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Friday, January 15, 2010

The Bitch of Celebrity

Editorial by Mark Mayhey reporting from London, UK

When the BBC Magazine asked its readers to mark the end of the first decade of the century by suggesting words that sum up the Noughties, it was not really about individual words and phrases but much more about their resonances.

So, having the word 'bling' make it on the list defining the decade is no surprise, as lexicographer Susie Dent explains for the BBC:

It neatly conveys our love/hate relationship with the celebrities who have dominated both the real world and the virtual one. And the importance of the latter in the Noughties was huge, as the choices of i, blog, and tweet testify.

There's another b-word that comes in mind with the love/hate attraction of celebrity and the rise of social media sites, but it's an old word - bitch.

The Bitch of Celebrity

In recent years we've seen a recent shift to more malicious or "bitchy" discussion of celebrities, especially female ones, as well as the heightened profile of the "train-wreck" celebrity - such as Britney Spears and Michael Jackson, which has been propelled by the rising popularity of new media gossip blogs.

The development of the celebrity gossip blog - and its use of the "Bitch" as narrator - has arguably shaped a cynical awareness of the mass production of celebrity culture. It not only fuels our curiosity for the glamour pups, it also encourages audiences to question the mechanisms through which they are being positioned as consumers of glitz.

The gossip blog does have a cultural function, no doubt, and although this type of questioning has its limits, with Bitch rhetoric increasingly dominating everyday gossip and commentary regarding celebrities, hostility and judgement has now become an inextricable component of celebrity gossip.

It's addictive. You can see it in the tone of the writing of fans in forums, too, as this culture of bitchiness has started to seep through to the general public. A good case in point being the rumpus caused over Tarkan's Mohawk scalp with some of the comments from his fans about him as bitchy as you could want.

Or the Turkish press could want - which used the comments to ample effect to suggest that even the singer's fans were turning against him, but it was more indicative of being a sign of the times than anything else.

In Turkey, variety columnists have been writing like celebrity gossip bitches for years - but where Tarkan is concerned the tone sometimes drops a level. They want their own "train-wreck" celebrity, and if one isn't forthcoming, they do all they can to help derail them.

Some do it with panache, though. Left-wing paper Radikal's columnist, Ayça Şen, jibes with how celebrities have become metaphors for the events in our lives, adding that sometimes we "swoon like Tarkan at the unfairness of it all".

But when Tarkan is singled out, sometimes all feminine charm goes out the window. Recently playing the bitch narrator is Mehveş Evin, writing for Turkish paper Milliyet in an article that wouldn't look out of place in a celebrity blog.

However, Evin isn't some Perez Hilton. She is a paid journalist working for a supposedly reputable newspaper.

Evin goes at it hammer and tongs in a scathing critique of Tarkan in her 10 January article claiming that Tarkan is not "a megastar but their family popstar", starting with the regurgitated news of Tarkan being photographed with US celebrity has-beens as she describes them - not realising the pictures are a year old - and ending with footnotes to two articles suggesting Tarkan is in decline.

Declaring Tarkan to be stuck in the Nineties, she also compares the singer to George Michael by comparing Michael's fee of 3 million dollars for a New Year show to Tarkan's £150,000 TL for his New Year concert at Antalya's Mardan Palace.

It's funny no one in the press used Michael's example - or even Beyoncé Knowles' performance for £1.2 million at a private party for Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi's son - when some were criticising Tarkan for being on stage, suggesting world stars just don't do that kind of thing.

In a condescending tone, Evin concludes: "It's best we don't call Tarkan a megastar, a world star any more. With his gentlemanly conduct, his undeniable talent, he is our family's popstar. No more than Kenan Doğulu, a little less than Ajda Pekkan. Instead of playing with his hair, if he makes the headlines with important projects like Tarkan's nature campaign, that will be enough for us."

Ouch.

So, it's not simply about sensationalist stories for voyeuristic readership as it is with modern celebrity pages on our side of the pond; it really is about damaging the careers of artists in favour of other artists in Turkey, as there is still evidence of patronage amongst the media and artists similar to America circa 1950s - with some being blackballed or promoted depending on some agenda other than the quality of music being produced.

Tarkan in Taksim Square for Istanbul2010Some may have started to lay off, as Tarkan is a brand name of sorts, and with it being used to export goods - as most recently in Russia - to generate business for industries in Turkey, a few have realised that "brand-bashing" Tarkan would be like shooting themselves in the foot.

The Turkish government seems to think the same. Although Tarkan has been campaigning against one ministerial department to protect the environment in its impoverished regions, another can quite well still sign a deal with the star to take part in Istanbul's European Capital of Culture celebrations.

Times change. Times are also fickle.

And maybe ultimately that's a bigger bitch than celebrity itself.

The views in this article are those of the author alone.
Read more Mark Mayhey articles on Tarkan >>

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