As a student and lover of all things past, I always found the lessons of history to be both terrifying and salutary.
And yet, when I hear of another conflict in some far-flung corner of the world, I am saddened that so much of humankind doesn’t seem to have learnt from that history, and has made so little progress from those days when we clothed ourselves in animal skins and made fire with flints and tinder.
In that, I am not referring to technological progress; our ability to develop and apply technology has been remarkable. I am referring to the evolution of our innate ability to show compassion and kindness to those around us, and to accept the social responsibility that comes with being the planet’s dominant species.
Yesterday morning I watched the singer Beyoncé, admitting that she had lip-synced her way through The Star Spangled Banner, during the recent presidential inauguration, and it got me thinking.
Now I’m not interested in debating the political implications of a pop singer doing what pop singers have done for the last fifty years, and miming to a recording, but I did wonder why she had felt compelled to do such a thing at such an historic and important event.
For those, sadly too few, of you who have read my previous ramblings, you will know that I despise a celebrity culture that fetes ordinary individuals for no other reason than their ferocious ambition and fluke luck. I consider it to be inane, and patently unfair to genuinely talented individuals.
However, Beyoncé clearly doesn’t come into that category. The girl is both easy on the eye and hugely talented. So why would such a genuine talent feel the need to deceive us in such a way?
The answers come thick and fast. The weather wasn’t conducive. The proper sound checks hadn’t been completed. She’d had so little time to rehearse. The ambient noise might have polluted the rendition. The microphone might have dissolved in her hand.
All perfectly plausible, well, apart from the last, but all symptoms that conveniently ignore the underlying disease.
The real answer is, of course, simple. . . One of the most talented and famous singers in the world was scared to death of perceived failure.
Now I couldn’t have cared less if her voice had cracked and her knickers had fallen down, in fact it would probably have endeared her to me, because to my way of thinking the occasion was all that mattered. Beyoncé was honouring her nation and saluting a great man at a special moment in history. The quality of her performance was, and rightly should have been, secondary. However, there are a great many people in our society who could and would have slated her for anything less than perfection. . . and therein lies the problem.
Over the centuries, we in the west have apparently become sophisticated and educated. We no longer repeat the atrocities of the past, because we have learnt through bitter experience that such horrors as The Circus Maximus, The Inquisition, and two World Wars, not to mention those genocidal atrocities for which we must all bear some responsibility, were not only acts of unspeakable inhumanity and cruelty but also terrifying examples of mankind’s ignorance. We have learnt, through those same lessons from history, that anger and resentment can soon breed hatred, and that hatred is so often born of that same dangerous ignorance.
Or have we?
Isn’t the real truth that, although we appear to have become more educated and socially tolerant, beneath that veneer of 21st century sophistication lurks a massive underclass filled with anger and resentment.
Which brings me back to Beyoncé and the accursed celebrity culture.
Just as race and religion are still used as excuses for terrorism and warfare, so the celebrity culture has become a catalyst for anger and hidden resentment.
You see, while Joe Soap is slaving away at his menial nine to five labours, scratching a meagre living and wondering why the world seems such an unfair place, many of our celebrities are living in the lap of luxury and looking down their noses at the world. Now I’m a massive fan of The Rolling Stones, but when Mick Jagger castigates the ‘Doom and Gloom’ that he apparently hears and sees all around him, he fails to appreciate that the rest of the world isn’t comprised of multi-millionaire superstars immune to the hardships of our current economic woes.
The Fourth Estate knows it. That is why any headline that implies some sort of celebrity ‘faux pas’ or ‘indiscretion’ is guaranteed to increase sales.
Television companies know it. That is why shows such as The X factor, and America’s Got Talent, and Celebrity Dancing on Ice, and Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here, are so popular. Their popularity is, in part, because ordinary people want to see the talent on display, but also because a great many of them want to see all those amazingly fortunate celebrities and celebrity wannabe’s making fools of themselves or falling flat on their arrogant and ambitious faces. It’s the ‘downfall of the pampered’, the ‘embarrassing disaster that will cheer everyone up’ syndrome.
Poor old Beyoncé knew it, too. Because for every man, woman, and child who enjoys her singing and dancing, and for every teenage cutie wannabe, hoping to emulate her phenomenal success, and for every male fantasist, ogling those magnificent feminine curves, there are a dozen more just waiting to tear down an icon.
That was the real reason she couldn’t take the chance of delivering anything other than a faultless performance. It’s all down to the fact that we in the 21st century may not be quite so predisposed to violence, but in many ways we really haven’t evolved from the lynch mob mentality of those days of Ancient Rome.
Have a good one.