Monday, February 04, 2008

Eat, Pray, Love Celebrities

The critics' word is admittedly not always the 'right' one. Lord knows I can think of a good dozen universally-acclaimed films from the past couple of years -- Inside Man and Million Dollar Baby, to name but two -- that I only really thought were, at best, mediocre. But when you think about it, in deciding between the films you race to and those you add to your online rental queue, you've gotta put your faith in somebody, and if it isn't a critic, then who is it?

I'm currently reading Elizabeth Gilbert's lauded Eat, Pray, Love as part of the Book Club I'm in. I've only read around twenty pages and was shuddering when the first line was "I wish Giovanni would kiss me.", expecting a post-feminist commentary on the shittiness of men while pandering to their every need. Thankfully it's taken on quite a nice tone, but that's beside the point. The thing that struck me was not what was inside the book, but what was on it; or rather, who was on it. 'It's what I'm giving all my girl friends', Julia Roberts apparently proclaims, her sentiments echoed by supermodels Elle MacPherson and Sophie Dahl; Actresses Toni Collette, Minnie Driver and Meg Ryan; politician Hillary Clinton, and, sandwiched between all this stardom, novelist Esther Freud. I have nothing against any of the women mentioned here, and in fact admire them all, but the fact that they are all women seems to be their only common attribute -- unless of course they're all voting Democrat this year. Now I get the fact that this is a chick's book but is being a woman the only qualification for recommending it? And if so, are people seriously reading these quotes and saying to themselves, 'If Minnie Driver liked it I'm going to'?

Reading is a kind of community. The majority of books I read come from friends or family, who, after a while, can filter out the books that they have a rough idea I'm not going to like, or be able to access. But if you browse a random shelf at a store, it's different. Should celebrities really be given the grounds to have their opinion paraded in this generic populist way, and if so, what does that say about the role of the critic? I realise that Eat, Pray, Love is an Inside Man or a Million Dollar Baby, and that I probably would have read it regardless of the book club, but it certainly wouldn't have been the off-the-cuff remarks of Sophie Dahl that swayed me towards it.

Of course, everyone is capable of hating something that on paper they really shouldn't. But I suspect this happens >5% of the time. Who do you trust when committing to a book or a film? Instinct? A critic? Julia Roberts? I'm glad I'm not the only one perplexed at this. 'Celebrification' has got a lot to answer for.

No comments: