As industries have grown so have their yearly spectacles, those anointed days on which celebrities a take time out from their Olympian lives and convene to give each other trophies on our behalf. These new holidays have become big features of TV schedules: cinephiles wear tuxes on their sofas for the Oscars and amateur rockstars spend hours in front of mirrors rehearsing their acceptance speeches after watching music award shows. But like with any grand event, sometimes things go wrong, by accident or through the actions of individuals, and these moments of dissidence have become as much of a draw as the performances, the awards and the hosts badly-scripted jokes.
Not to be cynical, but these award shows offer a platform for self-promotion that even many seasoned stars can’t resist, a stage on which the old adage ‘there’s no such thing as bad publicity’ holds true. My earliest memory of an award show blunder is present in this collection: Jarvis Cocker’s infamous stage invasion of Michael Jackson’s performance. I remember very clearly sitting in a Macdonalds in Weymouth on our way back from a grim family holiday in Guernsey and hearing a bemused radio presenter reporting the event; my Mum and Dad didn’t stop smiling all the way home. That lanky Yorkshireman made their day. Jarvis Cocker's immature antics revealed a dynamic within the music industry that has been a great trigger for these moments of chaos in the middle of carefully composed events. Like the punk rockers of the late 70’s, the self-proclaimed spokesman for the ‘common people’ was hitting out both at Jackson himself and at the spectacle and the industry that made him.
This gap between the massively successful artists, the Jacksons, the Kanyes, the Ronnie Woods and those on the fringe of commerciality has time and time again erupted at awards ceremonies. Saying much more than I’m sure he intended in baring his arse on national TV, Jarvis Cocker successfully undermined Pop’s most absurd deity, dragging Jackson’s performance, in which he surrounded himself with children and at least semiotically compared himself to Jesus, back down to reality. In doing so, Cocker struck a blow for the cynical common people everywhere.
Guy Debord would have had a field day with award ceremonies and these unplanned deviations, almost inevitably juxtaposing two sides of celebrity culture, or provoking visually some kind of discourse on the events, the spectacles themselves. The image of a streaker at the Oscars offers a rather simple visual contrast, perhaps merely inviting us not to take things so seriously, whereas perhaps Brandon Block’s stage invasion at the Brits pits a DJ, never destined to rise to the heights of absurd wealth and fame that Ronnie Wood and his generation of international superstars achieved, against the ‘old bastard’ and his class of stadium rockers. For those of us who still hold a candle to the idea that technology and the dispersion of this technology will invite democracy into the music industry, surely this conflict actually contains something poignant about that moment in the 90’s when it really looked like things were about to shift. Both Brandon Block and Jarvis Cocker were, in essence, continuing the tradition that punk started, putting two fingers up to the jet-setting superstars.
Then there is Kanye, a man who in recent years has led the way in terms of live television eruptions, ranging from moments of outspoken politicism to hubris of an unsurpassed level. It’s hard to decide whether he’s playing the game: did he manipulate the opportunity presented by the New Orleans catastrophe to keep himself in the limelight, or was he genuinely using his position to say what needed to be said, to point out the elephant in the room? Kanye is a new breed of celebrity; South Park hit the nail on the head with their satirical attack on the man. Unlike Jackson, he isn’t a socially confused, ostracised but gifted hermit, he is a high school bully with too much money, too much time and too much power. He knows what he's meant to do, he knows what's acceptable and yet he chooses to draw attention to his deliberate and considered diva posturing. He revels in putting himself not just above the masses, but above the few: the other celebrities and artists, the other deities in the pantheon of the absurd. He takes himself seriously to the point of absurdity.
I was lucky/unlucky enough to witness his performance at The Big Chill Festival this year, in which he, like Jackson at the Brits, threw Jesus poses and actually described himself as a martyr. He does it all "for us". If ever there was a man who needs a pale English arse bared in his presence, Kanye is that man.
I’d just like to take a moment to praise all the men and women and things that made these little chaotic sparks happen. I’d also like pray that fot as long as there are award ceremonies, as long as there are spectacles, there will also be forces at work, forces of nature, forces of man, that are willing to undermine them and to spit in the face of absurdity and remind us all that we’re only humans on a spinning ball of mud.