Observed modern social anthropology of movie stars and celebrities

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My interpretation of modern celebrity saturated culture

One of my rarely admitted guilty pleasures is to see the photographs and videos of Indian celebrity events, particularly those that involve movie stars.

Don’t mock me saying, “That’s original” because it is not the movie stars that I am looking at. It is the minders, security guards, ushers, nannies and other paraphernalia that gather around them that I am interested in. This is my minor contribution to modern social anthropology, which sounds so much better than just straight celebrity voyeurism. It also lends a scholarly aura to this useless pursuit.

All Indian celebrity pictures have the feel of a self-contained living organism. Generally a group four to six people move together in unison to a subtly orchestrated choreography or like a school of fish.

There is the movie star in the center of the frame, barely being able to suppress a sense of entitlement on his or her face. In the immediate orbit you have those who are closest to the movie stars, which could be either their personal bodyguards, secretaries, nannies or event hosts or a combination of all four. The personal bodyguards look almost as self-important as the celebrity they are surrounding. They have an expression that suggests ‘We are as important as the person we are surrounding.’ They make sure that they do not come across as the star-struck, drool-dripping groupies.

You can spot the movie star secretary from several light years away. They have the look of bored familiarity of those who have gone through the routine for years and have long shattered the mystique of the person whose lackeys they are. Some of them have an expression that could be well read: “You think this guy/girl is a star? Wait until you know what I know and endure what I endure everyday and see what I see.” And yet they have to look suitably deferential, obsequious, unctuous, subservient and servile. I have seen male secretaries–and most of them are men–to female movie stars wear a strikingly uxorious expression. Are you suitably impressed by a minor show of my vocabulary?

Then there are the nannies to the starlets who have recently become mothers. The starlets ensure that their nannies turn out in the cheapest possible outfits which are not obviously torn. There is no makeup on the nannies. The only feminine attribute they are allowed to display is neatly combed hair. They have to balance the weight of overfed star babies with that of the baby bags carrying baby feeds, milk bottles and diapers. Sometime I suspect the starlets make the nannies wear diapers so that they do not have to leave their star babies’ side even for a second.

The most amusing aspect of celebrity pictures and videos for me is that it all seems like a miniature planetary system moving with their star in the middle who carries an invisible force field that both repels and attracts simultaneously.

That brings me to the main point of my doctoral thesis on “Observed modern social anthropology in the narrow context of movie stars and celebrities in the midst of the 21st century real time media.”

At the outermost edge of this star system are bystanders, sideliners and hangers-on who more often than not are ill-clad, sweaty men with unkempt hair, wearing shirts and trousers a size too large or too small and cheap sneakers or flip-flops or chappals or slippers as they are called in India. They know they can never be part of the circus unfolding before them and yet evince an inexplicable interest in the goings-on. Some of them seem to have an unarticulated question on their lips, “What wrong did I do that I am a hanger-on and not a star?” Some others look just utterly mystified at what they have chanced upon.

It is funny how you can see the quality and value of the clothing and accessories progressively decline with every orbit that is further away from the movie star. Those at the outermost edge of the system look dim and dull and lifeless quite like the real star system, as in the Sun and the planets. I would not be surprised if some of them are wondering in the privacy of their own minds, “How I wish I could puke on his shirt/her tank top?” or alternatively, “Can I get ever a piece of that?”

These celebrity pictures appear to create a sense of inadequacy among those watching from the sidelines, a feeling that they have been cruelly left out of the good things in life, a realization that life has dealt them a losing hand. Being there possibly lifts their spirit for a short while and creates a sense of optimism about possibilities in their own lives but that vanishes rather quickly as the glamor moves on, leaving them to grapple with the oppressive mundaneness of their own real existence.

Note to self: Wow! I do write crap.

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About chutiumsulfate

South Asians can infer from my name what I am. View all posts by chutiumsulfate

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