Mark Steel: When being hated by everyone is better than sex

'If you want fame, you can't muck around making a classic film or writing a groundbreaking book'
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The Independent Online

Tony Blair must be very proud of Narinder. She's the dreadful woman who, since being kicked out of the Big Brother house, has revealed that she wrote 700 letters begging to appear on various television programmes. So she's a case study of modern fame, worshipping celebrity status as an end in itself.

If Narinder met Nelson Mandela, she would say, "Oh what a thrill, I mean you're soooooo famous I can't believe it. What a great PR stunt to do that prison thing, I mean now you could be in practically any advert you fancied."

One of the people that she said she wanted to be as famous as was Martin Luther King. So perhaps she will sit down with an agent and say something like: "Look, can't you get me a gig leading a civil rights movement somewhere? It would do loads to raise my profile. Either that or presenting the weather on The Big Breakfast."

Now she's briefly fulfilled her ambition, taking every media opportunity to be vicious about her ex-housemates, and saying that being known by so many people is "better than sex". This is what makes the modern attitude to fame so fascinating. The reason she's around in order to be recognised is she was disliked by her housemates, and disliked by the viewers, hence her eviction. So everywhere she goes, people say, "Look, there's that woman that no one likes," and this is better than sex.

Even the Conservative Party has more dignity than that. At least Hague's response to the election result wasn't "Fantastic! Now they'll put my picture in the Sunday Mirror, and I promise to reveal that Kenneth Clarke may seem nice, but he's a conniving little sod and I thought he was there for me but he's sooooo two-faced."

It's assumed by sections of the media that now she'll get a job on the telly. But surely even the people who run television aren't so daft as to put someone on telly, whose only reason for being known is that millions of people have voted not to have her on the telly.

Yet you can't really blame her, as fame for its own sake has become such a dominant part of our culture. A celeb's success is deemed to be in line with how well known they are, although the best known are almost certain to be people who've done nothing of any value.

Because if you want to maintain a high profile, you can't muck about making a classic film or researching a groundbreaking book. You have to spend that time presenting the lottery or a programme about gardens. Nor can you afford to offer any opinion or passion on any subject that could be construed as controversial, as that may alienate a section of the target mass audience.

The same rule drives Big Brother, in which no one appears to offer any opinion about anything apart from suntan lotion. Or maybe this is just down to the editing. We see them sprawled over the settee, but this is because they're exhausted after a hard day debating chaos theory. The bit that's left out is Helen saying, "The trouble with you, Bubble, is it's Plato, Plato, Plato. After all that philosophy I need Brian to give me a back rub."

More likely is that anyone genuinely interesting would be the first to get kicked out. Martin Luther King would be certain to be nominated, with Helen blustering "We all have dreams but there's no need to bloody keep on about them. Gets on my nerves, it does."

Narinder is only playing by the rules, of Big Brother and the media as a whole. And that's why Tony Blair must be proud of her, because for him the same rules apply throughout society, with wealth replacing fame as a mark of success. Successful means rich. When he talks about people with aspirations, he means people with aspirations to be worth a fortune. Even when he talks about culture, he describes bands or films as "success stories", because they are "a vital part of our exports".

I expect that if you asked him whether he knew of a good book, he'd say "Oh, Captain Corelli's Mandolin is marvellous. I haven't read a word of it but it's generated over £20m for British business. War and Peace never did that, did it?"

If the "Mona Lisa" had just been painted, Blair's comment would be that it was a marvellous achievement, as it showed how a small business can quickly develop into one of the leading exporters of smiles throughout Europe.

So maybe Narinder will maintain her celebrity status, and find herself with a post in the Cabinet. Though her speech at party conference would be interesting.

"Hiya. Waaaah. Oh this is great. But let me tell yer, Gordon right, he comes over all prudent but he's AAAAAGH so BOOOOORRRRRRING!!! And Jack, when he takes his shirt off he's DISGUSTING!! And how come it's all right for Alastair to make comments about Tony, but if I said those things it'd be 'Narinder shouldn't have said this and Narinder shouldn't have said that,' and oh my GOD you really don't want to see what John looks like in the Jacuzzi."

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