TV UK, 27 November

Celebrities, gods and the Baghdad Blogger.

Dolan Cummings

Topics Culture

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The Importance of Being Famous (Channel 4, Tuesdays at 9pm) is ostensibly a critique of our inane celebrity-driven culture, but really it ends up reinforcing it. Actually, this is not surprising given that it is presented by Mirror editor Piers Morgan.

His basic mistake is to think that he can find out about celebrity culture by interviewing celebrities. This is even dafter than asking academics and ‘cultural critics’ to explain things. The likes of Tamara Plonker Whatshername, Vinnie ‘Sensitive’ Jones, and some guy who used to be in Take That and is now famous for not being famous, show themselves to be utterly lacking in insight into their condition.

Salam Pax is a celebrity of sorts, having come to prominence as the Baghdad Blogger, publishing his thoughts on the web during the Iraq war. Newsnight gave him a slot on Wednesday night, which he did in the style of Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and the City, muttering rhetorical questions into his laptop. Like Carrie, Salam is a legend in is his own backyard, and he certainly seems to reap adulation in Baghdad’s upper west side. Also like Carrie, though, he failed to offer any stunning insights into the future of occupied Iraq.

Stranger still is The Hand of God (BBC1, Tuesdays at 10.35pm), in which Michael Buerk asks celebrities about their religious beliefs. Who comes up with this stuff? The first episode focused on sports stars, which at least threw up a genuine theological question: does God intervene in our lives, and specifically in this case, does He give us a nudge over the finishing line, or (as Maradona claimed) help the ball into the net?

The consensus seemed to be that He doesn’t. It would seem unfair, and as the American athlete Michael Johnson pointed out, Christianity teaches that we are all God’s children, even losers. Of course in the Jewish tradition, God has been known to give his favourites an unfair advantage, but as Buerk suggested to the hapless Stephanie Cook, it’s a bit of a stretch to believe that He takes an avid interest in the ‘modern pentathlon’.

It was faintly amusing to watch Cook squirm, but someone with a more considered faith might have protested that God’s motives are beyond human contemplation. It’s only agnostics who ask why God should be interested in individuals; believers believe it because that’s what they believe, and for the rest of us the question is meaningless.

The only thing stupider than asking a celebrity to explain fame, or a Christian why God should want her to win medals, is asking a half-cut Rangers supporter why he hates Celtic. Buerk’s interviewee in this context did not have the look of a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, but at least he didn’t commission this mindless tosh.

Dolan Cummings is publications editor at the Institute of Ideas, and editor of Culture Wars. He is also the editor of Reality TV: How Real Is Real?, Hodder Murray, 2002 (buy this book from Amazon (UK) or Amazon (USA)).

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