I do not want to get lost in a definitional quagmire between fame and celebrity. Some people may think that there is really no difference between them. Others think the line is very, very thin. Yet some others may think that it is a distinction without a difference. Whatever you think, keep it to yourself.
My business today is the species of homo sapiens called celebrity. I have chosen to adopt Daniel Boorstin’s definition of celebrity as “a person who is well known for his well-known-ness.” Those who belong to this club come mainly from the performing arts, sports, beauty pageantry and related fields. They are musicians, dancers, actors, actresses, beauty queens, bloggers, social media activists, OAPs (on-air personalities), masters of ceremony, comedians and many others whose vocation share the same territorial boundary with the above named. But as is customary in Nigeria, some hustlers who are probably denizens of yahoo-yahoo-ism are putting their feet in the door seeking to be recognized as celebrities. Celebrities all seem to have their social media platforms – Twitter, Facebook, Instagram – on which they strut their stuff. They post regularly the pictures of themselves in various degrees of undress, pushing out their buttocks or bosoms so that we all can see that they have them. Some of these things that they flaunt are enhanced by the gift of technology. Let us thank them all the same for the favour. Some of them regale us with the lurid tales of their wives’ or husbands’ infidelities and of their fights with or flights from their enemies in their lines of business.
Some of them have grown their craft and are recognized as ambassadors for products or services by well-heeled companies. That is recognition well merited. Some of them have established clothing or perfume lines and merchandising outlets thus expanding their survival possibilities. A few others with the milk of human kindness have done works of charity quietly or noisily. How they do it is unimportant because philanthropy has in its womb transformational possibilities for the lives of beneficiaries.
Many of these celebrities are very beautiful or handsome or have mastered the art of packaging themselves to achieve the illusion of true beauty. They now call themselves a brand. Everyone of them thinks he or she is a brand even if all she has to her name is one waka-pass role in a shitty movie produced in one shit-hole country in Africa (apologies to Donald Trump). They dress beautifully or obscenely or in some gaudy or avant garde manner precisely to draw attention to themselves. They boil or fry their hair, part it in the middle or left or right. Some pull the hair to one side such that it covers one eye, Rihanna style. You may call them one-eyed queens. Some use hair attachments from some factory or mortuary in India or Brazil, but what does it matter? Hair is hair.
Many of them talk about growing their brand. Don’t mistake that for working assiduously for solid achievements. To many of them it means the choreography of self-promotion, of self-advertisement, of flaunting their flesh or of talking raw. That is what they do on many platforms, mainstream and social media. Conversation has been transformed by technology and globalisation. This has come to be seen as the Age of Full Disclosure and with it has come the baggage of indecent exposure. Some of these girls talk about their virginity without wincing as if they are talking about ice cream or donuts or ofada rice. That thing never used to be talked about openly in those days by decent people. But today, even decent girls who still have it don’t mind opening it up for the public to mentally examine it. In other words, they have permitted the public to disvirgin them mentally. So, they are no longer as virginous as they think they are. A few months ago, a Korean girl was advertised as wanting to sell her virginity for $2 million. I haven’t followed the story to its orgasm, to the point of the painful breaking of the hymen in exchange for wads of hard-earned dollars, but, if the deal was sealed, she, too, has become an instant celebrity.
In Nigeria, the media have made an enormous contribution to the emergence of the new celebrity. Television stations now have entertainment, sports, celebrity platforms, where they showcase the clothes, shoes, hair and lipsticks of celebrities. Some of these celebs now have their own television programmes, where they become interviewers instead of interviewees. The hunted has now become the hunter. The Saturday and Sunday newspapers have upped their game. They are now giving big play to love and relationship issues, fashion trends and fads, both dignified and not-so-dignified on Saturday and Sunday. Some of them publish special magazines on Sundays dedicated to style, fashion, parties and other razzmatazz issues.
These newspapers also give acres of space to trivia about the celebrities: their perfume makers, clothes and shoes designers, what they eat at breakfast, lunch and dinner. The papers ask them who kissed them first, who disvirgined them and maybe who was the witness. They ask the actresses to name their first movies and whether they were on the casting couch before they were assigned roles. The girls are often asked who their celebrity crushes are and my census of their answers is that my brother, Richard Mofe Damijo, (RMD by popular acclaim) is their favourite. They may fantasize about him because he is a tall, handsome man whose clothes also sit well on him but RMD is a very successful professional who has worked very hard to reach the top. His success is based not on his looks but on his gravitas; it is the grind that gave birth to the glamour he exudes. Sweetheart, as you crush him please take that on board.
The media are changing, by unfair validation, the true worth of celebrity; they flippantly call someone with one unsuccessful record or one with a cameo role in a movie a diva, prima donna, goddess, super star, icon, legend, avatar, prodigy and sex symbol. These words confer a status of prominence on both the deserving and the undeserving. And they all feel cool, wearing dark glasses in the morning, afternoon, evening and night. Along with their dark glasses they have ushered in the red carpet as the ultimate precursor to most events. The red carpet is the event before the event, a forum for showing off your clothes and being photographed or interviewed while you sip your wine and laugh heartily to stale jokes you’ve heard before. You have red carpets today at weddings, book presentations, product launches, film premiers and very soon we may have them at burials, just before the lying in state. If that happens, kindly give the credit to our celebrities.
One of the girl-celebrities was interviewed in one of the weekend newspapers some weeks ago. The male reporter asked her, an actress or musician, what was the selling point in her body. She said it was her boobs. Apparently, she sensed that the reporter must have noticed that her chest was as flat as his own, so she quickly added that she doesn’t have big boobs but that her “nipples are a bomb, very long.” It must be a sense of editorial decency that prevented him from asking her to show him how long it was, whether it was as long as Third Mainland Bridge in Lagos. This fellow has broken the decency boundary. Where is her mother? Well, maybe this is the new normal.
Someone said the other day that if some of these celebrities were asked to fill a form with the space for SEX they would probably write: five times a week, because they do not know better than that. That may be bad belle but the way some of them carry on may leave you wondering whether the schools they went to did go through them at all.
Our celebrities have introduced into our relationship lexicon something called “Baby Mamas.” To the uninitiated these are women who have children out of wedlock for philandering celebrities. I wonder why the are not called Baby Papas. Having children outside wedlock is nothing new but the difference today is that the celebrities have brought a lot of drama into it. They are trying hard to make our society to accept it as the new normal. It is not. In an era of incurable diseases such as HIV aids unprotected sex by unmarried persons is a mark of irresponsible behaviour. And when it is exhibited openly by people that ought to be role models to youths it is an unacceptable form of iconoclasm. Celebrities by their status and stature do not live for themselves only. They live for society as well.
Some of the celebrities often complain that their steps are dogged by rumours and scandals. Some of them make these possible by the way they conduct their affairs, thinking that any publicity is good for them. Publicity is part of the department. No doubt about it. So if they do not like the smell of onions they should not step into the kitchen. If they like the kitchen they must like onions too.
Some of them have given a shot in the arm to the Office of Citizen. Two worthy examples come to mind here. Charles Oputa, better known as Charly Boy or Area Fada, and Tuface Idibia are eminent musicians who have used their prestige for public good. They have been involved in organizing demonstrations against bad government policies or in activities to strengthen the electoral process for more efficiency. They have also spoken out in favour of building a better society. All citizens share with the government the responsibility for building a better society. That is the followership schedule of duty. But our celebrities, the genuine ones, have a higher responsibility because of their endowments to help redefine societal values using their well-known-ness credentials.