FRANKLY MR. SHANKLY: I’d Rather Be Reified

Frankly Mr. Shankly, I’d rather be famous than righteous or holy, any day….. and so Morrissey sang with the Smiths.

Frankly, Mr Shankly, this position I’ve held
it pays my way and it corrodes my soul
I want to leave you will not miss me
I want to go down in musical history

Frankly, Mr Shankly, I’m a sickening wreck
I’ve got the 21st century breathing down my neck
I must move fast, you understand me
I want to go down in celluloid history Mr Shankly….

"James Ensor (April 13, 1860 – November 19, 1949), one of the most famous Belgian artists was obsessed with death, grotesque masquerades, and fantastic allegories. In some point in his artistic development he turned towards religious themes as well. He interpreted them as a personal disgust for the inhumanity of the world. The most famous painting of him is the immense "Christ's Entry into Brussels". In this painting he took on religion, politics, and art by depicting Christ entering contemporary Brussels in a Mardi gras parade. It is a vast carnival crowd in grotesque masks advancing towards the viewer. Nearly lost amid the teeming throng is Christ on his donkey. Although Ensor was an atheist, he identified with Christ as a victim of mockery."

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There is no question of the dominacy of celebrity culture, even a mere fifteen minutes of fame seems stretching reality by today’s standards. Face it, celebrities are society; the basis of our communal lives, the pitchmen and women of a new faith. And, despite the hand wringing that literature , the arts and government are increasingly marginal, and  fewer and fewer minds are curious for profound understanding, the phenomenon, not without warning , is that pop culture has long since left the ambiguous, and often ambivalent word culture behind, shedded its skin,  to become the central way we understand the world.This has been accelerated in this information age. Our eight hours per day in front of a screen, which seems almost absurd, will likely be remembered as the “golden days” , somewhat sentimentally, when we pass ten and twelve hour limits in the next decade.

Broadband, wireless and networking is the new infrastructure, a mind-set away from the industrial age mentality that clings to us like a stubborn rash. If we want to understand ourselves,our motives, desires, etc.,  if we want to understand the society to which we belong, we have to come to grips with a comprehension of  celebrity, because the present era of freedom and loneliness has erected them as the primary communal experience. It is unavoidable that we end up   confronting the mysteries, magics and insecurities of our existence, both existential and secure through an understanding of these avatars as archetypes that serve as gates as we ski through a slalom of life. Although the critique, perhaps of “elitists” is that its a triumph of image over substance, the focus on the end product is irrelevant; the substance component is the process and trials and tribulations; reading the last chapter and epilogue of the book does not impart much of “substance”.

James Ensor. "His other famous painting "Tribulation of Saint Anthony" could be seen as a modern version of the famous painting "The Temptation of St. Anthony" by Hieronymus Bosch. The work features a hooded holy man inundated by Boschian creatures floating in swampy skies -- devils and demons that fart on him and defecate. In my humble opinion this is one of his masterpieces."

The critiques from both left and right, may be missing the mystery of the middle of the donut:

“The celebrity image is wrought with disintegration. Fame is fleeting for a film and television industry dedicated to exhibiting the newest, brightest stars. Contained within representations of those currently in the limelight resides a specter of the degradation to come. We take perverse pleasure when the image of stars such as Tom Cruise implode in a fantastic barrage of mediated missteps and lackluster opening weekend grosses. In the past, the brightest stars tended to fade away, quietly accepting their fate in the assembly line production of popular culture celebrity. Those who would not go gently into that good night were pitifully mocked,
epitomized in the figure of Norma Desmond in Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard. However, now each Norma Desmond can have their day again thanks to the current trend toward celebrity- based reality television.

The popularity of MTV’s The Real World eventually gave rise to a new generation of pseudo-documentary television that has become a mainstay of broadcast TV since the turn of the twenty-first century. Reality television promoted the idea that anyone could be a star. Correspondingly, those who already had commercial success were given new life via a run through the reality TV mill. While The Real World presented an urban apartment full of young trendsetters on the make, the Warner Brothers network debuted The Surreal Life in 2003 which featured aging celebrities sequestered in a deluxe mansion in a posh suburb of Los Angeles. According to the WB’s website, the show features “six bigger-than-life celebrities from every genre of the entertainment industry [who] are back in the spotlight as they share a home and a series of outrageous and life-changing events for twelve days and nights that can only be described

urreal.” This show’s success led to a run on VH1 which made it a cornerstone….

"Cattelan is conscious of what he calls the “media resonance” or “visual persistence” of his work. He has cultivated a strong artistic persona that takes his art beyond the narrow confines of the art world. Not only does he produce many sculptural self-portraits, he regularly works with Pierpaolo Ferrari, a photographer, to create images of “Cattelan”—a socially awkward joker—that keep his face in circulation."...

The introduction of the word “celebrity”, to express its meaning in the current sense, coincided with the invention and popularization of photography. The visual image, capable of mass reproduction lent itself to an industry of celebrity. The response to image reproduction is as equally important as the so-called posing of pop culture as an abstract form of religion. Whether this is a “spiritual” response as some have claimed, is unclear, though it may be insecure atheists desiring to keep the unwanted genes in the shallow end of the pool.

Nonetheless,  The rudimentary origins of celebrity were identical with the genesis and development of mass-produced faces. The romantic poets were the first genuine celebrities as we know them today—men as famous for their lives as their art. Beaches in Italy, and paths in Switzerland are still noted for the fact that Byron or Keats once walked  on them. The demand for Byron’s hair may have been the first example of celebrity commodity fetish: Female fans of Lord Byron would often send him locks of their hair. In return he would send them a lock of his own. But a new book claims that what Byron often sent was a lock of fur from his pet newfoundland dog Boatswain.

"A few months ago one of Cattelan's most significant sculptures, “Him” (pictured left), traded behind the scenes for $10m, a sum that few living artists of his generation can command. Smaller than life-size, “Him” is a spookily realistic depiction of Hitler kneeling in prayer. Among other things, it poses the question: if the Führer asked for absolution, would God forgive him? Stefan Edlis, a Viennese-born Holocaust survivor and eminent American collector, is a proud owner an edition of the work. “When people see this piece,” says Edlis, “they react with gasps, tears, disbelief. The impact is stunning. Politics aside, that is how you judge art.” Few artists have the ability to puzzle over tragedy like Cattelan, whose works evoke the cruel daydreams that besiege otherwise good boys, the fears that inhibit love and the hilarity that accompanies horror."

The personality of a celebrity is inherently a contradiction. There cannot be genuine intimacy exactly because he or she offers mass intimacy. Like the man who falls in love with every woman at the drop of a hat, but can bring himself to love just one. The basis of our intimacy with celebrity is exactly their retreating when we try to see them.

Fame, fame, fatal fame
it can play hideous tricks on the brain
but still I rather be famous
than righteous or holy, any day, any day, any day

But sometimes I’d feel more fulfilled
making Christmas cards with the mentally ill
I want to live and I want to love
I want to catch something that I might be ashamed of…

"talian artist Maurizio Cattelan is best known for his subversive, hyper-realistic sculptures—including depictions of Pope John Paul II being hit by a meteorite, a child-size Hitler kneeling in prayer and a suicidal squirrel. For W’s Art Issue, he conceived a politically and religiously charged portfolio featuring supermodel Linda Evangelista. “She’s a still actress,” says Cattelan of Evangelista. “At the end, she was so tuned-in that all she needed were a couple of words and she knew what we wanted.” A new piece by Cattelan is included in “Pop Life: Art in A Material World,” an exhibition at the Tate Modern in London that runs through January. In February a show focusing on his large-scale works will open at the Menil Collection in Houston."

Robert Fulford:And there were also much less celebrated corners of television where the medium continued to broaden our understanding of human nature. Consider the people on television reality shows who attempted to get sober, get thin or buy a wedding dress. Or the young people who tried, in their hysterical and often drunken way, to celebrate their limited lives on the Jersey Shore. Or those who set out to save obsessive packrats in their families from living in houses stuffed with hopelessly unmanageable junk.

To know them, even if only for a few minutes on a screen, was to discover something otherwise unavailable about the bizarre (and not always likeable) incongruities that are crucial elements in the human personality. These programs managed to shape grotesque data into stories that mattered, week after week.

They placed before us such naked human frailty that it was impossible not to be touched, particularly if we realized that we were watching magnified versions of our own failings. Television of today grows steadily more capacious and welcoming, its account of personality richer. Read more:

…Frankly, Mr Shankly, this position I’ve held
it pays my way and it corrodes my soul
oh, I didn’t realise that you wrote poetry
I didn’t realise you wrote such bloody awful poetry Mr Shankly

Frankly, Mr Shankly, since you ask
you are a flatulent pain the arse
I do not mean to be so rude
but still, I must speak frankly, Mr Shankly, give us money

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Any effort to examine “The Surreal Life” as a site from which to demystify the celebrity is problematic. It is common of contemporary television to go “behind the scenes,” giving the spectator a chance to see the process behind the manufactured product. Erik Estrada’s frequent laments about being pigeonholed as a 1970s superhunk probably comes as no surprise to savvy
contemporary viewers, and it is questionable as to whether these viewers (in this particular moment in history) care that this reification occurs. The process of rejecting celebrities is a necessary part of the logic of celebrities, and the display of decay facilitates the aforementioned identification of the fallen idols that is the other side of the coin regarding vicarious consumption. The celebrity ruins of “The Surreal Life” are not ripped out of developmental history, but used as a prop for it. If one accepts the corollary that the humanity of celebrities resembles use value and their image resembles exchange value, the revelation of the social value of these commodities does not impede their incorporation as dream images by the spectator. They are not autonomous objects free from the logic of celebrity and open to interpretation. However, Benjamin gives particular attention to the emancipatory potential of new contexts for images, yet the context for these items established within consumer culture does not undermine
the possibility for redemption completely. Wish images are negated by the culture industry, but the potential resurrection of primal history remains.

The process of misunderstanding an abstraction as a concrete entity. Lukács saw the origins of the concept in both Hegel and Marx, although the German word for ‘reification’, verdinglichung, cannot be found in any of their writings. Despite this Lukács relates the concept to commodity-fetishism as explicated by Marx in the first chapter of Capital. For Marx, fetishism exists when social relations between men take the form of relations between things. Lukács discusses reification in this light by focusing on how men’s productive activity takes an alien form in the capitalist mode of production. In contrast, Adorno stressed the importance of understanding reification as a social category which indicates the way in which consciousness is determined. The emphasis on reification becomes not simply a relation between men that appears as a relation between things, but rather a relation between men that appears in the form of a property of a thing. Adorno relates this to Marx’s distinction between use value and exchange value. Only exchange value is reified because it is the form in which the value of a commodity is expressed. ( Ian Fraser)

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