I’m in a smart restaurant. Two huge middle-aged men come in with their girlfriends. The men wear shiny tight clothes that make them look like huge toddlers. They appear to have been dipped in gold. They’re speaking Russian. The girls are maybe nineteen, leggy, catwalk-arrogant, dressed somewhere between schoolgirl and call girl, as bare as they dare. They go to the bathroom six times in the course of the meal – not to take drugs (too nineties) but to photograph each other endlessly for Facebook. The screams and flashes from the toilet disturb everyone in the restaurant until a waiter is called to send them back to their table.
Cut to my brief stay in W Hotel. The chain is the supposedly hip end of the Starwood group. It calls staff ‘Talent’ and room cleaning ‘Styling’. There’s a lot of blinging blue neon and locality is ignored, so you could be anywhere in the world, in a tartier McDonald’s or KFC. I wait at the lift as a 25 year-old woman walks past trailing a giant teddy bear, before having a screaming fight with her skateboard-toting 30 year-old boyfriend. W hotels are designed to look better at night. They’re about sex and showing off, housing glittery nightclubs that attract surgery-enhanced girls in outfits they’ve copied from footage of celebrities on red carpets. Bad music pumps out past midnight. Even the corridor muzak can be heard in the rooms. There’s a firework display outside the bedroom windows at 2:00am. Children love bright colours and loud noises.
Welcome to the New Infantilism, where men hide behind their game-Phones while their girlfriends photograph themselves. Where it’s cool to stay in faux-sophisticated identical surroundings marketed at people who get excited when they see mauve underlighting. An Orwellian world George really didn’t spot coming.
Recently, three young people I know have been seduced out of their jobs by TV companies promising to make them stars. They weren’t paid for their time, and at the end of the process were spat back onto the street with their ten minutes of fame behind them. In one particularly nasty case, a TV company duped one into thinking he was on a talent show that turned out to be the humiliating reality show ‘Tool Academy’. The second was set up as fake-posh in ‘Made In Chelsea’. Another mentioned that his 13 year-old daughter had just been approached by a reputable model agency. Luckily the girl is way too smart to be excited.
A new survey suggests that children now see ‘celebrity’ as a viable career choice, preferable to becoming a teacher or doctor. But it’s not a choice they can possibly have the power to make. What they fail to glimpse is the selling machine behind the image.
Sensationalism is nothing new, and there are no real surprises that one sector of the population should always crave the unattainable, but this current incarnation is pernicious and far-reaching. SF writers speculate about the future – isn’t it time they speculated about this global phenomenon? (If you know one who has, let me know).