causing the stars to question their very way of life?
It turned out that three women were having, according to 'sources', a not very good week. Madonna was not allowed to adopt a little girl ('Madonna does not do failure' apparently); Angelina Jolie was cross because Brad Pitt is acting opposite an attractive woman; and Jennifer Aniston has, and this may be my favourite, 'sworn off men' because John Mayer keeps ringing her up.
I admit that 'some famous women have not very good week' is not the kind of headline that grabs the attention in the same way that 'stars in crisis' does. I quite see that the entertainment industry runs on hyperbole, by its very nature. But there is a hysterical excess in this that gets the pedant and the puritan and the precisionist in me cross and ruffled. Words matter, as Barack Obama will tell you, if you ask nicely. In headline terms, a crisis is Darfur, or North Korea, or what is happening to the girls in Afghanistan. If crisis is Angelina Jolie having a bit of green-eye, then the very word is drained of meaning.
As I lay on my sick bed, aching as if I had been kicked all over by a small Shetland pony, I had one other thought about all this. One of the oddities of the contemporary age is that everyone, apparently, wants to be famous. I am not entirely certain this is true, but it is a constant trope - the young people do not want to learn to sing or dance or write, they just want fame as an end in itself. The more apocalyptic commentators regard this as the single proof of the End of Civilisation As We Know It. If it is the case, I wonder why. The famous always seem to be having a horrible time. Their marriages are on the rocks, their plastic surgery goes wrong, they are busted for crystal meth. Some of them, like Joaquin Phoenix, just go frankly nuts in public. Even if, like lovely Hugh Laurie, they earn big money and get awards and have number one hit shows, the magazines run one grumpy photograph as proof that the wages of fame is utter misery. The women must always be hungry, because if they put on weight their careers are over. If they break up from someone, they are 'doomed in love'.
Faced with all that, would you not just want to stay at home and have a nice cup of tea instead? I'm just asking.