Social media sees more and more people fall for the empty, soulless lure of even fleeting fame – Laura Waddell

Phillip Schofield competes with anthropomorphic meerkats for audience attention (Picture: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for Huawei)Phillip Schofield competes with anthropomorphic meerkats for audience attention (Picture: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for Huawei)
Phillip Schofield competes with anthropomorphic meerkats for audience attention (Picture: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for Huawei)

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The other night I was idly watching TV, trying to lull myself into a stupor deep enough to forget about the week’s responsibilities for at least a little while, when an advert for a popular car sales website came on and there was Philip Schofield, dancing around upside down.

Suddenly I was hit by a wave of pure nausea. Contemporary celebrity: who would want it?

There is a whole suite of these adverts, which feature, in the manner of a Scottish Liberal Democrat election photocall, with a hint of faded nineties children’s TV presenter on freshers’ week student union tour, frolicking goats, bouncy castles and bumper cars. The forced jollity makes me feel both tired and sad.

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This is a sensation I recognise. I once worked in a call centre which employed a full-time motivator, a man who paced the worn floors, doggedly pushing a cart of squeaky balloons, fake moustaches on sticks and assorted other Christmas-cracker-quality gags.

Occasionally the motivator sent 16 and 17-year-olds home with prize bottles of the cheapest wine available for being the first to sell a target number of three-year warranties that cost more in the long run than the toastie makers they were for, or enough bonus sets of kitchen knives to customers who had phoned up to order jeans.

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It has been 18 years and I can still recite some of those weekly promotions word for word, valuable space in my brain rewritten forever by the brutal repetition, spending every evening there in my final year of high school and each one like the shift before.

I suspect that is the same bit of spongy matter privately educated schoolkids use to store Wordsworth poems learned by rote. By the end, the most motivating thing I actually saw in that place was the moment the late shift discovered the canteen had forgotten to lock away racks of crisps: the spoils were six to a man. There, with no motivator in sight, was a pure expression of glee.

I don’t know what it’s like to have flagship daytime television presenter resources and still be forced to compete with anthropomorphic meerkats for audience attention, but presumably the car sales firm’s marketing team know what they’re doing. One would hope.

The strained online campaign copy struggles to make meaning from all of this, rambling on about “Phil-osophy”: “We might not have millions of adoring fans like Phil, but we have over two million customers… so why not value your car today!” Of course, that should be a question mark, rather than an exclamation, but in a way, the whole thing is one giant question mark.

The ads, at least, are ridiculous by design, even if the wackiness feels tired. But they inadvertently capture a contemporary compulsion for tap-dancing pointlessly in public, for the sheer soulless meaninglessness of fame.

Social media has made little celebrities of ordinary people, and with that comes a jumbled primal instinct that online attention equals existence. Sell yourself! Sell, sell, sell!

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Everyone is jumping up and down, not knowing exactly why, but believing they have to keep doing it in order to survive.

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