Transcript

Celebrity Culture with Christopher Scanlon

7 May 2008

scanlonChristopher Scanlon
Email: c.scanlon@latrobe.edu.au

You can also listen to the interview [MP3 19.3 MB].

Matt:

I'd like to welcome you all today to the La Trobe University podcast, I'm your host Matt, and bunching up on the bench to give him some room, lets give him a big fake round of applause, it's Chris Scanlon!

Chris:

Thank you for having me.

Matt:

Chris Scanlon teaches in the media studies and journalism program at La Trobe University, and he's here to talk to us about how there's a bad culture encouraging bad celebrities. Footballers in particular, but we're not going to leave any celebrities out of that category there.

Chris:

Yeah, I think the recent case of Wayne Carey was a great illustration of this, but I think he's just a symptom of a larger culture within celebrity culture and the way we teach celebrities.

Matt:

Since we're talking about celebrities, current events and everything like that I think it's important that we put a big 'allegedly here, and we can cut it in anywhere we need to along the podcast. So Wayne Carey has had a large and colourful history. We've seen him recently on Andrew Denton where he came out and apologised for everything that he did.

Chris:

Kind of.

Matt:

Kind of. He came out and apologised for any offence he may have caused, which is a standard response for footballers these days.

Chris:

Yeah, I think that was an interesting case. Whenever I see Wayne Carey on the news and on Denton he sort of looks a bit lost as an individual, and I think we can say that it's just the individual Wayne Carey and say he's a bad person, or we can say he's the product of a culture, of a larger culture, and I think that's a more productive way of looking at this. I think the media tends to focus on the individual, understandably, because there's a story there and that's reasonable enough, but I think we're at risk of losing sight of the bigger picture, which is the culture that produces people like Wayne Carey.

Matt:

So it's essentially people get fascinated by celebrities, and in a way all their attention can affect how celebrities react and how they get moulded, is that what you're saying?

Chris:

Well yeah, I think there's a culture, particularly in professional sportsmen, and it tends to be sportsmen and not sportswomen, where we've created a culture where young guys are taken in at a very young age into clubs and into leagues, and they're pumped up, they're put under enormous amounts of pressure, and the possibly don't develop the kinds of social skills that other young men do. They live in a sort of rarefied world of celebrity, there's public expectations of them, and I think it's not really surprising that a lot of them go off the rails, just under those sort of pressures. Not all sportsmen. A lot of them, of course, live in this sort of rarefied world quite easily, and do very successfully out of it. But there is a pattern there, and that's what I think if we just focus on the individual celebrity we often lose sight of the culture that is producing this kind of people.

Matt:

Well Wayne Carey, he was a captain at the age of twenty, wasn't he? That was a very early pressure to be put into. Now I don't know a lot about AFL, I consider it a fight with a ball, I'm not from this state.

Chris:

If you look at the case of Ben Cousins it's very similar, in Western Australia he was picked out as a champion very early on in his career, and again was promoted very quickly up through the ranks, and again put under enormous pressure. And we've seen in the last year, particularly Ben Cousins come undone, with various forms of substance abuse, anger management issues, and just getting in trouble with the law. I think that that is symptomatic of a culture, it's not necessarily just about Ben Cousins is a bad person, it's not about Wayne Carey as a bad person, they may behave in anti-social ways, they may do things that have run ins with the law, but I think that's the culture around them that's producing this kind of behaviour as well.

Matt:

Is Ben Cousins the footballer that broke into somebody's backyard and drank all their sunscreen last year or the year before?

Chris:

I'm not sure if he did that, I haven't heard about that one!

Matt:

We'll put another 'allegedly' in there! I can't remember what footballer did that, but you hope he turned up at trial with a little sunscreen moustache over his mouth, that would have been good. I think that might have been him, I should probably cut that out though just in case! Well at the moment there's a video being made, sorry, a dvd being made to educate footballers on how to treat women. Now I assume they're all going to be put in front of this and sat down and you'd hope that all it would need to consist of is somebody coming onscreen going 'Hey, how you going guys, here's a bit of hint: don't beat up women' and that would be the end of the tape. But I'd say all footballers are going to have to be sat in front of that, and have to watch that.

Chris:

Well I think it's a case of, you know, I think it's a larger culture, and anything you read about footballers... they've occasionally appeared in the media and talked about the pressures they've been put under, it's far more widespread than what the public knows. As regards education, making videos and these sorts of things, fantastic, but it's only a start. I think it's almost a drop in the ocean unless you actually change the culture which they're in. If you're drinking twenty to thirty beers after a game then I think there's a reason why people do that. They're obviously in a culture where that's kind of okay, and that's kind of part of what's expected of you as a celebrity, it's part of that kind of culture, I don't think a video's really going to do much there, it's a good start but you'd have to change the larger culture because I think that after game socialising is going to have a hell of a lot more influence on how people behave and their actions rather than a video they might have watched. In a formal setting six months previously.

Matt:

There's not a lot you can do to change a culture like that, the footballers will always celebrate big if they've won a game so the only way to maybe break this sort of circle is if culture tries to change itself. I mean a big problem I see coming here as far as the way that culture pushes celebrities into certain parts of behaviour is that they're constantly hounded. Wayne Carey... I'm picking on the guy, I feel like I'm picking on him... Wayne Carey said in that interview that he can't leave his house, because he's consistently being hounded by the media. Britney Spears is a terrible example where she's just constantly followed by the paparazzi and they've essentially become her friends because they know her better than anyone else. Look what that drives her to, she can't go anywhere, she can't go out for coffee, she shaved her head last year, she's making K-Fed look like the responsible parent even though he lives in a well appointed dumpmaster. So the only way to really break that is for people to stop showing fascination in that.

Chris:

Absolutely and I think that's part of the... it's when we wash our hands of people like Wayne Carey and Britney Spears and we kind of hold them up like this and kind of scapegoat them in many ways, it's a way of distancing our own role in the creation of these sort of people. Saying that Wayne Carey, and making him kind of the big bad guy, and again, I'm not condoning violence against women or anything like that, but I think he's a product of this culture and it's time we started looking at ourselves too and our own consumption of this stuff. The way in which footballers, particularly in Victoria, are put on a pedestal and expected to be kind of role models for young children. They're never given the space to develop as people and I think that's part of the problem, the fact that we push young men who I think are barely socialised into this very narrow world of simply just performing and performing and performing. And of course they get to their career at the end of their mid-twenties, early thirties if they make it that far, and of course they don't really have the skills to move on. They're given an apartment, I've heard stories of AFL footballers being given pubs as a kind of thing to thank them for their service to the club. It's not really a healthy way to live.

Matt:

That's just going to encourage the problem! But really, what can a footballer do? They can either go into commentating if they've got enough of a public presence, so they've got that sort of route, or they can go the Warrick Capper route which is he's a meter maid, he's also a stripper, he won't perform on grass though, I found that out, I think he's also $3000 an hour, and he's running for mayor of Gold Coast. So you can try and stay in the public eye somehow. Once your football skills are all used up it's a bit like society doesn't have a use for you. You're left with the skills you've learnt which are how to kick a football around and how to hold an impressive amount of drink.

Chris:

Yeah, and I think this is kind of something for the clubs to look at and as a community to look at, if you're going to support this thing and we invest an enormous amount of money and resources and the rest of it into football and sport generally, the larger question is how to we ensure that these men have some skills for another career post their football career, or have a role. That's got to come from particularly the club I think, the AFL. And in their defence, they are, I think, starting to do this, but it's taking them a little bit long I think to get onto this stuff and maybe to ease off on the pressure, for the younger players, and focus on the development of these guys as full social beings rather than just looking at them as products, which is essentially what they're reduced to now. Tradable commodities.

Matt:

Actually, let me just bunch up on the couch here... we'll get Mikhaela to come over and ask a question.

Mikhaela:

Historically, like early in the last century, women would look up to people who might have known a language, who might have been successful in what they were doing, who were really contributing and leading respectable sort of day jobs and lives and contributing to the wider community. Whereas now we look up to people like footballers with the Wayne Careys and the Ben Cousins, there are facebook groups 'I want to party with Ben Cousins', he's being nearly supported for what he's doing, probably because the way that he's living is not really uncommon, so it seems like the culture really feeds off itself. What's created this monster?

Chris:

I think it's partly the phenomenon like celebrity culture, things like reality television, classics like Big Brother, and things like myspace and facebook, where you're encouraged to perform, that is the currency of these things, you have to perform as a person, but I think it's larger than that, it's too easy to blame the media. It's also just the basic atomisation of society in some ways, that we're encouraged to think about ourselves simply as individuals, and we've got to make it and we don't have any larger supports, so people kind of... it seems to me with these sort of things that people will kind of exploit themselves first and foremost, because that's all they've got, it's the lives of quiet desperation, to coin a phrase, where you're only going to make it if you sell your soul in this kind of way. We kind of take delight in the people who do this, Corey Worthington and people like this, and these people have nothing because they're bad boys, they have nothing to offer in terms of anything of a larger social productive role. They re just good at getting media attention, they're famous for being famous, the classic definitio of celebrity. So I kind of think that it's not simply the media creating this, it's also the culture has atomised, people feel that they only have their own self to fall back on, and they have to commodity themselves. You get the Ben Cousins, the Wayne Careys, the Corey Worthingtons, the Britney Spears, they become the people that do this very well.

Mikhaela:

But does Corey Worthington do this very well? What he's done is he's had a party.

Matt:

He's posted it on Myspace, that was a hard thing to do.

Mikhaela:

You know, I don't think that would be an uncommon thing for 16 year olds to do, to have a party and to put the details, I doubt that he would have expected to have a thousand people. He goes to school, has a pretty normal life, and suddenly he has adults, people knocking on his doors saying 'come and do this, come and travel the country, promote some parties, we're going to pay you a lot for it', what 16 year old would say no to that?

Matt:

True, he's on Big Brother this year.

Mikhaela:

Now there's a massive backlash against him, he's going to be chewed up and spat out, and he's not even 17.

Chris:

I think what the difference is that he's been validated for that behaviour too, very powerfully, and I think he will be spat out, if you look at him on television and in interviews he doesn't have the skills to actually carry it off, he can't perform, it was almost an accident that he got this notoriety. But he has had some validation doing that, and it's kind of seen from some party promoters, and if he is going on Big Brother, he's being given legitimation for that behaviour. But these people become entrepreneurs themselves, almost, it becomes their commodity. Corey is trying to turn this into a commodity and make money out of essentially bad behaviour. And again, this isn't new. The means why these people do this have kind of become democratised. You can go beyond it, you don't need to become the superstars like Wayne Carey and Ben Cousins being democratised and anyone can do this to a degree.

Matt:

So do you see a way of breaking the cycle at all?

Chris:

Again it goes back to if you take Britney Spears again, very narrow kind of experience growing up, was always a performer, pressured to perform, and kind of never developed the skills of a fully rounded social being, I think the same you can see in the stories of Wayne Carey and Ben Cousins. They have been pushing for a very narrow kind of realm and I think at least in those cases you've got some kind of culture around them, some sort of structures, you have the capacity to try and ensure that there is some responsibility there that these guys get some kind of development in other spheres of their lives, and that they actually do have a future beyond football, beyond sport, beyond celebrity.

Matt:

So we should look out for Suri Cruise hitting the headlines in about 15 years time when she goes off the rails.

Mikhaela:

Is Wayne Carey's behaviour really different from what's been exhibited previously by professional sporting teams? The media's different now, it's very very hard to go undetected, whereas in the 70's it might have been very easy.

Chris:

I think that's part of it too, the media has so much more power to get into people's lives. That sort of power that the media has has also pushed people like Carey into these Godlike status. And I don't think footballers necessarily had that, I mean even when teams were still based in a place, whereas now they're like products, or they're like multi-national corporations, it doesn't matter where they are, so you can have something like Fitzroy team uprooted and taken to Brisbane, it's essentially a brand that can be divorced from place, but when they still had that connection to community there was sort of more grounded in a place, to a particular community, that somehow curbed that action, their behaviour. You've now lost those constraints and collective associations put on people's behaviour. So yeah, I think there's a difference now, with someone like Wayne Carey, they go into a sort of realm where the values of constraint are lost completely.

Matt:

I've got one more wrap up one, and that is to get your reaction on this picture. Have you heard of Flavio Briatori before?

Chris:

No.

Matt:

Okay, he owns the Formula One Renault team, I think he's the manager of it, he's dated quite a lot of supermodels, he's the father of Heidi Klum's baby, and I think he's a very good example of getting to the point where he's so famous and so rich that he thinks he can get away with anything. How would you describe this picture of him?

Chris:

Ooh. That's not a good picture!

Matt:

That's one way to put it!

Chris:

Where is this shot taken?

Matt:

He was just in a resort somewhere! He's sporting-

Chris:

That's terrible!

Matt:

That is terrible, what I can only describe as the Flavio lolly-bag. If a guy gets to that point – and he's the father of Heidi Klum's baby – you'd think that Heidi Klum would maybe have standards…

Mikhaela:

Or he'd have some standards of his own behaviour, that's terrible.

Chris:

I think that's another worrying enditement on professional sports!

Matt:

Well that brings us to the end of the podcast for this week, I'd like to thank my guest Chris Scanlon.

Chris:

Thankyou.

Matt:

I'd also like to thank Mikhaela Delahunty there, chiming in and being my partner in crime, Simon Knight on the pots and pans from OTSU out the back, and I'd also like to thank Mark Pearce the team mascot, always willing to lead us in a rousing singalong.

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