Celebrity: A 21st-Century Story – 1 January 2021 – 1/1/2021 – Friday – BBC Two
Series 1 Episode 4 of 4
After a tumultuous 15 years for celebrities and the people who profit from them, by 2016 it seemed the celebrities were taking over. Charting the last five tumultuous years, this final episode takes us to the end of 2020 and interrogates the methods used by celebrities to get everything they want. Nothing was out of their reach.
By now they had the keys to the White House and Buckingham Palace, they’d influenced the justice system and had come together in numbers to make a stand against abuses in their industry. Having learned how to use social media to sidestep the machinery which for so long offered their only right to reply, celebrities now had the tools to fight back and took charge of their own narrative on social media. They were now the masters of their own destiny.
In the same year that Britain voted to leave the European Union, the ultimate power couple formed. Meghan Markle took fame to the heart of the establishment when she became the girlfriend of Britain’s most eligible bachelor, Prince Harry. They publicly confirmed their relationship and swiftly denounced the press.
Across the pond, from the TV set to the White House, American celebrity Donald Trump officially became the most powerful man in the world. He brought everything he’d learned from the genre to his campaign, including catchphrases and shock tactics.
After Trump’s inauguration, women’s marches were held around the world in protest. Celebrities had long since lent their voices to causes, but when Weinstein came under scrutiny, suddenly celebrities were leading the charge with #MeToo and #TimesUp. From Emma Watson to Marcus Rashford, the celebrity century has created a world in which celebrities aren’t afraid to get involved in politics.
While celebrities did the work of politicians, politicians were behaving more and more like celebrities. They became a firm fixture on reality TV. Ed Balls showed us his political moves on the dancefloor on Strictly Come Dancing, Rachel Johnson moved into the Big Brother house, and her dad Stanley Johnson camped out in the jungle on I’m a Celebrity Get Me out of Here. Meanwhile, Boris Johnson’s profile was being raised ever higher in the public consciousness.
By 2018, celebrities were reaching peak power, particularly if you were a Kardashian. Their digitally enabled influence boomed globally on all things social, economic and even political. Kim Kardashian visited the White House to talk penal reform, whilst her sister Kylie became a beauty billionaire. And they appeared to be taking it all in their stride.
But not everyone whose lives were lived in public fared as well as the Kardashians. After several high-profile deaths of people who had appeared in – or in the case of Caroline Flack, presented – TV shows, mental health was in the spotlight, and the finger of blame pointed not only at reality TV but society itself. At the trolls, the tabloid intrusion and the sheer level of access demanded of today’s celebrities.
Determined to protect their privacy, Meghan and Harry quit the royal family along with all its reporting arrangements for celebrity existence. Now they were in control.
Then Covid came along, and the celebrity machine was curtailed as the world stood still. Celebrities broadcast their own experience of lockdown, and the authenticity they’d been trying to sell for years was exposed. Whether it was Madonna in the bath, Ellen’s ‘prison’ or the Beckhams’ Cotswold compound, we suddenly realised that they were never just like us after all.
Everyday heroes took their place on our pedestals. Key workers were put on the cover of Vogue. Celebrities were momentarily no longer our heroes, but the world their takeover has created still stands, and their influence is everywhere. Two decades into the celebrity century, celebrities are no longer a frivolous distraction. The Americans may have sent Trump packing, but he wasn’t the only celebrity running the world. Celebrities everywhere have taken power, and they won’t be conceding it any time soon.
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About Celebrity: A 21st-Century Story
History series charting the explosion in celebrity culture.
This show is broadcast on BBC Two, also known as the British Broadcasting Corporation.
Latest Episodes of Celebrity: A 21st-Century Story
- Celebrity: A 21st-Century Story – 1 January 2021 – 1/1/2021 – Friday – BBC Two
- Celebrity: A 21st-Century Story – 31 December 2020 – 31/12/2020 – Thursday – BBC Two
- Celebrity: A 21st-Century Story – 30 December 2020 – 30/12/2020 – Wednesday – BBC Two
- Celebrity: A 21st-Century Story – 29 December 2020 – 29/12/2020 – Tuesday – BBC Two
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