by Marina Hyde
Harvill Secker £11.99 239pp.
Review by Maria Bustillos
I live in Los Angeles, and this is a book we desperately need over here. It's a series of hilarious essays on the subject named, but there is some very pithy stuff in there as well. I was aghast to realize how anesthetized we Californians have become to the madhouse in which we live that scarcely anyone batted an eyelash when the Jolie-Pitts arranged to use the African nation of Namibia as “a private VIP room” for the birth of their child. It took the likes of British journalist Marina Hyde to put this egregious tale across with the full quotient of horror that it deserves. “Oh, movie stars,” we all thought, you know, at the time. “They think it’s groovy to all be going on about Africa, well at least I hope it does the Namibians some good, whatever.”
What we didn’t bother to learn is that Hollywood’s Royal Couple essentially took over the Namibian government in order to ensure their privacy, directing who would or would not receive visas, and literally arranging for the airspace above their Afro-Hollywood Nativity Scene to be cleared by the government. Sensible Namibians were horrified, pointing out that these private arrangements were in contravention of their hard-won constitution, and expressing fear that in future, the government might take them as a precedent to step a wee bit outside the confines of the law for its own purposes.
I was rattled, too, to learn that Bono, the celebrity face of African famine relief, moved his own tax affairs to the Netherlands after the Irish government decreed that the tax-free status long accorded to Irish artists was to be capped at just over $625,000. A burden too onerous for the U2 frontman, apparently, who, as Hyde points out, has no trouble “driving around on roads paid for by teachers and nurses and plumbers.”
This is really kind of somber stuff. But it eventually emerges that Hyde has traded in her shot at writing a serious and fascinating book, exploring the train wreck that has occurred where politics and entertainment collide, in favor of the cheap (though delightful) thrills. The cover depicts a chihuahua in a handbag, I am rather sorry to report. There's Ozzy Osbourne comparing celebrity rehab facilities with expert, bland discrimination, and a creepy account of celebrity Kabbalah-mania; the familiar stories of whacked-out Scientologist actors, Naomi Campbell Smacks Another Maid, Paris Hilton Goes to Jail, and so on.
Celebrity does show a few signs of having been produced in haste (when an American reader notices "whom” where “who” should be in a British book, it’s kind of unnerving,) but it should be stressed that Hyde is a fine slinger of her own highly Yankified version of the King’s English. I gratefully admit to having guffawed my way through most of the book, but still I was left wanting something. Well, a few things. I had been hoping that Ms. Hyde would actually offer up a stab at the Exit Strategy she rightly claims we need, for example, and she doesn't. To be fair, she only promised to explain why we need one, and I certainly agree with her reasoning there.
It’s as if there were two books in Celebrity, and they’re kind of at odds with one another: a gossipy, pleasantly bitchy standard highbrow-tabloid diatribe against the megalomaniacal excesses of Hollywood stars, and a passionate call to arms against the self-serving trivialization of the world’s problems by “activist” celebrities. Much as I enjoyed the former book, it is the latter I really want to read, and we only get a tantalizing taste of it here.