It was quite apt that I turned over from having watched Starsuckers the other night and saw Tiger Woods's face. Tiger, the billion-dollar billboard, the man whose every cough and splutter and ejaculation is now public property, was walking around a golf course, ostensibly doing his job; but my eyes were drawn to the ranks of men - they were all men as far as I could see - watching him, all dressed their pristine golf outfits, as if, at any second, Tiger might turn his ankle and any of them might be asked to take his place.
It's fame, and our response to it, that's at the core of Starsuckers, an attempt to explain our fascination with celebrity - the lengths some people will go to in order to be famous; the ways people try to maintain their fame; the treatment you can expect if you are famous; and the reasons why we want these dominant primates we see mediated through our screens to be successful, and why we feel compelled to copy them - wearing golf clothes to watch golf, for example, even though we aren't walking around the course with a bag of clubs.
I liked the ambitious arc of the documentary, which took in the efforts of child stars to take their first baby-steps on the road to fame, and the way in which it was placed into the context of our evolutionary need to copy, to follow, to want to be seen as 'dominant' by being famous and by gaining celebrity, then trying to get as close as possible to that power through fandom.
And I liked the way it gently peeled away the figleaves used by the Great British Press to pretend that they were so terribly, terribly fearful of the Press Complaints Commission, the editors speaking in hushed and slightly scared tones about the PCC when dealing with a House of Commons committee, in stark contrast to the behaviour of real journalists out in the field. If anything, this was a bit of the kind of journalism that seems to have deserted the former Fleet Street denizens nowadays: attacking vested interests, trying to get at the truth, no matter who it might offend, and upsetting more than a couple of 'untouchables'. And it's hard to have too much sympathy for a bunch of journos, badly paid and overworked as they no doubt are, being caught on camera waving a bit of cash around for a grubby story.
There were surprises too. Not least the Sunday Express journalist who was resolutely certain of their moral qualms over rejecting a story on the basis that it would involve private medical records, and well done to them for doing so. Others were a little less hang-wringing about that little detail, as you might imagine. As Nick Davies said in the film, at times it's not as if the tabloids are even trying to tell 'the truth', whatever that is: it's about telling stories, and telling the kinds of stories that readers of a particular publication want to see.
So when someone rings up a newspaper with a silly story about Amy Winehouse's hair catching fire, or Guy Ritchie juggling cutlery, and those stories go through without ever being checked, it's tempting to think: so what? We know that so much of the stuff isn't true, from the weather forecast and the horoscopes to the transfer lies in the sports pages. We're rightly cynical because we've been conned too many times. And that's true enough; but there's still a part of me whose heart sinks when I see that these things just get waved through, whether they're accurate, or true, or not, because it doesn't actually matter, and no-one actually cares. If it's plausible, and if it's a story that people might be interested in, it's in. It might not matter at all if these are just yarns about celebs' barnets going up in flames, but right now these same publications are telling us how to vote, and they say they're being completely honest about it and reporting the facts honestly.
I think that's just worth bearing in mind - and I'm pretty sure we all do. Perhaps all we have now are competing voices, competing agendas. We know that the papers aren't being totally honest with us, and so we take what they say with a pinch of salt. But that erodes the credibility of the whole business, to the point where you have to question what the point of it is at all. If they're telling us things they think they want us to read, even though they don't know or don't care whether they're true or not, and we neither know nor care either, and assume it's probably false, then why bother at all? Or is it just tapping into our need to see big photos of the alpha monkeys so we can copy them? It's hard to say.
It's nice to get a glimpse into the inner sanctum of Max Clifford as well, someone who prides himself on protecting celebrities, yet who's completely unafraid to spill all their secrets to a relative stranger almost straight away. That's another thing that's always worth bearing in mind whenever he gets wheeled out as some kind of expert on the media and media relations. No wonder he wasn't too chuffed that the section involving him was put through.
I think the film was saying that the whole fame conveyor belt is a means to an end - not for the people on it, who are just meat for the grinder, but who may - coincidentally - become filthy rich off the back of it; but for the industries that leech off whatever talent these 'celebs' do or don't have. With someone like Tiger Woods, of course, the talent is unquestionable, even if the after-hours behaviour is; with the Susan Boyles we're going to see built up and then knocked down when Britain's Got Talent starts next weekend, it's about creating the same narrative arc without necessarily needing the raw talent in the first place. That's easier to do, I guess, because there are only so many Tiger Woodses that come around: so much more simpler to make a nobody as famous, and then leech off their news values and their inevitable decline. It's just the way these stories run, if we let them - and of course we do.
And there are other, more disturbing, elements - Lithuanian celebrities being voted into power and seeming a little bit out of their depth; and Bob Geldof's well meaning but ultimately troubling Live 8 experience, where a co-ordinated protest got hijacked by the power of celebrity, and the efforts of thousands of people to argue for what they believe in were trampled underfoot through the power of the stars on stage, what they wore and how many swear-words they used - all perfectly chiming in with the needs of those in power.
So if you haven't seen Starsuckers, then I'd recommend it. You probably won't be surprised by what you're seeing, and it might make you feel a bit more cynical towards our glorious celebrity leaders, and those who report on them. But that's not such a bad thing.