Is George Clooney right? Are stars crazy to be on Twitter, sharing every intimate detail, photograph (selfie or otherwise) and inane thought that they can with their adoring – and often abusive – fanbase? Should they stay behind closed doors, keeping quiet about their antics and remaining non-committal when quizzed on their paramours. Should they be appalled at the prospect of inviting a hack into their home? Were that the case, aside from the very real possibility of the Daily Mail website going out of business, would it be so bad? After all, once upon a time we knew only the very basic facts about our screen and stage idols – we saw what the studios wanted us to, and could only imagine the rest.
Things changed quite some time ago. But over the course of the last decade, there has been a shift in celebrity culture to the opposite extreme; with the rise of the reality star, suddenly fame becomes part and parcel with the world knowing every last detail about you. A celebrity – a word used in the broadest sense – will make an offside about another star, and within minutes the entertainment media will be posting headlines about a feud. Last week, the diver Tom Daley informed the world that he had a boyfriend; the sort of revelation that he could not hope to keep under wraps (should he have wished to) with legions of fans armed with cameraphones and a desire to play paparazzo. From the Kardashians and those Made in Chelsea to the truly famous, privacy is yesterday’s news. The question is, just because we can be privy to every detail, does that mean we should? Has the pendulum swung too far?
For those of us who entered our teenage years around the turn of the century, it was standard practice to decorate our bedrooms with the faces (and often the torsos) of our favourite male stars. And we certainly pored over magazine articles in which they discussed their likes, dislikes and ideal women. However, crucially, there was still an element of mystery, still plenty of unanswered questions. We could still just about buy into the illusion of the celebrity, the version that glossed over sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll. The papers covered salacious stories, but without websites to refresh all day, there was simply less space for celebrity gossip. The Sidebar of Shame has surely put an end to that. Nowadays, fans of all ages know everything – they can scour Twitter to find out where Harry Styles is having dinner, and browse endless snaps of singers and actors grabbing coffee at Starbucks.
Does it matter? Perhaps knowing more about a teen idol will reveal their faults, putting off even the most ardent fans, and giving them more realistic expectations about men than they might glean from the pages of teenage magazines. But there’s also a danger that the reverse is true: knowing everything about a celebrity encourages an unhealthy obsession. They’ve tweeted you back, and you can see new pictures of them every day; it’s almost like you know them.
Teenage girls – the main audience for such wall-to-wall celebrity coverage – have always squealed, screamed, chased male stars and fainted in their presence; remember Elvis and The Beatles? There’s nothing new about that kind of infatuation. But the possibility of following their every move on social media most certainly is. Perhaps there’s no real risk. But there’s something sad, too, about, the loss of that separation between star and fan, them and us. Today’s teens, whoever their heartthrobs may be, will never have that. Instead of reading audience-appropriate interviews in Sugar detailing a star’s favourite film or perfect date, they can access the uncensored version of their crush, on social media, all the time.
The National Portrait Gallery has just opened a dazzling display of photographs to mark Vivien Leigh’s centenary. Ever the picture of glamour, there are no images of Leigh looking anything other than elegant and poised. It’s hard to imagine that will be the case for any of today’s household names. Except maybe George Clooney.