From the start I should state – I think Big Brother is awful – in all its forms! But I’ve seen it – how could I avoid it living in a house where my family love reality shows and “dramality”!!! (In case you don’t know “dramality” is apparent a reality show which is actually made up and isn’t reality at all – I hope you are keeping up here!). One of the things I hate most about it is the intrusion it allows into the lives of some people who don’t seem, well very nice really! And even worse it seems to me that it increasingly sets out to exploit and magnify any mental health issues that an individual faces – any time I walk through the room when it’s on there is one celebrity crying, one celebrity shouting, and all the others are split into two camps supporting either Crying Celebrity or Shouting Celebrity! But what the hell has Celebrity Big Brother got to do with books you may ask (that’s a hint – if you aren’t asking that you should be – it’s a sort of “stage direction!”)
I come to it from reading my current book “A Fine Balance” by Rohinton Mistry, set in India at the time Mrs Gandhi declared a state of emergency. The book is wonderful – but she’s just the most god-awful creature it seems to me. The book is beautiful to read and it’s somehow very calm and understated – and yet almost each time I put it down I’m consumed with rage at the treatment of the main characters! At from there that got me thinking about how some books have exposed some well-known names and faces to a kind of “literary” Big Brother scrutiny for me – which they’ve not come out of well!
Inevitably, as they are meant to, good biographies, and sometimes fiction, can be a such a thoroughly transparent window to a sportsman or politician or celebrity, showing you more than you could ever have glimpsed or even thought existed when you watched them perform or talk or play (or in the case of politicians maybe the most apt phrase is “watched them bullshit!”). It seems to me this can be really quite negative characteristics and yet it feels absolutely right – in everything I’ve ever read about Eric Cantona for instance he comes across with a swaggering arrogance and supreme self-confidence – and that’s as it should be for me as I want Eric to be arrogant and supremely confident – I’d feel cheated somehow if he was anything less! However sometimes books show you negative things that clash so violently with my perceptions, they alter my perspective entirely.
Years ago I read Bob Geldof’s book “Is That It?”. I so wanted to enjoy it, like it and like him. But I hated it. I expected him to come across as dogged and unorthodox and challenging and with a swagger because like almost everybody else I was so impressed by what he’d done with “Live Aid!”. But I found the book sickeningly self-congratulatory and somehow a bit “Oh wow is me and look what I’ve achieved against all the odds etc, etc, etc”. It didn’t put me off Bob mind you – I bought albums by Bob Geldof and The Vegetarians of Love and I doubt there are many people who can say that!! Anyway for me – on a literary Celebrity Big Brother, Bob’s autobiography would be one of those in there to gather the unpopular vote!
Where I work, a book group started up at one point and among the first books suggested was a book about Gandhi – I think it was called “All Men Are Brothers!”. It turned out to be the worst experience of my reading life – it was truly the most awful book I’ve ever read. It’s essentially a collection of Gandhi sayings and quotes and comments on everything in life from the big ideas to the everyday minutiae! But beyond being an awful read, it showed me a side of Gandhi that I had known nothing about (admittedly most of my perception had been gathered via history in school and watching Richard Attenborough’s film!). But I found myself intensely disliking Gandhi – not in terms of what he did on behalf of India but for his attitudes and what seemed to me often small-mindedness in relation to things like his wife and women in general. So, if there was a literary Celebrity Big Brother I think Gandhi’s book would create the biggest shock for the watching millions and he’d be my tip for the one who goes into the “house” as the most popular public figure and who comes out of the house to the odd boo and catcalls!
By contrast the celebrity whose book would go in a villain and then emerge as much more likeable than I’d expected would be the late politician Alan Clark. I dislike his politics and again his attitudes to things like his wife and women – yet I really enjoyed reading the Alan Clark Diaries – so much so I’ve read them twice!
But who would win a literary Celebrity Big Brother biography contest for me – well it would be no contest – Eric Cantona by a mile!