Celebrities' kudos versus their means of subsistence

Saadat Husain   | Published: June 05, 2018 21:20:27

During my school life a story circuited in the neighbourhood about the fate of  a gold medal received by a respected lawyer of the town for his performance in the final examination of his academic career. His wife sold the medal at a negotiated price. The lawyer's family was not in financial stress. His wife, whom we revered profoundly, was a housewife with no formal education. She was a good person with a vast reservoir of affection for us. As the rationale for disposing of the medal she was very candid to say that it was useless to keep the medal hidden within folds of family clothes for years. There was no way she could keep it in a showcase because her ordinary tin-shed house lacked any such facility. If the medal was kept on a table, it would soon be stolen. She also observed that her lawyer husband was well known in society and the medal would not add a dash of lustre to his credential. It will be expedient to sell the medal and use the money in order to defray essential family expenditure.

Many a normal thinking person will be taken aback at the observation of the honourable lady. They will wonder at the atrocious excuse of lawyer's family. They will find it inconceivable to sell such an invaluable asset of the family for a small mundane cause. They will be further shocked to know that more than one such incident was reported in the media over the last few years.

Soviet gymnast Olga Korbut, who created sensation in 1972 Olympic, sold her seven medals and trophies in auction. This was done in order to overcome the financial hardship she faced. She garnered about US$83000 through selling these medals.   Korbut was born in Belarus which was a former state of the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). She migrated to the United States in 1991 to settle down in Arizona. Over time she found herself in financial rut. Some observers held that the auction saved her from starvation. The young girl, who was only 17 during Munich Olympic in 1972, clenched the attention of the sports lovers the world over by her dazzling performance in gymnastics. She was fondly called the sparrow of the Minx. She maintained her performance in Montreal Olympic too. She was in fact a celebrity par excellence by all counts.

The financial stringency in the family of one time celebrity Olga Korbut  brought into sharp relief  the lifetime experience of celebrities the world over. The backgrounds of the celebrities are not similar. Nor are their assets and life-style. Some of them emerge as celebrities at a very early age through one or two miraculous achievements which they cannot maintain over years. They fail to repeat the performance in the ensuing years. They even cannot find a foothold as a professional in the area where they were catapulted to celebrity status. There is no room for them to work for a living in that arena. They have got no such friends or well-wishers who would provide a job to them. This is a fortiori true for those who change their domicile. On the contrary, there are professions where the performance level does not wane over a short period of time. The celebrities can maintain the same level for many years. In fact the performance may improve over time if they are otherwise in good health. Their honour and status remain unaltered. They may be held in higher esteem as well because of their experience and expertise. They do not face any setback in terms of remuneration, honorarium or other incomes. Film stars, writers, painters, singers, musicians fall in this category. The celebrities belonging to cricket or soccer game can maintain their performance over, say ten to fifteen years. They usually earn hefty amount of money during this period. If they go by prudent saving and investment plan, they may find themselves well heeled throughout their life.

Writers, Researchers, academics, development practitioners, politicians and statesmen achieve celebrity status in mid life or at the fag-end of their career. They are usually well reputed and established in their profession before becoming celebrities. They are likely to be financially well placed independent of celebrity status. Bestowing celebrity status may at best augment their financial wellbeing. Scads of financial benefits are usually attached to clenching celebrity status. The amount should suffice to meet the total financial need of the celebrity throughout his/her life. We have not heard any story about financial insolvency of Nobel laureates. I will assume that any award with a financial package of Tk 30 million will perch the award winner in a comfortable financial plateau.

Where the celebrity status is solely linked to performance which is short-lived, the well-organised celebrities endeavour to get a agreeable job in organisations related to his expertise. Players become executives of some club. Some land up as the coach or manager of the team. Some celebrities join the advertising company. Some may supplement their income by posing as a high-profile model. Those who want to join as commentator in the game would do it better to maintain a close link with people who matter in this field. Otherwise, they will be lost in oblivion with gradual diminishing of their solvency. Many celebrity cricketers have preferred to become cricket commentator or super model in the advertisement industry. They earn reasonable amount of money from these avocation. Kapil Dev, Sachin Tendulkar, Azharuddin,  Sakib al Hasan, Mashrafi bin Mortuza worked as super model shot. I recently heard an interesting story. Wealthy people invited celebrity film stars or sportsmen to their family functions in order to add lustre to such events. The rationale advanced is that as the whisper spreads about the presence of the celebrity in the function, the prestige and status of the family is elevated to a new height. They use the elevated status to earn material gain later on. The celebrity is paid handsomely for lending his presence. In this case the celebrity has in effect marketed his status for a consideration. These days companies engage celebrities as so-called brand ambassadors, a euphemism used for product promotion officer.  Celebrities of political and academic world may earn sizable income by lecturing among high-profile crowd.

Some corporate houses, industrial groups, autonomous organisations traditionally employ sports and cultural personalities in their pay roll. The objective is to mercerise their image and volley their profile high. Their product and programme get a publicity boost in the process. Celebrities do not always have to work very hard to earn their fame, honour and publicity. It is not, however, an easy job to market such fame and honour in order to ensure a comfortable living through that. The promoters frequent those individuals only whose image has a high market value. The promoters are business people; they are guided by the marketability of the celebrities. Celebrities whose performances are basically esoteric and their credentials are confined to a limited circle do not attract the attention of the promoters. People at large have heard about these celebrities for a short time; they seldom remember their name for a long time. The celebrities gradually recede into oblivion.

Celebrities whose high performance is short lived, limited to only a few years, confront a more difficult time. This is endemic in sports world. Performance in this field hinges on the physical ability of the person. It is not usually possible to maintain a high level of performance for more than five to six years. In the sports parlance it is called decline of the form. Once a person reaches this stage extra initiative and drive are called for to earn a remunerative job in the related fields. If (s)he fails to do that, a difficult time is likely to ensue. This was the case with Olga Korbut.  As gymnast she could not maintain her form for more than five or six years. To add to the problem she changed the course of her life through migrating to a remote state of the USA. In such a place it will be naturally very difficult, almost impossible, to garner a profitable job for her using her kudos in the Munich Olympic. She found herself in a soup. This predicament compelled her to put the Olympic medals in auction sale. Our media at times publishes the story of artistes, sports persons and film stars living in extreme misery. They cannot be called celebrities, but they are well known persons.  No area other than cricket and microcredit in Bangladesh has produced world-famous celebrities. We therefore have a very small sample to talk about. These celebrities are well-established and well-heeled in their life. There is at best a slim chance they will be in financial stringency in the rest of their life. It is also expected that they will be healthy enough to continue with their work for many years to come.

It is advisable to weave a formidable safety net system to protect the celebrities from falling into abysmal hardship. Number of living celebrities is very small in a country or its states. An exhaustive list of these celebrities may be compiled and published for general information to start with. A suitable organisation or agency may be formed to provide necessary support to celebrities who need it. Discussion or consultation sessions may be arranged to provide practical advice for resolving problems faced by the celebrities. The celebrity status bestows a person with immense possibility for high income and investment. It is appropriate that the celebrities are made aware of the possibilities so that they can seize on some of these, if possible. Innocence about these possibilities and the failure to act upon them may lead them to unforeseen insolvency and financial crisis. Public and private sector organisations may create a special fund to help the celebrities in distress. In Bangladesh such funds exist at the government level to help reputed cultural personalities facing financial hardship.

Every celebrity has a background and context that perched him/her to this stage. The celebrity has to understand clearly the background, the implications and also the limitations of becoming a celebrity. (S)he must not suffer from the illusion that all his/her desires will be fulfilled in a moment because now (s)he is a celebrity. Celebrities  must remember that whatever be their status, they are human beings and a panoply of limitations apply to them as well. They have to take them as datum and act wisely to lead a healthy and happy life.



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