It’s a shock when you go to the pictures to see ‘The Reader’ because there, on the screen, albeit heavily disguised, is Kate Winslet doing her day job. So ubiquitous is she in the prints and matrices that it is easy to equate her with those whose day job is simply being seen, at night, entering and leaving clubs, unbaggaged by any previous history of achievement. In a banal inversion her work as an actress in movies becomes a way of getting her photographs in newspapers. If, therefore, you want to get into newspapers, all you have to do is become a successful actress. How hard can that be?
Kate, as I like to think of her, is an actress of substance yet, as a denizen of the least important pages of any print publication currently in existence, becomes readily interchangeable with Peaches and Kelly and is thereby strongly associated with the fascination (I use the word guardedly) of pure presence. This isn’t something clever: it involves being without doing (i.e. breathing) and is the product of a process of deracination launched in the Thatcherist 80s when ideas about the nature of individualism, borrowed in part from 60s notions of ‘the beautiful person’ (i.e. one whose (imagined) essence is more apparent than their personality) were hystericised to the point that distinctiveness was valued more than value.
This baldness of being was the cynical complement to the process of asset stripping the employment future that young people had previously assumed was theirs to negotiate. In the absence of conventional markers for identity it became important to provide an economy version that licensed the user to ‘be somebody’ merely by stating that they were somebody. In one sense, of course, we are all somebody. In the hypnotised version that isn’t enough: we must feel that we are special despite the fact that we might just be disposable. It isn’t just that you become somebody by telling people that you are somebody – you must believe that they believe you. A deal can be struck: I will believe that you are somebody if you will believe that I am somebody.