Want to see something genuinely horrific? I urge you to watch ‘Starsuckers’ – a documentary from BAFTA-nominated director Chris Atkins about celebrity and the media that will confirm our worst fears about the new world order. We have entered an age of informational chaos, where news gathering has become a celebrity-driven pay-per-story farce, where former gossip columnists now run newspapers and have the ear of those in power, where schoolchildren all over the world choose ‘fame’ as the most desirable of all future attributes, and where the manufacturing of such hopes drives commerce faster than any the production of any physical object on the planet.
It seems foolhardy to make a film attacking the entertainment industry and then trying to get it released, and so it proves, because the distributors rely on the very press, film and PR companies vilified here. Atkins outlines the nightmare he had getting anyone to even watch the film, but thankfully the DVD release might help – if anyone dares to review it.
Atkins builds his case carefully and slowly; at first I thought, ‘Well, this is nothing new.’ After all, I spent a quarter of a century in the business, and know many of the same people Atkins knows (we even share the same showbiz lawyer). But then he starts providing some hard science about why psychology has changed so dramatically in the last ten years, complete with case studies, and even I was shocked. We are hardwired to seek out exemplars because copiers succeed and loners fail in the reproductive cycle, but the for the first time in history our biological instincts are being used against us to manufacture the belief that we can achieve success not through hard work or innovation, but by becoming famous. So, is Hollywood the Antichrist? Yes, and then some, aided and abetted by the bottom-feeding UK press, who have returned literacy to a new stone age. Yes, it’s your chance to hear and see Andy Coulson and Rebekah Brooks blatantly lying to enquiries!
Atkins is prepared to fight fire with fire, turning to the same tricks used by the media – witness his planting of an absurdly pointless story about Amy Winehouse’s hair catching fire, and watch how it expands as ‘reporters’ add their own twists until it fills more papers than news of famines. It appears that what we want most are safe, simple, uncontroversial stories that save us having to interact with real life.
The film is especially damning about Bob Geldorf, News International (no surprise there), the media’s role in the creation of copycat slayings in schools, the paparazzi and the odious Max Clifford, here filmed undercover. Particularly depressing is the story of a little boy trained by his parents to seek fame on chat shows and the PR witches of the British press who prove entirely morality-free when set up in a sting.
There are a lot of extras, but you’ll want to kill yourself before watching all of them. Just as good is the included brochure that outlines the film’s struggle to be released. It was even denied the Film Council’s minimum payout (which they happily handed to tax exiles) because Elizabeth Murdoch was on their board.
The only glimmer of hope is that the internet is producing fine journalists who may are trying to restore some balance – and of course the News Of The World has gone.