The car in your drive; the phone in your pocket; the clothes in your wardrobe - chances are you will have acquired at least one of those through debt. Average UK household debt, excluding mortgages, now totals £9,240 and the average owed by every UK adult is £30,460, including mortgages, which represents 133% of average earnings, according to the national charity Credit Action.
What was once seen as a novel way of acquiring that much needed household appliance or once-in-a-lifetime luxury, has in the last 10 years become the only feasible way to keep up with the lifestyle pumped out 24/7 by the media - that is, the faux-celebrity consumerist dream: if you want it, if the celebrity class have it, you also deserve it. To deny one's self such a thing would invariably invite the unenviable tag of "so last season", a fate which really would be worse than debt.
Not only must one live as celebrities do, one must also, if possible, break into the celebrity class itself. Any less than being paraded on the front pages of thousands of magazines, billboards, being noticed, talked about and desired by many, is to live a life that is anonymous and boring - the most pointless and futile existence of all.
Of course, the desire asserts itself early on: "fame" has become the career of choice for many, if not most, British children. A recent study found that careers that were previously attractive to pre-teens such as teaching, banking and medicine, have been superceded by the insatiable aspiration to appear on the television or feature in magazines .
...amongst the findings was the overwhelming desire exhibited by many of the younger generation to attempt to find fame and fortune. The research found that modern pre-teens certainly have big dreams – their top three career aspirations being sportsman (12%), pop star (11%) and actor (11%).
"There is more to life than the media," observes Germaine Greer, "but not much...In the information age invisibility is tantamount to death."
The biggest growth in Internet use among teenagers and young adults in recent years has been centred around social networking. Aside from the convenience of being able to instantly communicate for free online with any number of friends attached to one's "network", sites such as Facebook and Myspace allow for a very modern marketing of the self; a way of maintaining one's status through the hierarchical game of how many friends one has or what direction one's life is currently taking - in the eye's of others of course. It has become perhaps the second tier celebrity treadmill: open to all yet decidedly elitist. One of the strangest, and most evidently "modern" phenomena, is to visit a historic or revered tourist attraction in the UK, Europe or further afield, only to find tourists whom, rather than enjoying the moment and taking in the obvious beauty of the location/place/historic building, exhibit the more pressing concern of trying to capture the perfect Facebook or Myspace photo to upload and use as leverage for social status on their return home.
Zygmunt Bauman, in his book Consuming Life, puts it this way: "In a society of consumers, turning into a desirable and desired commodity is the stuff of which dreams, and fairy tales, are made"
When yet another contestant exits the stage of Britain's Got Talent utterly humiliated, the question increasingly asked is "is this not going too far?", to whit the answer habitually follows "nobody made them do it". Indeed; nobody is made to do anything in a free society; yet people are inclined to be persuaded by advertising, desperation, poor education, financial vulnerability, plain bad sense, and the belief that fame will open up the glamorous (yet in reality utterly unrealistic) world they see on their television sets to them in a way that any other pursuit simply would not.
Those at the very bottom of society have little realistic chance of becoming bricklayers or hairdressers, (of which there is absolutely nothing wrong; although you would not think so were you to accept the message put out by the media,) let alone barristers or lawyers; and in an environment where there is little prospect of future gainful employment, and therefore - in their eyes - minimal practical point of education, the idea that "anyone can become famous" - for doing next to nothing - spreads like an extremely virulent venereal disease. It would not be inaccurate to suggest that those at the bottom are far more likely to take celebrity culture seriously than any genuinely prospective doctors or lawyers.
Rather than the typical stereotype of an underclass chocked up to the gills on casual racism, Stella, and rap music, there is a generation of poor children with aspirations linked to the top 1% of society while languishing in the inescapable trap of the bottom 10%.
While only an assumption, it would appear that the more society degenerates into gross inequality and social alienation the stronger this desperation will become - that the frenetic grasping for celebrity appears as a function and safety valve for a lack of social mobility that is engulfing both the UK and the US. At the same time, it becomes increasingly hard to imagine that a society without the twin functioning delusions of attainable celebrity and vast debt would be recognisable in any way to the society we live in today.