Monday, February 12, 2007

Grim Lessons In Reality and Tchaikovsky

Fellow Thongateers, forgive The Chipster’s silence. He’s only now feeling a little better, or at least, well enough to sit up in his sickbed, nestle himself in the cool socket formed by two neatly plumped clean pillows, and type a few words.

This strain of human flu has been a tonic if you’re the type of person who enjoys groaning for motionless hours in bed watching the football all weekend long. It’s ideal if you want to wake up at three thirty in the morning, pawing for the cold spot in your sheets, hoping that they might help ease the sweatless fever. And it’s a real blessing if you then turn on the TV and find ‘Rediscovering Tchaikovsky’ on BBC4 and it awakens a latent interest in classical music. In a way, this flu hasn’t been too bad at all. In fact, it’s been an education and I’m listening to Tchaikovsky’s sixth symphony as I type. And it really isn’t ‘Pathétique’.

Yet despite all of its evident virtues, this flu has been useless if you’re a Welsh exotic dancer who has just started to blog. Even worse if you’ve wanted to say something deep and meaningful about the death of Anna Nichole Smith last week. But as I’ve said, I’m now feeling a little better. So before the paracetamol drive me to sleep, allow me to explain why I think our collective fascination with a woman known for her life in soft porn is being wrongly portrayed as the death of culture, if not civilisation itself. And I say this, not as a stripper, not even as a man, but as an average human being, albeit suffering a mild form of plague.

Anna Nichole Smith may now only be known as somebody ‘famous for being famous’, but there’s a reason so many have been fascinated by her and her death. And, odd as it may seem, I think it does us all very great credit.

That reason came to me tonight. Shivering under the duvet, I couldn’t be bothered to lift my hand to turn off the BAFTA awards. My infirmity didn’t last. I found a cure for it as soon as Jonathan Ross began his excruciating opening monologue. It also had the extremely strange symptom of making me wish that they’d get Stephen Fry back. It really was that bad. I’ve had funnier accidents with lit matches.

As I moved to turn over, my finger loitered on the remote control long enough that I saw a few of the deathly silences. Ross seemed unperturbed and you could have swabbed the man down with shame and find not a microbe sticking to him. And that’s when something suddenly unlocked the enigma of Anna Nichole Smith for me. You might call it an epiphany but I call it seeing a glaring sense.

It happened like this. Ross made a poor joke about the theatre being ‘stuffed as tightly as Daniel Craig’s trunks’ and the camera immediately cut straight to Craig in the audience. He looked stony faced. The joke wasn’t the funniest but I would have expected him to respond in some way. It’s what we humans do when somebody makes a playful joke at our expense. When I strip, there’s always one shy member of a hen party who feels embarrassed at my attention but they always smile politely. I’ve never known different. It’s just what we do.

Only Craig didn’t smile. Or he doesn’t smile. He just sat there looking… well… looking just as we would expect James Bond to look while M instructs him to kill a Cuban drug lord. I gave the matter no thought until the camera had gone to him on a couple more occasions after more of Ross’s feeble quips (he really needs better writers), and each time, Craig’s face was impassive. He stared into the middle distance looking about as pleasant as being cold-cocked by the butt end of a Walther PPK.

And that’s when it struck me. Craig has been told to act like Bond in his everyday life. That or he is just a man without a witty bone in his body. I may find it hard to believe the latter but I’m easily convinced about the former. In this culture, where francises of all kinds are so eagerly managed, it seemed only right that the current James Bond looks the part. It’s why previous Bonds have struggled so hard to establish themselves as something other than Bond: by growing beards, going bald, going back to the theatre, or dropping out of acting completely. Accepting the role of Bond means accepting the lifestyle that goes with it. It’s about adopting the personae. Craig is now Bond. And he clearly takes his job very seriously indeed.

Which suddenly made me feel a very great affection for Anna Nichole Smith.

I was never a fan but I recognised her on TV. She had the sort of beauty that makes you realise why Americans love their real meat. She has substance and was no European waif. Yet I wouldn’t post a naked picture of her here because, among other things, being around nudity all day makes me more respectful of other people’s dignity. I know as much about her as is usual to know if you’ve read the newspapers for the last decade. I know she married an ailing billionaire, who died, leaving his young wife to inherit his fortune. She spent a decade contesting the will with his family while establishing herself as a star of reality TV. Before all of this, she was famous as a Guess jeans model and I remember the stunning black and white photographs of her in film magazines of the time, not knowing who she was. She achieved some more celebrity in one of the Naked Gun films and, all along, was known as one of the decade’s faces of Playboy.

But what I now think I know about Anna Nichole Smith is that she was exactly as she appeared.

Her life was a mess. She fought weight problems. She fought addictions. She lost a son last year only days after giving birth to a new daughter. Paternity tests are now being demanded and fortunes rest on the outcome. She was no actress but used her body to achieve a kind of success in the field of glamour modelling. It would not be a guess to say that she was hardly the brightest person on the planet, but then again, who is? And this is my point.

Anna Nichole Smith was a fleck of reality that got lodged under the lens. She was the hair in the corner of the frame. Her life reminded us that the sun does not always shine on the land below the Hollywood hills. When she pouted for the cameras, it reminded us of the fraud committed in the name of glamour. It was never larger than life, but a parody of life. The same is true when she appeared incoherent at an awards ceremony like the American version of Oliver Reed but with infinitely less talent or anger. Above all, hers was a face which, despite all the abnormal things of her life, exemplified a grim troubled reality that could not be fixed by clever spin. She was the opposite to Craig.

And the strange thing I think, as the tablets kick in and I feel my head reeling, is that David Cameron could learn a few lessons from her.

Cameron may have done drugs as a young man at Eton. He chooses to neither confirm nor deny the stories, which is his choice to make and we should respect him for that. Yet what we can judge is how he decides to manage the reality. At the moment, he is Daniel Craig sitting impassively in the studio audience. He is acting the role of Prime Minister in waiting. He fears that the general public with run away if he acknowledges any wrongdoing. He won’t acknowledge reality. He wears the watches, drives the cars, inhabits the suits, all paid for by his sponsors in the Tory Party.

Yet the reason why Anna Nichole Smith’s death touched so many people is because she had a quality that the public recognises that it so abundantly lacks. Fragility can be a virtue. It made a Texan stripper into a model of imperfect grace. Perhaps it can turn our politicians into something other than those mannequins that have stood in Downing Street for the last decade. Perhaps they can become representatives of the people who put them where they are. People like you and me, and even like Anna Nichole Smith.


Anonymous said...

Chipster your geeting to deep for me so I will sit on the side, but will say what do you expect from a Chester lad , a smile

Chippy said...

Medication. Medication. Medication.

That's the only thing I can blame. Sitting alone for three nights suffering delerium and pain.

I'm feeling more like myself today.