'One of the recurrent themes of my books is the importance of paying the price of your dreams. But to what extent can our dreams be manipulated? For the past decades, we lived in a culture that privileged fame, money, power – and most of the people were led to believe that these were the real values that we should pursue.' -- Paulo Coelho
' ... please join me in this journey into a world that is coming to an end. You will see glittery, glamour, and blood – but don't see this book as a thriller: it is a crude portrait of where we are now. We are part of the solution, if we go back to the real values of life, being "follow your dream" the most important of all. Not the dreams of the Superclass. Not the dreams of our parents, or our partners. We should be what we always wanted to be.' -- Paulo Coelho
We live in a very sad world. A world where the only drivel people read is glossy magazines devoted to 'celebrities', where they watch utter garbage on TV, where they themselves yearn to be celebrities.
What are these 'celebrities'? People whose only name to fame is that they are a celebrity. They are generally of little talent, here today, gone tomorrow, to be replaced by the next celebrity. These non-entities are famous for being famous, nothing else.
We have the cult of the non-entity. People with no talent other than for being offensive get paid enormous sums for presenting TV programmes where they interview other non-entities, who in turn get paid vast sums for being 'celebrities'.
It was not always so. Once upon a time we would celebrate people of intellect and talent: Emile Zola, Charles Dickens, Lewis Carroll, Wilkie Collins, Mathew Lewis, Edgar Allan Poe, Ann Radcliffe, Leo Tolstoy, Hermann Hesse, Astor Piazzolla, Mozart, Bach, Vivaldi, Picasso, Dali, Newton, Einstein ...
There are people of talent today, the Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho, the Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk, the Indian writer Arundhati Roy, the Spanish writer Carlos Ruiz Zafón, the beautiful and talented Russian artist Dasha Balashova, so why do we have this obsession with 'celebrities'?
In the summer I like to pay a visit to Brighton, wander around the old part, in particular North Laine, where there are still old shops retaining individuality and character. Then I like to wander down to the beach where this guy has a bookstall near the old derelict pier. He has a good selection of books, including good literature. What I have noticed is that the people browsing through the literature, and when you engage them in conversation know their literature, are nearly all female, usually in their twenties, and nearly always from Latin America or Eastern Europe.
There is thus hope yet.
People do have dreams, but it seems to be nearly always dreams planted in their minds by market manipulators. They have to have the latest mobile phone, the latest trainers, the latest fashion, listen to the latest banal pop that all sounds the same.
Maybe, just maybe, with the financial system collapsing, a system driven by greed and wanton consumerism, people will take stock and rethink their lives. Maybe like Santiago in The Alchemist, they will learn to follow their dreams, adopt real values, not follow the plastic dreams they have had manufactured for them.
We all need basic food, shelter and clothing, clean water, but what do we need beyond that?
We pursue increase in GNP as though it is religious salvation. Shopping has become a leisure activity, not a walk in the park or the countryside, a trip to the theatre or art gallery or museum, but shopping. People go out and shop, not because they need something, shopping has become an end in itself. We go out and buy stuff, we bring it home where it becomes clutter, six months later it becomes trash and we throw it out. The Third World is exploited both for its labour and resources, the environment becomes polluted, we all work more hours than we need, in jobs we hate, just so that we have the money to carrying on consuming.
And does it make us happy? The answer is no.
In the 1950s it was realised that if the economy was to keep on growing, if Big Business was to keep on growing and raking in big bucks, then we all had to be conned into buying stuff we did not want or need. At the same time in the US it was realised that its citizens were a small proportion of the world population but were consuming nearly all its resources. To maintain the status quo of huge inequality, the US had to remain the dominant military force.
From the 1950s onwards, although there has been a steady growth in GNP, there has not been a steady growth in personal wellbeing.
It is our consumerism and greed that has brought us to the brink of disaster, and yet what do politicians do when the economy teeters on the brink of the chasm, when car production drops, when spending on the High Street drops, they go out of their way to stimulate pointless consumerism, propose a car scrappage payment to encourage the purchase of new cars, pour billions into propping up failing banks, meanwhile the poor are left to starve, climate instability worsens.
We need to re-address our way of thinking. An economy that is fit for purpose, that is for the wellbeing of people and planet, not to the benefit of global corporations and their puppet politicians.
In our arrogance we think we can save the planet, not recognizing that the planet is far more powerful than us and that one day Gaia will strike back and wipe off the face of the earth the cancerous infection known as mankind. [see The Revenge of Gaia]
It is all about image, be it wearing the latest fashion or consuming a can of coke. We think we are in control of our own destiny, but we are not, we are being manipulated by con men.
Cannes International Film Festival is an annual film festival held in the south of France, the major film festival where everyone who is anyone has to be seen.
Cannes is where in 1953 an unknown 19-year-old French teenager posed in her bikini on the beach for a photographer. Brigitte Bardot became an overnight success. Now every blonde thinks she can do the same.
Cannes is where every starlet is a wannabe film star, where every budding director has the film script in his pocket, where every nobody wants to be a celebrity, wants to join the glitterati. They have seen their dreams in the glossy magazines, know it is who they want to be.
Cannes is a complete contrast to the BeyondTV International Film Festival held every year in Swansea in the south of Wales. No pretentious crap, just people wishing to show their work that other people wish to see. [see BeyondTV 2007]
In The Winner Stands Alone by Paulo Coelho we see Cannes through the eyes of the people there.
Gabriela, an undiscovered actress, thinks all her hard work and graft is about to be rewarded, she is about to hit the big time as a star. It will come not a moment too soon as she has already hit 25.
Igor Malev, a Russian millionaire, owner of a Russian telecom company, believes money can buy everything, until he finds it cannot buy the one thing he wants most, his ex-wife. For all his wealth, Igor is a thug, he is quite willing to kill to get what he wants.
Igor Malev is in Cannes to make a statement, to send a message. Igor has promised to destroy whole worlds to get his wife back ... And Ivor always keeps his word.
Savoy, the local police inspector, who believes he has a serial killer on the loose, who if he solves the murders and apprehends the killer will achieve fame before the world's media.
Only Jasmine, a stunning black model, this year's new discovery, seems to be unfazed by what is happening around her, is able to keep her feet firmly planted on the ground.
If we are to dream, to follow our dreams like Santiago, it should be our own dreams, what makes us who we are, what gives us our individuality, what makes us human, not plastic dreams manufactured for us by global corporations and their puppet politicians.
The Winner Stands Alone is a world of excess and glamour and the latest fashion. It stands in stark contrast to the trashy novel by Lauren Weisberger, The Devil Wears Pravda and its adulation of fashion.
The Winner Stands Alone is a brilliant and damning indictment of the shallow world of fashion and celebrity. It is though more than that, it is a critique, exposé and analysis, but with the soul searching that only Paulo Coelho can achieve.
The Winner Stands Alone is also a savage attack on the Super Rich.
Occasionally there is a writer, a book, a novel that leads to the exposure of prevailing social conditions, that raises social awareness, that leads to social reform. Charles Dickens exposed the conditions of the Victorian underclass and this led to social reform. Upton Sinclair did the same with his exposure of the working conditions of the American working class. John Steinbeck in The Grapes of Wrath showed the impact on the mid-west of the Great Depression. Alexander Solzhenitsyn exposed the horrors of Stalinist Russia. Rachel Carson in Silent Spring showed that pesticides were killing wildlife. Naomi Klein with No Logo brought to wider public attention the sweatshop conditions that lie behind many famous brand names. More recently and closer to home Marina Lewycka with humour and wit has exposed in Two Caravans the working conditions of illegal migrant workers and the abomination of factory farming. George Orwell in Nineteen Eighty-Four and Aldous Huxley in Brave New World foretold the future and so it has come to pass.
Has Paulo Coelho managed to do the same with his exposure of the shallow nature of celebrity and fashion? Will it cause a fundamental shift in social attitudes? Has he caught the mood of the times with the global economic collapse? Will a better society emerge?
As Paulo Coelho says: 'We are part of the solution, if we go back to the real values of life ...'
The Winner Stands Alone is a tale of our times.
Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist, HarperCollins, 1995
Paulo Coelho, The Winner Stands Alone, HarperCollins, 2009
Kate Evans, Funny Weather, Myriad Editions, 2006
Naomi Klein, No Logo, Flamingo, 2000
Marina Lewycka, Two Caravans, Penguin, 2008
Keith Parkins, BeyondTV 2007, Indymedia UK, 7 November 2007
Keith Parkins, Guildford Book Festival 2008, Indymedia UK, 21 October 2008
Keith Parkins, Beyond sustainability, to be published
Mark Thomas, Belching out the Devil, Elbury Press, 2008