Terence Blacker: Icons of our evolving capitalism

Jodie Marsh has been thinking bigger, and has signed a contract to write five novels
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The Independent Online

When two high-profile megababes arrive at the same radical conclusion about their future careers on the same day, it cannot be dismissed as mere coincidence. Like the communication between migrating ducks who turn at exactly the same moment in flight, that between celebrities is so subtle and mysterious that science has yet to come up with an explanation of it.

Victoria Beckham, the sweet and puckish wife of a footballer, and Jodie Marsh, the "glamour model" whose dead eyes and lipstick technique seem to have been borrowed from a 1970s' horror movie, have both confided in the press that they have literary ambitions. Mrs Beckham - "Posh", as reporters refer to her - has revealed that, when she finishes designing clothes for women, she would like to work on a line for children and, in some kind of clever marketing link-up, will also be writing a book for children.

Jodie has been thinking bigger, and has just signed a publishing contract to write five novels. "Writing is what I want to do long term," she told her fans at a film premiere. As for the theme of her fiction, it was going to be about "how vile the celebrity world really is and how horrible people are".

There will be sniggers and sneers, of course; an angry keening will arise from the great army of writers who are forever seething bitterly over their (usually blank) writing pads. Already, envious hacks have pointed out that Mrs Beckham "confessed" last year never to having read a book, preferring to lose herself in a fashion magazine.

It has been said that, on her recent and unhappy appearance on reality TV, Marsh gave the strong impression that verbalisation was not her strongest suit. "I think the reason why I'm famous is because I've got so much personality," is her explanation of her popularity.

Writers, who like to believe that storytelling requires experience, writing courses and a decade or so of rejection, will ask sarcastically why her ambitions should stop at five novels. Why not an opera singer, a brain surgeon, a starring role at the RSC?

This bleating is entirely pointless. Publishing, which used to be an unusually snooty profession, specialising in a combination of social and intellectual snobbery, is now fully in thrall to the obsession with celebrity. No "author" is received more rapturously at the British Book Awards than a topless model or a footballer. In the Academy of British Books, ghosted authors (David Beckham, Sir Alex Ferguson) are as likely to be elected fellows as those who actually write the words published under their names.

The serious-minded might argue that the more obsessed with fame that the book business becomes, the less it will be able to bother with a new work by AS Byatt or Marina Warner, but that's showbiz for you.

There has always been a great tradition of famous people making pocket money from novels or children's stories - Terry Venables, the Duchess of York, Naomi Campbell have all played the game - and these days such aristocrats of the porn scene as Jordan and Pamela Anderson have advanced their careers through fiction.

It is the bigger picture that is interesting. In their way, Mrs Beckham and Miss Marsh are exemplifying a trend identified by Professor Richard Sennett in his new book The Culture of the New Capitalism. For a pop singer to decide that she would like to be a designer and then an author, or for a Page Three girl to move into writing fiction is not only acceptable in the new professional world but is becoming increasingly typical.

Now that a restless, rapidly changing kind of capitalism is evolving, with workplaces that are more like train stations than villages, continuity is increasingly perceived as professional stagnation. The truly dynamic individual or organisation is the one that is forever in a state of flux and development. As a result, Sennett argues rather scarily, qualities that were once regarded as positives - craft, expertise, experience - are now liabilities.

We live in an age where employers are more interested in potential than know-how. They believe that business is about change and that those with experience are slower to adapt than those who are entirely new. As a result, many people who had thought that, by acquiring skills, they were becoming more valuable are now haunted by what Sennett calls "the spectre of uselessness".

Heaven knows, we have all been there. If you have never looked up from work to find the spectre of uselessness perched on the side of your desk, drumming his fingers, you are probably younger than both Victoria and Jodie.

But arguing that they should stick to what they know, or at least read a book before they try to write one, is to misunderstand what is happening in the new capitalism. It is precisely because they have the pure potential of ignorance that they appeal to publishers, and perhaps to readers, too.

Terblacker@aol.com

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