OpGaGaRah and the Celebrity Singularity

Paul Raven @ 26-05-2011

There are many reasons I like Ryan “Grumpy Owl” Oakley, but his view of celebrity culture is one of ’em. Here he is invoking the ghost of Guy Debord to ask whether the celebrisphere is contracting toward its very own singularity:

Today, I watched Oprah’s final show then Lady Gaga Live.

They seem to be very different entertainers but they gave the same speech with the same message. Oprah talked about her hard-knock life, told people that if they just loved themselves, their dreams would all come true and nothing could stop them from being happy and successful. Gaga talked about her hard-knock life, told people to follow their dreams and love themselves and nothing could stop them from being famous.

After all, it worked for them, right?


Right now, in a corporate laboratory, scientists are creating OPGAGARAH. They’ve tried before. Tyra Banks was their most recent failure. But they will get it right.

Then, we shall have one media personality who appeals to every demo/psychographic. A monopoly on all culture. A common goal that tells us to love ourselves and our dreams will all come true. A psychic hegemon to cower before while aspiring to be. Someone that both parent and teenager likes. A beautiful monster that eats life and shits profit.

I hear you, Ryan. For all GaGa’s supposedly transgressive behaviours (and, for the record, I think the most interesting and important thing she’s done is speak out in vocal support of non-heterosexual lifestyles), she’s an accelerating convergence of all the banal pseudotransgressive and titillatory po-mo pop tropes of the last thirty years or so, slowly accreting into a black hole that will hoover in money and attention until it collapses in on itself; like an overclocked Madonna aimed at the dissipating heart of popular culture.

The sad thing is, I don’t think she even realises it; like all the best pop stars, her belief in the independence of her agency is what makes her powerful, but it also blinds her to her own status as a puppet of a dying industry that will sell anything to keep its business model – and the executive carpool, natch – rolling for another few months.

[ Side note: I think the suggestion that GaGa – and others – are starting to sell transhumanist tropes into the mainstream actually supports my argument; last year’s transgression is this year’s coffee-table culture, and they’re running out of more acceptable novelties to peddle. ]

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5 Responses to “OpGaGaRah and the Celebrity Singularity”

  1. Ted says:

    Are Lady Gaga and Oprah self-obsessed because they’re famous or are they famous because they’re self-obsessed? I get the sense that their self-obsession is interpreted by fans as an act of will that mystically, in and of itself, makes them celebrities. It fits in with the waves of positive visualization/wealth religions, like The Secret, as well as the cult audience surrounding American Idol and other get-famous-quick shows.
    In 50’s and 60’s SF, the classic author interview was to describe stories as quickly dashed off and mailed out undrafted, (there’s the classic tale of Bradbury feeding the meter of a typewriter while banging out Fahrenheit 451) conveying the sense of a ultra-fresh, explosive/raw story. Many of the readers at the time considered reading “pulp” as indulging and the idea that a story wasn’t wrought with sweat and blood allowed readers to blaze through a text.
    Maybe Opgagarah (a pharaoh sounding title) is attempting (perhaps not deliberately) to convey this sort of deft ease to their pop media fans who are trying to indulge in what, on the surface at least, might seem a bit like pap.

  2. Paul Raven says:

    Thanks for the comment, Ted! I think you’re right; narcissism (in both the extrovert and introvert flavours) is a strong and probably prerequisite component of the pop star phenomenon… but the causal relation between them is something of a chicken-and-egg question. I’d probably go for a middle ground: a tendency to narcissism probably helps, but the indulgences heaped on stars by the industry almost certainly nurtures it and helps it grow strong.

  3. JT says:

    First, I think the idea that we’re “running out of novelties” is short-sighted and anti-futurist. How many times have we as humans marveled that things could not get any cooler than they are, only to be surprised when the next generation of cool things comes out?

    Second, pop culture is, if anything, *more* fractured than it used to be. We have countless sub-cultures, sub-sub-cultures, 2304972378 channels on the TV, even more TV on the internet, the old-school five-label music industry model is slowly dying in favor of a many-indie-labels model…. I could go on. My point is that fifty years ago, a TV network could bill something as an “event” and everyone would actually go to work the next day and say “wow we all saw that same event-thing!” Not so anymore.

  4. Paul Raven says:

    Thanks for your thoughts, JT!

    First, I think the idea that we’re “running out of novelties” is short-sighted and anti-futurist.

    Lucky I didn’t say we were, then. 🙂

    … running out of more acceptable novelties to peddle.

    “Acceptable”, in this instance, means “close enough to mainstream concerns to be only partly threatening, but far enough out to still be titillatory and/or worthy of scandalised discussion”. New ideas are pulled inward, closer to the event horizon, by the hunger for novelty.

    On your second point, we’re pretty much in agreement, though taking the conclusion in different ways. Culture is certainly more fragmented, but there is still a recognisable mainstream, especially among the Boomers. (There are also faux-mainstream subcultures, which I find fascinating, but that’s a sidebar for another day.) But the pertinent thing here is that, as you point out, the mainstream was always a commercial endeavour: create market, create product, sell product. GaGa is probably going to be one of the last of her sort of star, because I feel she represents the point where that old manufactured-star model is subsumed by the more recent (and harder to control) let-the-star-manufacture-themselves-then-find-a-market-for-it model. The latter is what happens when a horizontal industry tries to apply its knowledge to a marketplace that is pretty much all verticals. Mainstream is a vertical, and still a fairly sizeable one; it’s also a channel with well established rules and semantic language, and -given that they developed such – the big labels try to pitch there as often as they can, probably not even realising that by doing so they’re contributing to its rapid erosion. Stars burn brighter for less time, and in doing so they use up the cultural substrate they’re nurtured in.

    And as for the old-school mass-culture event, there’s another whole essay we could do about how we still have events like that (e.g. Royal Wedding) but they don’t act as nostalgic touchstones or cultural binding points any more; on the contrary, they give us a chance to perform ourselves in response to them (e.g. Twitter commentary around Royal Wedding, which was far more interesting than the event itself)… it’s fascinating (if scary, and quite often frustrating) time we live in. 🙂

  5. gmoke says:

    Virgin Mobile is running a series of commercials about the lack of celebrities to follow and thus are manufacturing a new celebrity couple, whose main claim to fame seems to be wardrobe malfunctions for the female member of said couple.