The Cynic Express(ed) 1.06: Hold the Spice Girls
There, on page seventy of Newsweek, under the misnomer of "Newsmakers," three of the Spice Girls musical group pose with Prince Harry and Prince Charles of England. In a smaller photo below, one of the Spice Girls hugs Nelson Mandela. And I, as a trained philosopher, am forced to ask--shout in an empty room, actually-- WHY?
I must confess that I have not heard a whole lot of the Spice Girls' obra, but I must also confess that nothing in the music I have heard nor in the Spice Girls repertoire has drawn me to anything more than the occasional music-on-Y98-when-all-the-other-stations-are-playing- commercials. Of course, I am not the average twelve year old girl who is the Spice Girls' target audience (my musical tastes tend to run to the average sixteen year old boy in 1976). Even with that disclaimer, I still must wonder why a second-rate, overly-promoted band photographed with members of the British monarchy rate as "Newsmakers." The figures with the figureheads. So what?
A typical response for those who would seek to defend this practice, the innocuous photo-op, would shriek that the stars are drawing attention to....whatever cause they tend to be all preened and enmingled for. In this case, I suppose, British-South African relations in the nineteen nineties. Of course, the average Spice Girls fan (and, I would suspect, many of the above average Spice Girls fans) cannot spell apartheid and think that the ANC had a pretty good hip-hop single sometime last year. The photograph, particularly the one in Newsweek (or the one the week before in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch) didn't lead into stories about South Africa's struggles to reorient itself into a desegregated era or the use of the British royal family as a foreign-relations tool by the British government. As a matter of fact, the only story featuring anyone in the photograph is --SURPRISE!-- a piece about the Spice Girls, their forthcoming (and hopefully forthgoing) album, and their line of action figures.
So what's the big deal? I could go off on a pseudo-Blyan rant about the great leveling of society into a great big slumber party of adolescents in a Sibling Society where the policy makers that shape the destiny of nations are no more important nor different from the quintet that released Spice World and signed a perfume deal with Unilever. I could, can, and will. Nelson Mandela is quite a bit more important than a musical group, no matter how much of their flesh they bare. He has influenced the geopolitics of a nation, even a continent, with his agitation, incarceration, and eventual election as President of South Africa. He suffers by the comparison, suffers by making glib little comments to suit the occasion, such as including the Spice Girls on a list of people he admires most.
Imagine a photograph of Al Gore. A serious, intent man who wants to be President and was for quite some time one of the most influential men in the legislative branch of our government. Now imagine "Weird Al" Yankovic shaking Serious Al's hand (and, knowing Weird Al, he's making rabbit ears behind Gore's head). Would you take Gore seriously ever again? (Those of you who do not take him seriously now, suspend disbelief.)
Who are the real losers of this photograph and the thought that goes into it? Of course, the people who would believe that the Spice Girls are on par (or are even on the same golf course) with Nelson Mandela or even Prince Charles. It is the Millennial Season again in America, and people will believe some strange things. Another set of losers: the Spice Girls themselves, should they begin to believe that they are as important as the media would make them out to be. Of course, some of us (me) on the sidelines are rooting for the hubris, but that probably won't happen--in this unreflecting, unrepentant times, hubris is no tragic flaw guaranteeing comeuppance.
Who is the winner in this situation? Not the media--they will snap pictures of the Spice Girls wherever they go and whatever they do, and I don't believe their intent is to maliciously destroy the epistemology of the public. They're in it for the money, and if there were smart money to be had, they'd pander to it.
The winner is indubitably Prince Harry. He got to hold Posh Spice's hand. This boy is not grinning ear to ear--we're talking temple to temple. And he's only thirteen. Brat.
Next Column: 1.07: The Cynic's Manifesto