“I’m Nothing Special, in Fact I’m a Bit of a Bore…but I Have a Talent, a Wonderful Thing”
By Malcolm Sharps
I’m nothing special, in fact I’m a bit of a bore
If I tell a joke, you’ve probably heard it before
But I have a talent, a wonderful thing
‘Cause everyone listens when I start to sing
I’m so grateful and proud
All I want is to sing it out loud
From “Thank You for the Music” by ABBA (see on YouTube)
Looking back to music hall days, which I caught the final gasps of when I was a kid, the performers on both sides of the Atlantic, whether Fanny Brice or Gracie Fields (our Gracie) came out of the same slums as their audiences, at least that was the impression they were pleased to give. No one ever suggested they were a breed apart. They were normal Joe Schmos just like us, just a bit more talented, that’s all. But now an aura of magic and freakish accomplishment surrounds the celebrity; they now possess powers well beyond their basic skills through which they find fame, whether as singers, actors, writers, or directors. In fact, it’s now rare to find a celeb claiming just one or two talents. And thanks to the talk show, we find, in addition, so many of them are original thinkers; the banality of the questions they are asked notwithstanding. Celebrities move with a new swagger that I don’t remember even the new wave of stars of the sixties having. As several commentators have remarked, celebs are the new Royalty. There’s one small problem I have with that: I never felt easy with the behaviour from and the treatment of the old royalty.
Look at virtually any Wikipedia entry; nowadays everyone is an actor, screen writer, author, director, song writer, singer, all in one. But is it all true? Among my own circle of friends, long before I was a teacher and translator, was a pool of latent talent awaiting opportunity. Clive was the first of the group to break into the big time with his first commercially released film, Hellraiser I, arguably the best of the long series of films which followed. Everyone was a hopeful beginner then, so Barker gave parts to his friends: a very lucky one went to Doug Bradley, who made the character of Pinhead a truly memorable and chilling icon of horror, a fitting rival to Freddy from Elm Street. He also gave a bit part to another friend, Oliver Parker, who played a removal man in one scene. But Oliver looked lost, like a real removal man who had accidentally wandered onto the set. In later years Parker became a credible film director in his own right. But was he an actor? His Wikipedia claims so. As Victor Mature once said, I’m no actor and I’ve 40 films to prove it. This listing of many supposed talents is part of what I call ‘talent stacking’, it’s a device to show the fans that the celebrity is no ordinary entertainer, they are multi-talented artists through and through.
In addition to the claims of celebrities, the attitude of the fans to celebrities has changed in recent decades from appreciation to adoration. In this atmosphere of god-worship of celebrities, we should not be surprised to find tributes like the following in even the most sober and responsible of media forums.
O’Connor’s untimely death this week at age 56 calls for a reconsideration not only of her enormous singing talent, but of her justice-oriented faith and her commitment to truth. A religious seeker, a prophet without the honor she was due, her life was filled with contradictions, but she always had a certainty about what was right — and what was wrong. Too many people did not understand, or even try to understand her, until it was too late to appreciate her struggles and her greatness.
When I read this in a text put out by MSNBC I wondered if they had any subeditors to filter the excessive enthusiasm of their contributors. You would be forgiven for not understanding that Sinead O’Connor’s main contribution to the world was not philosophical, moral and theological; yet this is an appreciation of her that would be worthy of the Dalai Lama, Martin Buber and Karl Barth combined. A certainty about what was right and wrong? What a gift! No doubt a life that was filled with contradictions had to be right on one of the alternatives.
Let us not leave out from this brief discussion the main dynamic in all celeb-fan relationships, the E-word, Envy. The rich are not like us, said Fitzgerald, no more are the celebs. They have what we – some of us – want. And shall I add ‘but can never have’? Money, status, pride, beauty, talent, adulation, sex. More than this, they have a cool way of being, they carry themselves with an existential grace. Ah, what it is to be them. But from time to time the mask of cool drops, we see the seamy, the seedy, the sordid, even the positively disgusting side. We saw it with Cosby, Weinstein, Cary, and R. Kelly. Most recently, Johnny Depp made us doubt the sublimity enjoyed by the inhabitants of the land of celebrity. My God, I said, as I skimmed the details from the British-held court case, you had the whole world to choose from, you commanded the birds in the trees and the fish in the streams leaped out at you and sacrificed themselves on your hook. And in the human world people did the same, and yet you still ended up in a relationship with a woman who came to loathe and despise you, you encouraged malice and bitterness and the wish for revenge, you planted a seed in the heart, whether through the impurity of the seed or the unwholesomeness of the heart, which grew into a malignancy. And those who have none of the privileges with which you surrounded yourself, who have no lives and watch television instead, who have no ideas and substitute the empty chatter of talk shows, can now rest more content with their less than camera-perfect partners, knowing that at least their shared bed has never been contaminated with excrement.
In 2007, Michelle Pfeiffer made a comedy film where she played the single mother of new acting talent Saoirse Ronan. At the time of the film’s release there were interviews with the performers; as a fresh entrant into the wonderful world of cinema, the interviewer dangled in front of Ms. Ronan the opportunity to voice how very privileged she felt to be working in the company of Michelle Pfeiffer, this near-deity. But Saoirse Ronan, at 14 years of age, was having none of it. She answered not in the adopted American of the film, but in her natural Dublin accent, which has the capability of bringing everything down to basics, ‘Well, you know, she’s just someone who’s good at what they do’. Ah, God bless ya and love ya, Saoirse, I wish more people saw it that way.