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If we at one and the same time believe and – to deform the famous formula – suspend our belief? How many times did outraged journalists cut straight from their disapproval of the money she was paid (making profit out of the most hideous of crimes) to the pleasure she was said to have taken in murdering Martin Brown and Brian Howe? Given the profit that these papers were making out of their horror at her profit (an obvious point), not to say out of the horror they drew their readers into – given, that is, their own traffic in the pleasures of horror – we might, again shifting the terms, ask: what is the perverse profit of pleasure?How far is pleasure – the pleasure we take in celebrity, for example – bound up with perversion, or with something we experience as perverse?
Take (inevitably) the death of Princess Diana, the public response to it and reactions to that response. According to the second, ‘the week that shook the world’ camp, the very fact that emotion was being publicly expressed by the British was proof of its authenticity; which in turn meant that such emotion was truer than anything else about the British psyche (the end of English reserve).
In other words, faced with this public display of feeling, we could only cry ‘true’ or ‘false’.
There is of course a tension here, one in which even our secular culture could be said still to be caught.
Jesus makes the deaf hear and the mute speak but then enjoins them to silence (‘He charged them to tell no one; but the more he charged them, the more zealously they published it’).
and pictures representing him standing on the doorstep giving a penny to a poor beggar-woman with six children …
and pictures of him magnanimously refusing to tell on the bad boy who always lay in wait for him around the corner as he came from school, and welted him over the head with a lath.
Could it be, then, that celebrity does indeed represent our guilty secret, that it’s a veiled way of putting into public circulation certain things which do not easily admit of public acknowledgment?
Hence the pull and the paradox, the reason celebrity is so exciting and demeaning at the same time?
Augustine, as Braudy puts it, ‘turned his face against Roman public life and argued that the emptiness that comes from living exclusively in the eyes of others could be filled with God, but even he wrestled with the desire to be praised openly for his denial of worldly values’.
Cut from here to Mark Twain’s ‘The Story of a Good Little Boy’ (who does this remind you of?