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neighbourhoods and celebrity

THe hearse carrying jade goody's body at the Blue, Bermondsey - Steve Punter CC licence see below
Jade Goody's final journey through Bermondsey 2009

This was the gutter that Jade dragged herself from. It was here that Jade Cerisa Lorraine Goody on June 5, 1981, was born into a life of poverty and deprivation. Where she spent her early years with a mother with drug problems and a junkie jailbird father who hid guns under her cot. [News of the World, April 5, 2009]

Areas like Bermondsey have produced their share of celebrities - and have classically been demonized in order to accentuate the rags to riches nature of the stories. One small area along George Row in Bermondsey, for example, produced the singer and actor Tommy Steele (1936- ), the comedian Michael Barrymore (1952- ) and the reality star Jade Goody (1981-2009). The relationship of local people to those celebrities is complex.

There is the tendency fuelled by the mass media, as Christopher Lasch (1979: 21) has famously argued, of people warming themselves 'in the stars' reflected glow'. This can help to define people's identity, but it can also encourage the desire for the same sort of popular recognition, wealth and lifestyle and the undervaluing of 'ordinary' life, communal involvement and relationships. According to Lasch, there has been a movement into a narcissistic culture where activities and relationships have become conditioned by the hedonistic need to acquire the symbols of wealth. Fired in significant part by consumerism, there has been a growth in individualization,the infantilization of adults and an undermining of civic community (Barber 2007). At the same time, in local communities there is often resentment at the success of 'their' celebrities - that somehow they didn't deserve or merit fame and influence. Both reactions could be found in local responses to Jade Goody's death in 2009. There was a lot of talk of her being a 'Bermondsey girl' and calls for the estate (The Dickens Estate) to be renamed in her honour. There were also questions about what she had ever done for the area (Southwark News March 26, April 2, 2009).

Questions about the contribution celebrities make to the communities of which they have been, or are, a part have become more complex. Over the last twenty five years or so entertainers, as Martina Hyde (2009) has commented, 'have become an institutionalised part of charitable aid and activism, and are now a virtually unquestioned element of the response to intractable global problems'. The effect has been deeply damaging as 'their extraordinary influence means that talking bullshit is not a victimless crime'. Hyde demonstrates celebrities have done little to further philanthropy. In the United States average charitable giving per household has remained more or less at this number for 40 years (at around 2.2%). She makes the point that the claim that celebrities are using their fame for good is hollow. Furthermore, it distorts debates and confuses issues.

Acknowledgements: The picture of Jade Goody's funeral procession in the Blue, Bermondsey was taken by Steve Punter and is reproduced under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic Licence [http://www.flickr.com/photos/spunter/3413574891/].
References: Barber, Benjamin R. (2007) Consumed. How markets corrupt children, infantilize adults, and swallow citizens whole. New York: Norton. Hyde, Marina (2009) Celebrity: How entertainers took over the world and why we need an exit strategy. London: Harvill Secker. Lasch, Christopher (1979) The Culture of Narcissism. American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations. New York: W.W. Norton.
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