JOANNE SAVAGE ponders the lunacy of celeb-worship
IN Woody Allen’s latest movie, To Rome with Love, an unextraordinary clerk named Leopoldo (Roberto Benigni) wakes up one day to find he has become a national celebrity.
Leopoldo leads a fairly mundane life; he has no remarkable talents, is married with two children, goes to his office job each day, isn’t handsome or charismatic, never forgets to set his alarm clock to the right time, occasionally treats his family to a takeaway pizza. He’s an everyman, a man who lives quietly and unobtrusively. Nobody really pays much attention to Leopoldo.
One morning he leaves his apartment as usual to drive to work only to be mobbed by a hysterical, desperate paparazzi, swarming and mauling him for comments, pictures, autographs. The cameras are flashing non-stop. There are so many people he can’t even get into his car. Instead he’s pushed into a chauffeur-driven limo and immediately ushered into a TV studio where everyone bows and scrapes to him and Leopoldo’s attempts to ask why this is happening are frequently shushed over amid the frenzy. People want him on the show because he’s Leopoldo, of course! He’s a celebrity! He’s famous for being famous! He has his make-up done and before he knows it is sitting under the bright lights as the presenter asks him to tell the Italian nation what he had for breakfast.
He blinks under the mega-watt lights, gobsmacked, stuttering, and announces that he had toasted bread and coffee with milk but no sugar. Everyone is silent and amazed as he delivers this banal information, as though it were a divine revelation. Soon he can’t go anywhere without being mobbed; models and actresses sleep with him, not caring that he’s married, balding and over 50; the red carpets at movie premieres are opened to him; when his wife is papped with a ladder in her tights the media start to wonder if ladders in tights could be the hottest new fashion trend; people shout his name in the street and everywhere he is hounded. His most casual opinion is widely publicised, analysed, worried over as though it were the wisdom of a god. Does he think it will rain? Does he prefer to wear boxers or briefs?
Though Woody Allen’s latest offering isn’t his best - an ensemble-piece and farce set in the Eternal City with a hilarious turn by Penelope Cruz as a prostitute - it does give us a quite brilliant send-up of the lunacy of celebrity.
Obviously, many people are famous because they are astonishingly beautiful or handsome, or possess some great talent for acting, music, writing, sport or whatever, some being famous just for being famous - but they’re still human, which is to say fallible, flawed, often boring, in many ways ordinary, disappointing at moments, liable to make mistakes. The most famous person in the world still has to go to the toilet and may on occasion get spots, bunions or piles. The biggest celebrities, like all the rest of us, are at bottom as ordinary as the baffled Leopoldo: being human is - get this! - a universal condition. We know this in the abstract even while we (- and women are supposedly the most voracious consumers of celebrity magazines -) can’t see enough photos of, or hear enough gossip about, Brad and Angelina, R-Patz and K-Stew, Madonna, Lady Gaga, Kate Moss et al. It’s like we’re wired to hero(ine)-worship, always wanting to believe that there’s a higher type of human being whose got all the answers and has been invited to the nonstop party at the end of the red carpet.
We’re hungering for permission to continue dreaming that there’s an ideal kind of life out there, accessible to celebrities, debarred to the rest of us. We want to fall for the beautiful lie and so we do.