Monday 25 June 2012

The Vanity Game – Image is everything

Today’s guest blog is by novelist and screenwriter HJHampson whose e-book The Vanity Game is a "terrific black comedy" set against the world of English football and celebrity. Originally from Runcorn she now lives in London.  Her novel has garnered such high profile  fans and praise from authors such as Val McDermid and Megan Abbott.

Blasted Heath recently published my debut novel, The Vanity Game, as an e-book.

The Vanity Game is a noirish satire about a footballer called Beaumont Alexander whose A-list lifestyle spirals out of control after he does something stupid at a celebrity party. 

One of the themes that the novel explores is identity and image. At the start of the novel I use a quote from French Situationist Guy Debord, who wrote a book called The Society of the Spectacle. Whilst I would like to stress that the novel is much lighter in tone than this rather heavy-going slab of leftist philosophy, I do feel that in its own special way, The Vanity Game is a little bit situationist.

For those unfamiliar with Debord’s concept, he basically reckoned that in modern capitalist societies relations between commodities and images have replaced actual relations between people. It’s more than image-worship: the spectacle itself is the way relations between people have become mediated by images.  John Harris, writing in the Guardian, explains it better than I can.

I read the Society of the Spectacle when I was an angry, leftist philosophy student in the late 1990s and not long after that there was an explosion in ‘celebrity culture’. I remember getting a pilot edition of Heat free with Select magazine (long may it rest in peace), and thinking ‘well, this will never catch on’, but somehow it did, and it seemed to me that this was exactly what Debord was talking about.  I should have kept that pilot edition, it might be worth something now.

Anyway The Vanity Game satirises this celebrity culture which has burgeoned to an alarming degree in the last two decades and I guess what prompted me to write the novel was, in part, some sympathy with Debord’s ideas.  What came before all those magazines that scream stories of TV stars cellulite horrors from the supermarket checkout stands? I can’t even remember… oh yes, I suppose it was magazines like Select, or Melody Maker or Smash Hits.

Mass media, Debord says, is the most obvious manifestation of the spectacle, and look at how celebrity magazines and women’s magazines construct a fake reality:  the love affairs of the ‘famous’ are sensationalised – made out to be whimsical or agonizing in equal measure, everyone is breaking up and making up all the time; how many of these stories about Ms. So-and-so going through strife with Mr. So-and-so are actually true? Truth doesn’t matter.   The diets of the famous are impossible, the clothes on the fashion pages are too expensive for most readers to really be able to afford … and let’s not even get onto airbrushing!  It’s all just a representation of a lifestyle that doesn’t exist. 

All in all, I think it’s extremely sinister, and I guess it was the sinister aspect that inspired me to write about it.  If the images in the magazines are not real, who are the real people behind those fake images, and what are they getting away with?  These are the questions I hope The Vanity Game answers.

Debord suggested a fun way to battle the forceful surge of the spectacle: détournement – which sort of entails playing the spectacle at its own game and creating a (usually humorous) fake reality of the fake reality, so I hope he would have appreciated my novel if he were still with us.  He died from a (self-inflicted) stab wound to the stomach in 1994, and astute readers will note there is a little nod to this in The Vanity Game too.  

1 comment:

K. A. Laity said...

Everything I hear about his book just makes me want to move it to the top of the TBR pile. I think I will. Fascinating!