Culture: We have become a nation of hair-gel addicts

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The Independent Online

Will the current series of Big Brother be its last? It looks that way, even though it's still doing well in the ratings; last Sunday's episode was seen by 3.2m people – about the same number the show was attracting at the same stage last year. The problem with Big Brother is not that it no longer holds a mirror up to society, but that it still does. The reason the chattering classes detest it so much is that it reflects an aspect of culture they disapprove of – namely, that tens of millions of Britons have set their hearts on becoming famous.

The interesting thing about series nine is that several of the contestants are in the foothills of celebrity already. Mario Marconi (pictured), for instance, is virtually a professional reality contestant, having participated in BBC2's Kitchen Criminals and Brits Behind Bars: America's Toughest Jail on Bravo. Another contestant, Stephanie McMichael, could have become a member of Girls Aloud when she appeared on Popstars: The Rivals.

To a certain extent, this reflects the fact that the reality shows' casting has become professionalised. The producers no longer have to sift through mailbags of audition tapes. These days, they rely on agencies that specialise in reality-show contestants. As a result, the participants look less like ordinary people than the cast of a musical about the quest for fame.

But this doesn't mean Big Brother has strayed from its original remit. The desire for fame has become so ubiquitous that the majority of young people look exactly like the contestants in the current series. Stroll through a city centre at 10pm on a Friday and you will see thousands of these David-and-Victoria lookalikes. They are styled to within an inch of their lives, buffed to perfection. We have become a nation of hair-gel addicts.

It is precisely this desire for attention that the liberal intelligentsia despise. They would prefer it if ordinary people devoted their time to bettering rather than pampering themselves. The working classes may be under the impression that celebrity is the fastest ticket out of the slums, but that is a snare and a delusion. Contrary to the impression given by Jade Goody, education and hard work are the stepping stones to prosperity.

People such as Mario Marconi should stop reading Heat and pick up The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists. Yet, life in the capitalist societies of the West simply refuses to follow the blueprint laid down by William Morris and Robert Owen. In the 21st century, it seems, the fastest way to cast off your chains is to become a star.

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