In a time where knowing phrases that are coined daily, such as “TomKat” and “Brangelina”, holds more social cache than knowing the title of the latest NY times best seller, our fascination with Hollywood has risen to a new found obsession. We have always been obsessed with stars. We were obsessed with knowing about Elvis’ peanut butter and banana sandwiches and Grace Kelly’s relationship with Prince Ranier. However, our view of celebrity status has changed from Hollywood idealization to identification.
Art Imitating Life or Life Imitating Art?
Actors were once, in the ancient Roman sense, a vehicle to discuss actual plebian issues. They were used as aesthetic forms for political dissidents such as Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde to reveal human nuances that society, as a functioning entity, could not embrace without the covert cover of artistic satire. Engaging in a discussion about this change in relative Hollywood obsession, begs the question, does art imitate life or life imitate art? The ‘art’ being the celebrity identities crafted by clever public relations agencies in San Francisco and the ‘life’ our own. Do we celebrate these icons because they are the representation of who we think America embodies, or rather, do they reflect a social goal of who we want to become?
When cinema was black and white, it seemed that the vast line between the stars and their fans was more obvious. The Hollywood of “then” was an unattainable place where we necessarily had to go to the theater to witness such beauty, wit, luxury and grace all in one character. What we didn’t see was that Hollywood was really a privately-owned western estate where film makers could take advantage of the West Coast climate to film year round or cheaply produce movies without the requisite East Coast dollars. And as for the actors, we adored them as much as we believed in them. Rock Hudson could not be gay!
During the red scare, judicial and political enforcers unscrupulously targeted actors such as Charlie Chapman and Orson Wells as Communist non-conformists and anti-American, only to later repeal their criticisms, turning their victims into heroic martyrs for liberal thought. Their own celebrity and fragile facades positioned them as powerful examples of the pervasiveness of McCarthy’s marginalizing politics. Isn’t it because of the same larger-than-life images that we fell in love with these figures ourselves?
Has our obsession of Hollywood changed from desiring glamour to mere gossip?
The grittiest tales in current Hollywood are not in scripts. The media has honed in on celebrity marriages, tragedies and cosmetic transformations inch by inch. Where we once celebrated Katherine Hepburn’s graceful refusal to give public interviews, we now require Hollywood’s darlings to reveal their illegal or prescription talismans. It seems that we are not satisfied with perfect on-screen identities, instead we crave inner details about the celebrities’ lives and problems that, well, are like those we are all faced with.
Now, the line between those who have earned stardom and the general populace is suffering from an anorexia that even Lindsay Lohan could envy. While we are fed tales of drugs, failed relationships and poor upbringings by the media in buffet form, we are tearing down the platform of inaccessibility that we once ascribed to Hollywood stars. Has our obsession of Hollywood changed from desiring glamour to mere gossip?
This turn from perfection is a backlash to the image of impeccability imposed by the film industry from Hollywood’s inception. In an age where knowledge can be instant, our passion for the details of celebrity lives has fueled entire industries. Publications such as “People” and “Star” earn millions of dollars in revenue every year by handing out weekly tidbits of celebrity life details. And where we can know anything about these spectacles on display, we have actually learned to appreciate their normalcy. Their flaws do not debase them, but allow us to love them more by making them, as “US Weekly” likes to point out, “one of us.”
Just like “US.”
There is social value in these publications. In a 1997 response to an editorial inquiry on Salon.com, social and political commentator, Camile Paglia stated that she “vigorously support[s] the tabloid press as the authentic voice of mass culture.” This voice seems to be saying that instead of wanting “perfect,” we want perfectly flawed. More Bridget Jones and less Bridget Bardot. Just like us.
We, and certainly the stars themselves, have not forgotten the power and place of actors in society. In fact, their new-found ability to move seamlessly from pedestal to pedestrian has done wonders for American women. In 1991, “Vanity Fair” and Demi Moore glamorized pregnancy and made the female form (at 8 months) beautiful. Demi was a model for women who had hidden their bodies behind maternity wear for centuries. In an interview with Jill Mara Olich, Beauty Editor for “Star Magazine,” she expounded on this revolutionizing moment and its importance.
The Demi Moore VF cover was a hallmark for the way woman are portrayed in the media. She was 8 months pregnant and more beautiful than ever! She was also a confident, successful career woman and bright. Simply put, she is someone to be reckoned with.
The end result was a new role model. One that was more than just a supermodel. It raised the Hollywood standards for the ideal woman, and in turn, society’s ideal woman. Now, being drop dead gorgeous simply isn’t enough. You need to be intelligent, a mother and in the case of Angelina Jolie, even a U.N. Good Will Ambassador! In many ways, this movement put even more pressure on women than they’ve ever had before! But the respect that we’ve gained for ourselves in having achieved these high standards is invaluable.
Now, when we flip through images of celebrities in magazines, the focus is not how we are different. Instead, it is the similarities that draw us together. Our achievements (like motherhood), failures (in relationships) and dark hidden secrets are out there in high resolution images for us to love or judge. There are cynics who feel that Hollywood is only for the Muggles (hint: Harry Potter). Conversely, avid celebrity gawkers, also know that the life of a film star is well, not exactly like ours, despite our obsession. However, in a day where the hero in one of the biggest blockbusters of our century, The Matrix, chooses grimy reality over technologically-enhanced fantasy, we can proudly say that we relish in the imperfect; we choose art that imitates. And, we forgive our (perfectly flawed) selves, because we have already forgiven Hollywood.