DJ Taylor: Why we find Sienna and Kerry so inspirational

The popular icons will nearly always have the cultural value of a hazelnut

Share

One of the surest signs that the post-festive season is upon us, apart from the photos of hale octogenarians romping enthusiastically in the south-coast surf, is the proliferation of "best-of" lists. Sixty thousand music fans, gathered by the digital radio station Planet Rock, recently decided that Pink Floyd, closely followed by Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones, are the world's greatest rock band of all time.

Not to be outdone, the BBC History Magazine has asked leading historians to nominate the most dastardly inhabitant of the British Isles. Nominations for this desirable accolade include Jack the Ripper, the Duke of Cumberland and Sir Oswald Mosley: a public vote will follow.

But the poll that really caught my eye was one in this week's edition of the teen magazine Sugar that set itself the task of finding the "most inspirational celebrity of 2005". Leaving aside for a moment definitions of the words "celebrity" and "inspirational", both of which the exercise rather called into question, I should say the list realised 10 names, ranging from Sienna Miller at the top to Kerry Katona at number three, Charlotte Church at six and Paris Hilton at eight. Of other celebrity magazine staples such as Jordan and Jade there was, inexplicably, no sign, and no doubt these ladies' publicists will have some explaining to do.

Looking for some subtler taxonomy, amid the glittering roster of talent, poise and éclat, it soon became clear that each of the 10 - like the High Court judge who had never heard of The Beatles, I must admit to not being able to identify Hilary Duff (No 5), Jessica Simpson (No 7) or Jessica Alba (No 9) - was either an actress, a singer or someone celebrated merely for being celebrated.

According to the pundits, with their keen antennae for collective distinction, the teenagers' choice "appeared to favour women who had battled through adversity during the year". So that was it! Instantly the random fragments assembled themselves into an intricate mosaic. Sienna, of course, had suffered a much-publicised break-up with her film-star partner Jude Law, although the two are said to be "back together again", while Kerry Katona had endured a traumatic split with her boyfriend Dave Cunningham, having previously parted company with her husband, Brian McFadden.

Little as one wants to diminish Ms Miller and Ms Katona's tribulations during 2005, the presence of Kylie Minogue - currently suffering from breast cancer - at a dismaying number four suggests the phrase "battling through adversity" might have its flexible side. No disparagement, either, to the legions of teenage girls who genuinely believe that a former ornament of Atomic Kitten with a complicated personal life is an "inspiration", but all this is deeply sad.

Here we are in a landscape crowded out by purposeful female role models from Kate Bush to the Secretary of State for Education, and the public, invited to have its say, plumps for (at number eight) a woman whose lustre rests on her being filmed by an ex-boyfriend having sex in a hotel bedroom, with the results being made available to a couple of million internet voyeurs.

As well as deeply sad, it is also deeply foreseeable. We live, as social theorists never tire of telling us, in a world where the entity known as popular culture has ceased to exist, to be replaced by a mass culture condescendingly distilled through the filter of the showbiz magazines. The popular icons thrown up by this process, consequently, will nearly always have the cultural value of a hazelnut. Even worse, perhaps, are the implications for the Government's insistence - trumpeted from the towers of Downing Street these eight years past - on the absolute primacy of "education" in guaranteeing the nation's future health.

The flip-side of that Blairite vision of Proust-reading, quadratic-equation solving, computer-literate teendom, alas, is a mass culture based, more or less, on the glorification of stupidity. Until the educational think-tanks realise that their real challenge is not to enable children to pass exams or to inflate university admissions statistics but to create a cultural landscape that promotes intelligence above machine-age trivia, Ms Kelly might as well give up her responsibilities on the spot.

Meanwhile, we can comfort ourselves with the reflection that teenage fan-wavings will always look slightly out of kilter to a disapproving older generation. For the record, my own particular heroes, aged 17, were a virulently right-wing Tory politician called Sir John Biggs-Davison, the Jam frontman Paul Weller, and Ian McEwan, then known for his scabrous stories about incest and castration. In this context, Sienna Miller and poor abandoned Kerry can look gratifyingly innocuous.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month  

General Election 2015: Politics is the messy art of compromise, unpopular as it may be

David Blunkett
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012  

Vote Tory and you’re voting for the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer

Mark Steel
General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'