Julie Burchill: Celebrity redemption is even more sickening than celebrity excess

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The Independent Online

I've been thinking about Reformed Characters this week, as Russell Brand and the Duchess of York – and their little Venn baby, Tara Palmer-Tomkinson – all variously parade their guilt and redemption as though they were the latest designer lust-haves. Frankly I wouldn't know guilt and redemption even if I had a threesome with them and they showed me a playback of it the next day, but it's certainly a very popular pose right now – even more so with the falling away of faith in this country. Which goes to prove that clever old GK Chesterton got it right when he said: "When a man ceases to believe in God he does not believe in nothing, he believes in anything."

That's why I can never watch films by all those Italian-American directors: as surely as Keira Knightley is going to pout and Matthew McConaughey is going to get his pecs out in any given silver-screen situation, so an American director with an Italian name is going to serve up redemption just at that point when you're starting to wish you hadn't bought such a super-size popcorn but on the other hand can't see any point in not finishing it. Interestingly, Italian cinema proper never much went in for this – can we imagine what the Am-Its would have done with La Dolce Vita? "Author's Message" coming out of Marcello the Pap's ears! But Fellini trusts the audience – and his characters – to draw their own conclusions about the meaning and desirability of sin and morality.

It's a cliché now that when celebs get caught with their hand in the cookie jar, or their nose in the sherbet, they go to rehab. (People like me, who can take stuff or leave it, outrage the prevailing orthodoxy with our refusal to make an addiction out of an amusement.) But sadly, just as all junkies are one atom of the same vast (dishonest, self-pitying, boring) entity – a bit like the Borg – so Reformed Characters are identically dull. From Kerry Katona to Will Self, from Russell Brand to Tara P-T, Not Doing Drugs becomes as central and boastful in their lives as Doing Drugs once was; they still can't bear not to be stage-centre, but now they expect respect for their abstinence rather than their indulgence.

Reformed Characters typically become all about the work, throwing themselves into it in order to distract themselves from the demons they once found so deliciously irresistible. But I've got to say I've never seen an example of anyone in any field producing better work once they've given up their drug of choice – Russell Brand, in our faces 24/7 promoting the awful-looking remake of Arthur, is a prime example. And then, alongside the rubbish output of the RC, comes the double whammy of boring the public senseless with the ceaseless self-back-patting while on the publicity trail, or simply as they go about their daily rounds. For example, I remember T P-T banging on about how she was going to reinvent herself as everything from a novelist to a concert pianist when she gave up the gak, but all she ever seems to talk about is her nose; she's desperate to get it done because "I don't want to be picked on. I read somewhere last week someone said they want to vomit when they saw it."

Why on earth would anyone care about the opinion of a stranger? No one this weak-minded will ever be at peace with themselves, new nose or no nose. (Though while we're on the subject, it is a puzzle to me that mine is still so big when I've done so much more coke than T P-T. Why is that? Natural selection?) But then RCs are by their nature weak characters, who couldn't hack their hedonism-of-choice without screwing up their lives. Their protestations of self-love invariably ring hollow, too. Hear the wretched Fergie this week declaring: "I have learnt to love myself... I love my hands and wrists and ankles and hair and eyes." What about your brain and your ethics, you grasping, money-mad moron – do you love them too?

Surely either loving or hating oneself is equally silly and hysterical? The healthy way is to feel totally at ease with oneself, yet to see every ridiculous thing about oneself. When I look in the mirror, I neither smash it nor repeat positive mantras; instead I laugh and say "Not you again, you old tart! Come on – up and at 'em!"

Though the guilt and redemption route is the approved alibi that enables erring public figures to earn forgiveness, there remains a quite understandable fascination with people who refuse to follow its feeble code. For all his vileness, Charlie Sheen's point-blank refusal to grovel his way to rehab has won him a lot of fans who admire his sheer bloody-mindedness – the same with the ludicrous Silvio Berlusconi's refusal to step down. Kate Moss's long silence when caught out on camera before issuing a statement which made only the most rudimentary reference to being in any way regretful for her actions made her a tabloid target but went a long way to maintaining the ice-cool image which contributed to making her an even bigger success after her alleged fall from grace.

And of course Nigella, blamed this week by Professor Klim McPherson – and wouldn't he be fun at a house party, from the sound of him. – for the very welcome trend of young women finally easing up on worrying about their weight. Nigella, one feels, would only ever have time for Guilt And Redemption if it was the name of a new dessert creation – the unreformed character's equivalent of Death By Chocolate. Bring it on!

Heartless cereal killers who did for Tony the Tiger

So Jedward, the vile X Factor twins from the Emerald Isle, are to take over from the Coco Pops monkey! I read a while ago that an EU directive means that our cereal boxes will eventually be forbidden from featuring charming cartoon mascots for fear that they tempt tots to load up on the sweet stuff. And now that day has come. Not only are the muscles in Brussels going to force us to give serial killers the vote, they're also going to kill off our cereal critters.

Could I loathe the EU any more than I do, after this final (Nesquik) straw, this sugar-coated low-blow to national morale? I fear so, because it can only get worse. When Rice Krispies are finally silenced, it will be a dark day indeed for free speech as we know it – Magna Carta, did she die in vain? Similarly, Tony the Tiger's clarion call of "They're GRRRREAT!" will be castrated down to "Adequate as part of a nutritionally balanced breakfast". While the Honey Monster's historical cry, so redolent of Oedipal angst, may well become "Inform them of the calorific content, either-gendered parent!"

Still, even though it's hard to believe that today's kiddies will come to love Jedward the way we loved Tony the Tiger et al, they can, perchance, learn a valuable lesson from their imminent appearance on the Coco Pops box. Such as the awful outcome when a country outlaws abortion, for instance.

Selfishness is the key to pacifism

"Every communist has a fascist frown, every fascist a communist smile," opines Nicholas the nervy poet in Muriel Spark's masterpiece The Girls Of Slender Means.

It's always amusing when one sees two apparently diametrically opposed groups coming to the same conclusion – ie the Islamists and the BNP banging on about the evil Zionists. Similarly, every armchair appeaser of the left insisting that we don't back the Libyan rebels sounds exactly the same as those right-wing curtain-twitchers insisting that we shouldn't send our soldiers to die in Johnny Foreigner's wars because it's, like, a faraway country of which we know nothing. Scratch a caring, sharing peacenik and find a stinking, selfish isolationist.