HomeOpinion & AnalysisWho wants to be a celebrity?

Who wants to be a celebrity?

When I was actively engaged in music performance, sometime ago, I used to wonder why people who were complete strangers to me would stop me in the street just to say: “Hello, Fred, I saw you on the telly last night!” They all seemed excited to meet me in real life and I used to find that kind of gesture ego-boosting.

in the groove:with Fred Zindi

Just by appearing on television, although without fortune, I became an instant celebrity. I now realise that many people are enthralled by those who achieve this goal. My friends would always say: “I think you should run for mayor or some political post. Look at how popular you are with the people”. However, being the shy person I was, it never occurred to me that I would enjoy the life of a celebrity and I began to scale down on my television appearances and musical performances. Each time ZBC called me for an interview, I would find an excuse. Despite this effort, even today, although my public appearances have dwindled, I still get stopped by those who recognise me from the past and want a picture taken with me. It is difficult to hide completely.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a celebrity is a person, who has a prominent profile and commands some degree of public fascination and influence in day-to-day media.

In America, the term is often synonymous with wealth (commonly denoted as a person with fame and fortune), implied with great popular appeal, prominence in a particular field, and is easily recognised by the general public. People like Donald Trump, Barack Obama, the late Michael Jackson, Eddie Murphy, Bill Clinton, Bill Gates, Rihanna, Beyonce Knowles and Joe Biden are regarded as celebrities because they are easily recognised by the ordinary person in the street.

In Zimbabwe, we also have celebrities, some of whom are broke but because of their daily appearances on television or in the press which makes them easily recognisable, we hold them with deep and affectionate respect as celebrities. A few examples of those who really command public fascination are the politicians such as the President and Information minister and our top musicians such as the late Oliver Mtukudzi, Jah Prayzah, Alick Macheso, Killer T and Winky D. We also hold in high esteem our top socialites like the late Genius Kadungure (aka Ginimbi) Pokello, Ammara Brown, Phillip Chiyangwa and Sir Wicknell Chivayo.

There are also several television and radio personalities who include Reuben Barwe, Vicky Maponga, Rumbidzai Takawira, Patience Musa, Themba Mkanda and Terrence Mapurisana, to mention only a few. These, whether they have loads of money or not, have prominent profiles and according to the definition of celebrity given above, they seem to fit the bill.

Apart from musicians, prominent people like the late South African president Nelson Mandela, Lionel Messi, the late Diego Maradona, David Beckham. Wayne Rooney, the late former boxing champion, Muhammad Ali, Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates and Bill Clinton have made great impact on ordinary lives and are respected for that. If some of these celebrities were to come to Zimbabwe, although they are not music entertainers, they are bound to fill up the National Sports Stadium as Zimbabweans are bound to want to just take a glimpse of this fantasy world of celebrities and have pictures taken with them.

Psychologists all over the world are in agreement with the fact that the majority of the world’s population are afflicted to some degree by what is termed “celebrity worship syndrome”. Celebrity culture can be a defining disease for most people, especially teenagers.

Years ago, I remember hassling my way to the backstage of every big concert I attended just to meet the performing artiste and having a picture taken with them. When the Bhundu Boys opened the Madonna concert at Wembley in London, I remember Brian Rusike, a musician in his own right, who was also at the concert asking Madonna for an autograph. Pictures of Brian and Madonna were taken and I also asked her for a picture with me. She obliged, but we failed to track down the camera-man after the show as we did not have our own cameras. I was disappointed.

The next time I attended a superstar’s concert at the same venue, I spent 50 British pounds on a new camera in order to make sure I had my own camera with me.

This was the Michael Jackson concert, and the opening act was our own Rozalla Miller. I was friends with Chris Sergeant, Rozalla’s manager. So, that gave me an opportunity to go backstage as if representing Rozzala. Michael posed for a picture with me. That was a scoop!

I have a collection of pictures from my young days taken with stars like Michael Jackson, Chris Amoa of The Real Thing, Dennis Brown, Yellowman, Freddie MacGregor, Luther Vandross, Don Carlos, Janet Kaye, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Bob Marley, Thomas Mapfumo, Mtukudzi and a few other celebrities. All these people have had an influence on my life.

Visitors to my flat were often greeted by these pictures which were stuck on the walls. I felt proud when someone commented: “Oh, you were with Michael Jackson? Where was this?” The truth of the matter is that Michael never even asked me for my name. I was simply a statistic in his hordes of fans. If he was asked who I was, he wouldn’t have a clue. A lot of fans are like that. They are not known by the stars they pose for pictures with.

Looking back, I ask myself why I bothered taking these pictures, sometimes at such great lengths and risks where I had to fight with bouncers who tried to stop me from meeting my idols. I console myself by admitting that I am not the only one who was crazy enough to do this. I was suffering from the celebrity worship syndrome.

Today, I understand fully well when some young boys and girls ask me things like, “Can you please introduce me to Winky D?” Meeting Winky D is a very important event in their lives and out of politeness and the respect Winky D has for me, he always obliges when I ask him to pose for a picture with a complete stranger, even when he is under pressure. Now I ask myself: “Is that kind of emotional feeling not strange?” If only people could attend to things that really mattered in their lives, things would be a lot less complicated, but who am I to argue that these things do not matter when I have gone through the same experiences? I feel more gratified now by writing about these artistes than hero-worshipping them, perhaps because I am more mature now and have got rid of the celebrity worship syndrome. Besides, results coming from a recent Chinese study found that people who idolise celebrities perform less well at university or at work. In view of all this, you might wonder why fans still bother to worship celebrities, yet there is an answer. The human condition presents everyone, even intellectual giants, with some harrowing realities. Imagine telling your friends things like: “I had coffee with Bill Gates today!” It makes one feel important and you also become the envy of your friends. In short, it is ego-boosting. Celebrity culture makes life bearable. It is like religion. I can name celebrities where the whole world has converged upon them. There is something magical about the celebrity culture. It has its rituals.

However, there is a point when sometimes the celebrity status of some artistes goes into their heads and the artistes begin to behave badly. Sometimes it is not their fault. Celebrities are only human. Some of them are affected by anger-management problems.

Others have drug-addiction problems and fail to control themselves. Peter Tosh smoked marijuana on stage while the police watched knowing fully well that they would not touch him due to his celebrity status. Remember also the incident where the Hello Mwari hit-maker, Jah Master, recently exhibited inhumane behaviour when he assaulted a fan who was dancing on stage during his performance? That was horrible behaviour towards his excited fan. It was only after criticism from his fan-base that Jah Master realised he had erred and apologised for this misbehaviour.

In Zimbabwe, events promoters have realised that there is something magical about the celebrity culture such as Tuku’s 60th birthday or Zexie Manatsa’s wedding and they have found ways of cashing in on such instant stars.

Thus the celebrity worship syndrome is here to stay. Period!

l Feedback: frezindi@gmail.com

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