Music, News & Commentary, Screen

Humility is the new celebrity

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Amidst the fear, confusion and the terrifying prospect that it might be years before No Lights No Lycra classes resume, a silver lining has emerged from the storm clouds of Pandemic 2020. 

Not the cleaner streams, the uncongested freeways, the hours spent on sourdough starters or the bonding with close family singing AFL anthems for autumnal nostalgia. 

No, the upside of Corona is the 15 minutes of fame now enjoyed by the spare rooms, sleep-outs and lean-tos of society’s hitherto unsung heroes – our interventional cytopathologists, epidemiological surveillance experts and longevity risk actuaries. 

TV news and current affairs production has ‘pivoted’ from slick studios with mugs of chai lattes on the breakfast hosts’ oversized desks to the new normal which, is actually just like normal used to be – normal normal.

Now TV is populated by actual experts on something beaming live from home studios and their 1997 Ikea desks and Billy bookshelves laden with Granny’s cracked decanter, a photo of a kid on Santa’s knee and a 1963 set of Encyclopaedia Britannica. 

These new stars of the small screen – doctors, scientists, and sacrificial Virgin staff among them – have a straight down the barrel delivery that has breathed new life into media. Their cardigans and bedroom hair have provided a right-for-the-times contrast to the professional media class with their flashy look-at-me sets and disturbing Logie-night-ready hairdos. A new class of talking heads has risen to rival the pros – and they are lighting up our screens. 

The Logie awards with stretch limo interior selfies, like the above from 2017, are a no-go in 2020 as TV audiences switch to normal people for knowledge and authority .

We should have seen this outbreak of charisma coming given that so many ordinary citizens have spent the last 15 years posting pointless videos on YouTube. Cute kids, precocious teens, scowling cats, would-be comics, mercenary influencers and lunatic conspiracy theorists have been busy practising the art of instant communication from the domestic front since the launch of YouTube on April 23, 2005. 

They’ve been clocking up billions of visits to sell us their talents or stuff we didn’t think we were interested in, like wearable blankets or considering whether Gillon McLachlan was once a member of the Chippendales. 

Now any millennial with a smartphone can instantly command WTF incredulity and a fan base with a 29 second grab of a cat swinging from a ceiling fan.

These early adopters stumbled upon the holy grail of modern communications – authenticity. All it took was a commitment to zero production values and the belief that humanity loved (or hated) kittens, along with a visual vocabulary of chipped plywood walls, unmown backyards, skew-whiff camera angles and muffled sound. 

The Covid emergency has meant the media class has had to catch up. It’s now Goodbye Self-Importance and Hello Normcore Family-Room. Still, those old self-congratulatory habits are hard to kick for some of some of our luminaries.

John Legend and Delta Goodrem blew it during the last month’s One World: Together At Home concert when they each sang heartfelt ballads in front of living room shelves boasting awards, trophies and other chunks of sharp Perspex. Great idea to show off your 1977 Eisteddfod win during a global pandemic. 

They should have popped over to Nan’s and shone brightly against a Freedom bookshelf scattered with some Tom Clancy paperbacks and a low G.I cookbook. 

Even worse, was Madonna’s issuing of crack pot, self-isolation social media clips. She told fans coronavirus was “the great equaliser’’ as she coyly covered her remodelled flesh in a bathtub festooned in rose petals, in her remodelled bathroom in her remodelled mansion. 

These celebrities should have known to steer clear of the home front after Kevin Spacey’s cryptic YouTube Christmas Day message of 2018. Recovering from sex assault charges, Spacey appeared to be holed-up in a kitchen reminiscent of the late TV chef, the Galloping Gourmet Graham Kerr. The world watched as Spacey stuffed a turkey while intoning the menacing growl of his TV alter-ego, President Frank Underwood. And the world responded as one: he’s off his rocker. 

A few TV hosts however have learnt that in these dark times it’s not a good idea to show the world you live in a corona-proof luxury bubble. 

Taking a cue from Wayne’s World and mixing it with a Greg Brady-attic vibe, The Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon (main picture above) has gone the full timber-lined basement look to get down with the people (while wearing a cardigan). 

Meanwhile, Stephen Colbert is broadcasting his show from his home office. It’s the kind of bland spare room suited to a Skype interview between a supply-chain logistics expert for Bunnings and an ABC Breakfast host, which is entirely authentic given Colbert looks like a supply-chain logistics expert. And in this new dawn where humility is the new celebrity, it works. 

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