Remember my Name – F(r)ame!

I was reading an article in an issue of The Profit a few weeks ago about a local radio announcer and had to have a bit of a giggle. It was nothing to do with the person, or the station at the centre of the article, but the fact they were referred to as a “celebrity”.

They say, if you say a word too many times, it loses its meaning. Well, over recent years, “celebrity” certainly fits that bill. Andy Warhol’s quote about everyone getting “15 minutes of fame” has become less of a cliché and more of a mantra, a life-goal for thousands who’s lives seemingly require attention and adoration of hundreds or thousands to be fulfilled or credible.

I can’t help but feel that Hawke’s Bay is too small or close-knit to have celebrities. Dave the radio announcer is merely our mate Dave, the radio announcer. Margaret the city councillor is just Margaret, the city councillor. Yet we have people (too often the media) insisting on calling them celebrities.

As an example, every year maybe a dozen people die on Hawke’s Bay roads. Most of these local, unfortunate and untimely road deaths receive a few column inches in one article in the Hawke’s Bay Today and nothing is heard (or read) of the event again. Yet earlier this year one road death, that of Hannah Eaton, a model, mother and the wife of a Hawke’s Bay Magpie rugby player and former All Black, died in a car accident in the Waikato region. This tragic event received weeks’ worth of coverage – 7 articles in total.

Now, I don’t know the Eatons at all and I am sorry for their loss. My problem is with how it was covered. I tend to think that everyone’s life is precious and equally important, so what I want to know is why the Hawke’s Bay Today featured so much of this incident, when they normally don’t feature much of similar death that happens locally. Was it because she was married to someone famous or was perceived, by someone at the paper, to be a celebrity?

Some may say I’m just reinforcing New Zealand’s infamous “Tall Poppy Syndrome” by denouncing the celebrity phenomena. But what constitutes being a celebrity? What qualities, above and beyond us mere mortals, do they require? What significant improvement or difference to the world do they make? If the examples set by those who don’t need naming, because they receive far too much attention as it is on our televisions and women’s magazines are anything to go by, it’s very little. They feature in poorly “unscripted” TV shows that follow them around doing things regular people do, or “strand” them on some desert island with a bunch of similar “celebrities” to see who can “survive” the longest or “outlast” their competition (anyone in these circles being capable of “outwitting” anyone else is a bridge too far, apparently). Their every meal, fashion choice or romantic liaison deserves cover-story status on thousands of publications. What a joke.

I think there should be less focus on celebrity and far more focus on credibility. Why not focus more on those people who truly deserve celebrating? Caring parents, influential teachers and business leaders, people who make a real difference to our world and lives.

Last month I nearly lost my father – he is my “celebrity”, my hero and inspiration. He had a cold that had stealthily developed into pneumonia. He was taken to the hospital, where he actually stopped breathing and spent a couple days in Intensive Care Unit, unconscious, hooked up to a ventilator. The ICU of any hospital is not somewhere you really want to end up, either as a patient, or as a close family member. It’s where those who are the sickest, the most at risk of dying are looked after. One thing that sticks in my mind is the staff – the doctors and nurses who work in this most tense and delicate environment. Friendly, caring (to both patients and shell-shocked relatives), calm, informative, skilled and utterly professional. Bells, whistles and buzzers would go off at random intervals and they would barely blink an eyelid, just do what needed to be done. Dad has since made a full recovery, but it was a close-run thing. I think the staff of the ICU deserve celebrity status, but they’d just say they were only doing their jobs.

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