Friday, 3 January 2014

Americans versus British

       No, sorry, can’t resist, what with it trending and all! The Americans versus British issue has been exercising our deepest, most chauvinistic sentiments ever since the Boston Tea Party. Yet, along with all the (for the most part petty)  resentments, there is also affection - America viewing Britain as the irascible, highly eccentric, Woosterish Great Auntie, while the stiff-upper-lipped regard America as the brash young nephew who has never quite learned his place!

       We are, of course, extremely fond of each other, which gives both nations the right to chivvy and tease.

       One thing we Brits find rather alarming is the sheer outspokenness of Americans – understandable when you consider the subtle nuance and obfuscation for which cold-eyed civil servants who haunt the hallowed halls of Westminster are famed. In fact, there is nothing we Brits hate more than being ‘put on the spot’ by a direct question.

       “Why do you people hate Americans?” asked a young colonial I once met at a party. Now, had I been older with years of priming by my elders, I would probably have been more diplomatic. What I should have done was raise a quizzical eyebrow and say, with just a trace of condescension: “Do we? What an extraordinary thing to say!”  Instead, I blustered something about John Wayne winning all the battles during World War II - something British veterans were forever bleating on about. “The Yanks were never even there!” was one such utterance when watching Mr True Grit or other beefy US actors conquering Europe single-handedly.  “Too busy chatting up our girlfriends back home, most of them!” was another.

       Speaking of action films, this is an area where Brit/American differences are brought into sharp focus.  Think James Bond, about to be (say) thrown to the crocodiles/sharks/piranha or whatever. Does he flinch? Weep? Scream? Pray? Never! With one light-hearted quip as he flicks a speck from his immaculate tuxedo, he’s ready to face danger – and not a hair out of place! 
       American heroes on the other hand will spend their last moments speechifying, mouthing deeply profound solliloquys to wring every shred of emotion from the situation. This can take a very long time, especially if it’s a death scene.  “Come on, mate! Gerron wi’ it?!” growls the shaven-headed Mancunian in the neighbouring cinema seat, prompting laughter all round.  He’s not being unkind, you understand. It’s just that, however dire the situation, given a choice between heartfelt outpourings and a merry parting quip, British people will invariably opt for the latter – along with a nice cup of tea!

       Americans are also very loud. Faced with a group of sightseers in London,  the average Brit will take pains to keep a distance, as any decibels greater than a full-on heavy metal concert will cause his/her sensitive ears to burst. A brisk side-step into the kerb usually manages to extricate the native passer-by from the howls and whoops of US camaraderie. “OK peoples, we’ll meet here at 7pm sharp. NOT 6.59. NOT 7.01 but 7pm EXACTLY!”

       To be honest, I believe many British people resent the ‘rulers of the world’ attitude so many Americans adopt wherever they happen to be. Our cousins across the pond have such gusto, such curiosity, such a rage for experience, they can hardly help having interesting, exciting lives.

      In contrast, Brits of a certain generation are easily embarrassed, hate to make a fuss and would rather be torn to pieces by rapacious lions than draw attention to themselves. “Whatever will people think?” is their guiding thought, whereas Americans don’t care what anyone thinks. Life is there for grabs, not for standing in queues waiting patiently for buses. They complain if they have to, speak out when they want to, and go all out to get everything that life has to offer.

       Which is probably why we British envy them so much!

Thursday, 2 January 2014

The downside of fame.

       "It sucks to be a famous right now" - Nicolas Cage

       Nic isn't the only celebrity to have felt this way. Britney Spears, Shia La Beouf (who locked himself in an elevator for his ‘art’), Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift and, most recently, Johnny Depp on self-destruct, all seem to have felt the strain.
       Talking to a reporter at the premiĆ©re of one of her films, the late actress Farrah Fawcett-Majors had this to say on how fame affected her life: “I’ve lost all my freedom. I didn’t realize the price I would have to pay for fame. I need a guard living with me at all times now and that in itself is a great strain.” Farrah felt particularly insecure after a kidnap attempt in Mexico which resulted in the killing of one of her security team. Friendships were another issue for this beautiful star: “I can count my true friends on two hands and most of them are from before I became well-known.” 
              These are just a few examples of talented people who have suffered because of their celebrity. Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, Amy Winehouse, Curt Cobain and other singers all hit the heights before succumbing to drugs, alcohol and failed relationships. Actors such as River Phoenix, Heath Ledger, Marilyn Monroe, died from unnatural causes while still in their prime, while countless others struggle daily with the pressures of fame – pressures with which the average human was never equipped to deal.
       Yet, every year, audition queues still form for talent show like the X-Factor - thousands of people desperate for a smattering of stardust and their moment in the sun. And no wonder, when the rich and famous are photographed arriving at achingly chic parties in designer clothes, escorted by unbelievably gorgeous dates. Or cavorting on glamorous beaches, their lithe (sometimes surgically enhanced) bodies immaculately tanned and toned. Admired by most, adored by some, envied by many. 
       And there’s the rub. For envy can be manifest in several ways, from persistent stalking to outright threats, ridicule and hateful comments. Just like an Aunt Sally, those on whom the gods of fortune seem to smile are there to be thwacked by the ungenerous and bitter – if not by a coconut, then at the very least a vicious verbal brick. 
       So, if you’ve ever imagined easing your bejewelled self from a chauffeur-driven limo and gliding down a red carpet in couture Versace, then think about the downside.

       The problem with fame is the unwelcome attention it can bring. (As Brad can testify!) Paparazzi and stalkers go with the territory, of course, and anyone in the public eye is a potential target for kidnappers and assassins. (The attempted kidnapping of singer Joss Stone is a case in point.) If this weren’t worrying enough, there’s a need to protect family members too, and while 24-hour security can be reassuring, it can also be restricting.

Loss of freedom

       Once a person becomes known, he or she is public property. The usual activities most people take for granted, such as walking the dog, nipping to the supermarket, or going to the movies suddenly become military-style manoeuvres. Alternatively, the celebrity may simply opt for a life of seclusion, spending their days behind locked iron gates with less freedom than a Carmelite nun!

Loss of privacy

       Many A-Listers no doubt bewail the lack of privacy. Nowadays, they can rarely enjoy a meal or a quiet cup of coffee without being approached by curious fans.
       And just imagine the discipline it would take never to be caught in a less than flattering pose. Whereas most people can afford the occasional sly scratch or burp, and may be forgiven for absent-mindedly picking their noses, any similar lapse by a celebrity could well make front-page news.

Lies, gossip, rumours and slander

       If fame brings admiration, it also invites site, jealousy and exploitation. All it takes is a chance remark from someone pretending to be in the know and your reputation could be in tatters. 
       ‘Kiss and Tell’ stories by publicity-hungry wannabes, faint praise by unscrupulous colleagues or negative comments from anyone with a grudge are all fodder to voracious media who delight in smashing the very idols they help to create. Rumours abound.

Change of personality

       There are famous people who keep their feet on the ground, usually respected professionals for whom fame is merely a by-product of their career rather than an end in itself. 
       Sadly though, even serious artists, sports personalities and performers can succumb to fame’s not-so-subtle snares. When star-struck fans queue for hours to get a glimpse of you, when sycophants agree with every word you say, when everything you wear meets with acclaim and applause and your looks, style and attitude are slavishly copied, it takes superhuman effort not to listen to the hype, especially if you’ve been hearing it throughout your adolescence. 
       Young celebrities are particularly vulnerable; the more their egos are massaged and inflated, the more adulation they crave and the more unreasonable their behaviour becomes until that nice boy next door or kind-hearted girl who loves her mum are totally unrecognisable. A diva is created.          
       Conversely, the greater the ego, the smaller the self-esteem and the more a celebrity may lose sight of the person they really are. They may feel vulnerable and even paranoid, which causes them to retreat even further behind their carefully crafted image. And the more famous they become, the less satisfied they are.

Loneliness and strained relationships

       For all their millions of fans, superstars are often lonely people, cut off from reality, stifled by their monstrous self-regard and unable to form lasting friendships. Good advice is often viewed as criticism. Genuine friends tend to distance themselves as the superficial takes precedence in the celebrity’s life.       Marriages are particularly vulnerable. A charismatic, good-looking actor or artist of any genre will be targeted by scalp hunters and gold diggers. By the very nature of their craft, they’ll be working with other beautiful, talented performers and, when temptations inevitably arise, loyalty to a mate may often go out of the window, resulting in marriage breakdowns or, at the very least, a serious lack of trust.

Bad associations

       Certain professions are notorious for unsavoury influences. Where there’s money and glamour there will inevitably be drugs, drink and promiscuity in abundance. Just think how many wonderful, talented people have been destroyed by such practices, no doubt introduced at an early age by people pretending to be their friends.


       Of course, there are survivors. Not every star turns to alcohol, mind-altering substances or a series of unsuitable affairs. But even celebrities with iron-cast self-control and all the Botox in the world can’t stop the march of time. Eventually, youth begins to fade and despite the miracles of cosmetic surgery can’t alter the audience’s perception. 
       This is when stars begin to ‘reinvent’ themselves – again – becoming more outrageous in a desperate attempt to gain attention, which is food and drink to seasoned entertainers. 
       But in a field where youth is everything and fame is fickle, a fading star may find the only avenues left open are reality shows.