20th Jun 2012

Fathers, Sons, Celebrity Ambitions

Last week, in the build up to Father’s Day, I acted as a consultant to a PR agency working with a client that had surveyed dads on their future wishes for their sons and daughters. The research showed how traditional ideas about success – becoming a doctor, owning a big business – had been superseded by the media-driven, talent-show cult of celebrity. This was my brief response to the survey findings…

Talent shows of the past, like Opportunity Knocks, were viewed as light entertainment. Audiences were not really interested in the performers themselves but what they could act out or sing. Today’s talent shows are taken far more seriously by performers, judges and audiences. The human interest dimension, stirred up by tabloids and glossies, can sometimes elevate relatively talentless people – the miming Cheryl Cole type – onto the media rostrum.

Adults are just as vulnerable as children to this illusory version of success. Although it may appear, year after year, series after series, that more and more people are finding fame and fortune via the talent-show platform, in reality very few succeed, even fewer make a living, and many fall by the wayside before they’ve had a chance to shine. Fewer than one in a million makes it big time. One gets born every minute – but many more succumb to a speedy death.

The fact that over half of fathers would rather see their children win The Voice than become a speech therapist, however, tells us more about the limited ambitions of contemporary manhood than it does about the unhealthy influence of Sir Tom Jones et al. In twenty-first-century Britain, unlike the previous century, boys do less well at school than girls, obtain lower qualifications, are more likely to turn to crime as a source of income, and very often find themselves being out-performed and out-recruited by their female peers. Many of the macho heavy-industry jobs of yesteryear – those that required muscle over mind – no longer provide a get-out either. No wonder that boys and men turn to the stage as a potential escape route from the call centre or supermarket. Perhaps we should change the title of that Noel Coward song to Don’t Put Your Son on the Stage, Mr Worthington!

 

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