Celebrity Identities

Lately I’ve been thinking about how celebrities try to create their own identitities and the push-pull created between celebs and fans, celebs and the media, and a number of other actors and groups.  And as I start thinking, I realize that vocabulary will be an issue because I am thinking about actors and actresses, but also about actor-network theory, an entirely different definition. Eventually I guess I’ll need to check how others are distiguishing and if new terms have come into use. I am sooooo disconnected at the moment, academically speaking.  But for now, I know what I mean.

Here is a short narrative of my deciding to look at this. I find that I can now watch all but the last season on True Blood on one of our streaming services. We had stopped having cable a few years ago, so stopped watching anything on HBO, since until very recently, they stubbornly required a cable subscription.  We even more stubbornly refused to get one so… Anway, decided to catch up. Enjoyed it more than I remembered, and started to check other stuff various actors were doing because it’s summer and I finally have time for it. In researching that, I looked at lots of interviews, ComicCon panels, talk show spots, wikipedia entries, Twitter feeds, YouTube clips, fan sites, etc. As I was surveying, I was making mental comparisons to how this media landscape felt compared to the last time I was really engaged, which was at least five years ago.

So that’s all percolating in my head, and I noticed that Alexander Skarsgård is starring in the new Tarzan movie.  I will pause here and say that Tarzan, as a character, and his stories, hold a special place in my heart.  As a kid, I spent every summer in a rustic cabin in the Maine woods where I read all of Edgar Rice Burroughs books, repeatedly.  Those books actually had a huge impact on my own identity formation, and also might be among the first to provoke my analyzing texts. I’ve always been frustrated at how far the movies have wandered from the books, and at how the modern treatments never get much beyond the origin story.

The Legend of Tarzan was released in early July and of course there is a surge of promo activities from the actors, but especially Margot Robbie and Alexander Skarsgård. Watching and reading all these guest spots and interviews, I was struck by many things, but I’ll talk about two here. First, most of the interviews cover a really narrow range of topics and if it became grindingly dull for me reading, I can’t imagine how the actors feel.  More on that in another post. Second, attitudes toward celebrities parallel attitudes toward women in some the worst ways imaginable.  In particular, many seem to feel that because actors and actresses are paid for a certain kind of public appearance, the audience then owns them. Or maybe better that they owe us.  That they owe us attention; they owe us every detail of their lives, no matter how intimate; they owe us always looking attractive according to our standard… I hope the parallels are clear.

Sometimes watching the interviews became really painful; I just wanted to cringe at some of the questions asked by interviewers, or by fans, when they had a chance.

So, to recap: the media and, sadly, fans often act like we are entitled to intimacy, attention, attractiveness and sexuality from actors. The focus on these detracts (I think) from discussions about story, craft, etc. Do we really need to hear more than once how someone bulked up or slimmed down? I don’t think so. Harping on these tired topics is at best lazy, and often feeds into rape culture in the assumption that other people are there only for our pleasure, and that we are entitled to touch them or be somehow intimate whenever we want, rather than when they choose (for example when they perform).

I’ll be getting back to this idea later, after pisting about some other stuff.


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