Friday, May 20, 2005

A Massive Swelling - Book review by Lezah

I have this massive swelling right on my... Oh, too much information!  Apologies!  
Anyway, I'm kidding - it's really only a small lump... (joke!).

Actually, what I REALLY want to talk about here is Cintra Wilson's book 'A Massive Swelling:  Celebrity Worship Re-examined as a Grotesque Crippling Disease and other Cultural Revelation' (Viking/Penguin).

You can call it honest or or you can call it bitchy:  what this book does is offers us, through a series of essays/articles, a different look at the fame freak show that we commonly refer to as popular culture.

There are no sacred cows here.  From celebrities like Celine Dion, Michael Jackson and Courtney Love to the machines that generate and prolong the shelf life of these abominations (Hollywood, Vegas and the people who work there), from popular tastes in music, movies and television to the horrible styles that they spawn, everyone and everything is mercilessly skewered.

Wilson points out that fame itself is now the most valuable commodity in our culture, not talent or morality, and that the vehicle of stardom is not related in any way to one's ability or native intelligence.

Considering that this book was written five years ago, I find it scary to consider how true this remains today - probably much more so than it was when the book was first conceived.  Case in point:  Paris Hilton.  Need I say more?  

But in case you're not convinced, look at the 'real TV' phenomenon and see just how much this holds true.  Take, for instance, the fairly mild show (by comparison) 'America's Next Top Model'.  Think about the winner of the first season, Adrienne Curry.  After jumping through all the hoops, winning against probably the strongest group of competitors the show has ever had, is she now working as a model?  I don't think so, if her appearance on the 'I'm nothing more than a has-been' show 'The Surreal Life' is any indication.  And Wednesday night's second place finisher, Kahlen, who was said by the judges to have had the strongest portfolio ever on the show - did she win?  No, it was cute little Naima, who was also a real contender.  But why did Naima win?  Because she, in real life, had more 'star power'.  Kahlen could turn it on better than anyone in front of the camera, but on a human level, she presented as - (shock! gasp!) nothing more than a mere human.  Turns out ANTM is, in truth, little more than just another celebrity-generating machine...  and I had wanted it to be so much more (sob!).

Wilson's contempt is far-reaching, from the 'kinderwhore' fashions that are a residual side-effect of society's love for teen pop stars like Pink and Britney, to the current craze for plastic surgery, about which she says, "I have a hunch that (the desire for plastic surgery) will eventually be regarded as a bigger cry for help than slit wrists or a pill overdose."

So, this book is not for humourless fans of our current crop of celebrities, not for those who are lusting for fame, not for the faint of heart; but if you have sat up at any point recently after hearing or reading about some juvenile antic of someone afflicted with the fame virus and thought to yourself, "What the hell?!?!?" - well, then, maybe this book is for you.   

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