Posts Tagged ‘celebrity culture’

There’s a delightful video doing the rounds this last couple of weeks – a cover version of Chris Brown’s Look At Me Now by a band called Karmin, notable because Karmin singer Amy Heidemann does an amazing interpretation of bullet-rapping Busta Rhyme’s verses. I watched it, loved it, shared it with my friends. And as I was doing so, I thought, “Chris Brown, eh? He still has a career?”

Yes, as it happens. You might remember Chris Brown as the young man who battered (now ex) girlfriend Rihanna a couple of years ago. Due to the celebrity status of both the victim and the strutting arsehole who beat her up, it was an unfortunately public assault. Some argued that this was a good thing in that it raised awareness (amongst young people who up to then had thought that it was ok to beat up their partners? Dunno). The rest of us flinched at the leaked photographs of Rihanna’s injuries, wished that the press would leave her alone to come to terms with what had happened, and hoped that Mr. Brown soon entered the market for a large boulder he could wedge his bulk under.

And yet this hasn’t happened. Rihanna’s career has gone from strength to strength, and oddly enough, so has Brown’s. Not that I generally keep up to speed with hip-pop artists, but I don’t even recall there being much of a sabbatical. He’s as popular as ever with fans, and has no problem attracting other artists to work with on musical projects.

One might say that Brown is entitled to forgiveness and entitled to move on with his life and career. And indeed he is. But how could a fan bring themselves to support someone who severely assaulted his girlfriend and was never quite convincing in subsequent public apologies? Indeed, at the end of March he threw a dramatic hissy fit backstage at Good Morning America when quizzed about the assault, reportedly breaking a window, leaving the building in a shirtless huff(!) and tweeting afterwards, “I’m so over people bring this past s**t up!! Yet we praise Charlie Sheen and other celebs for there[sic] bulls**t.”

This may be the thing, though. Are the public “allowing” Brown a career because he’s such an entertaining little Veruca Salt?

Social media has made it possible for a celebrity to have virtual one-on-one relationships with his or her fans – Twitter, tumblr, whatever. A celeb now has the power to make connections with the wider world without the deft swipe of a publicist’s whitewash brush. Before, celebrities flourished in stone fortresses, pampered and bubble-wrapped and told marvellous tales about how their personas were received in the outside world. Nowadays it’s like the poor, narcissistic things are kept in Wicker Men in a madhouse garden. Should they wish to say something out-of-character (as in, not becoming of a public figure), it will be seized upon and flung halfway around the world well before their publicist’s spidey-sense gets going. And they may well wish to say something out-of-character, because the fans will lap it up and egg them on, rubbernecking on a delightfully careening ego.

Recently, we’ve seen Charlie Sheen, Mel Gibson, and Lindsay Lohan making headlines for pretty horrific behaviour; Charlie’s hired an entourage of porn stars to live with him, Mel admitted to domestic violence, and Lindsay practically lives in court these days.  Yet the public hasn’t denied them their celebrity status, or let them know that such behaviour is not socially acceptable. The public would rather Charlie and Mel and Lindsay kept making asses of themselves. Who wants to see Charlie get well? Who wants to see the erstwhile holier-than-thou Mel get his act together? Who wants to see Lindsay reinvent herself as an indie darling? No one. They’re far more valuable as clowns. No matter if Charlie keels over from an overdose or Mel breaks his girlfriend’s teeth or Lindsay dies in the gutter. Collateral damage.

Do we condone bad behaviour from celebrities simply because they’re celebrities? I don’t think it’s quite as simple as that, but the answer isn’t on par with rocket science, either. Celebrities who behave badly cannot presume that the public will remain empathic, forgiving – even interested. Celebrities who behave badly in a ridiculously over-the-top fashion can, though. We can be entertained as well as feel superior. Is this why Chris Brown still has a glittering pop career?

Or do we really think that battering women isn’t really that big a deal? Do we think that proud patronage of the sex trade isn’t really that big a deal? Do we think that a young woman drowning her talent in alcohol isn’t that big a deal?

[Of course, the other condition under which the general public will forgive a misbehaving celebrity is if that celebrity has a talent that is not interchangeable with a hundred other pretenders (as in Brown’s identipop career). I suppose Roman Polanski would be the prime example here. If he was not a brilliant storyteller and visionary, would we have forgiven him for raping a child?]

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Lemme start off by saying that I’m no fan of girl groups. Nor boy bands. Nor any homogenised battalion with their own colour scheme and dance moves. Though I’m going to rant about a sneering take on Irish popstrel Una Healy, I must admit that haven’t heard a single song from her band, The Saturdays. I wouldn’t know The Saturdays if they’d been creeping into my lugs at night and crooning subliminal messages directly into my noggin. I’m not writing this from the perspective of an indignant fan, in other words. I’m an indignant twenty-nine year old Irishwoman, though, which gives me more than enough in common with my subject.

So yes, Una Healy is a gorgeous strawberry-blonde pop vocalist. Once a struggling singer-songwriter, she now makes up 20% of The Saturdays, and so is appropriately dolled-up and adorned with sparkly things. Last weekend’s Sunday Independent featured a piece by Niamh Horan, calling out Ms. Healy for being a bad role model and a drunken mess, basically because the writer has seen paparazzi images of Una looking rather worse for wear on a number of early-hours occasions. Her latest excursion resulted in her taking a tumble in front of waiting photographers, who naturally zoomed in and went all out.

Ms. Horan was most put-out by the whole thing.

…you’ve got to wonder what her parents must think. Not to mention her reserved country and Irish musician uncle Declan Nerney.

Indeed. Especially as Una was wearing a

… skirt up to her backside

… at the time, which I would have thought was probably her lot in life, being a member of a girl group. And hey, it’s not like she was out there wearing fishnets as trousers with a gigantic teabag on her head. Though if she was, we’d probably swoon and call it art, eh, Lady Gaga?

I was rightly riled by Horan’s attack on Healy. Whatever you may think about booze culture in the UK and Ireland, or about wimminfolk wearing minidresses in January, what’s righteous about singling out a grown woman celebrating a friend’s birthday and haughtily hypothesising how her poor Mammy must feel about her partying ways? It’s not as if Healy threw up on the pavement, dodged her taxi fare, or lamped a nightclub toilet attendent. She had a few drinks, tripped over her own feet, and looked less than graceful getting into a taxi. I doubt any manner of uncle would disown her for that … although it’s certainly an evocative image, Declan Nerney weeping into the Sunday newspapers whilst clutching his Nano Nagle action figures; “My kingdom for a shapeless tunic!”

Obviously, we have to advocate taking responsibility for one’s own actions, especially when one is nearly thirty, in good health, and financially independent. Ms. Healy chose to become a pop star, and so invited a certain amount of public attention down on her head. But that doesn’t mean that she must be held accountable for every angle she is snapped from. That doesn’t mean that she must remain poised and coiffed and boring and blank-eyed, for fear she may appear off balance or chunky and so frighten impressionable tweens. In fact, the notion Horan seems to push here – that female celebrities should restrict themselves to a particular hem length and a particular bedtime, that they must be graceful above all else, and that they must never lose control – is rather too sinister to chance adopting as standard. Young fans striving towards unattainable perfection and constantly berating themselves when they fall short? What a depressing thought.

Personally, I wouldn’t advocate Una Healy as a role model, but it’s because Una’s an entertainer, not a neurosurgeon. If my nine-year-old comes home and tells me she wants to be in a girl group when she grows up, I’ll probably roll my eyes and say something disparaging about the cost of fake eyelashes. That wouldn’t be half as disturbing as her coming home and claiming she wants a career as a dewy-eyed mannequin, Stepford-elegant with a silver ramrod up her jumper, though. Una Healy’s antics may well stop upsetting Niamh Horan when Niamh Horan accepts that Una Healy’s not an international ambassador. She’s a young, pretty popstar. Surely, then, she can wear her skirts as short as she damn well pleases?

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Oh, the core parent-of-a-teenager story. A friend of mine recently got a nasty shock when, provoked by the discovery of a sneaky packet of condoms, she found quite the accumulation of explicit text messages in her teenaged daughter’s phone. Her single teenaged daughter’s phone. Her single, fourteen-year-old daughter’s phone.

This is a core story because it’s not the first time I’ve heard it; more than a couple of friends and their more gossip-worthy relatives have been made aware of their teenaged child’s sexual awakening through devious divings into his or her text message history. If rites of passage have evolved at all, it’s to make room for a mortifying encounter with a livid, bawling parent with an unfortunate proficiency in modern sleuthing methods. In this particular case, my friend was terribly shaken – not just because her daughter was apparently sexually active, but because the nature of the messages were less “journey of sexual discovery” and more “let’s all have an orgy”. The result was a horrified, grounded, phoneless young wan, and a horrified, tearful, traumatised mother, who spent the next few weeks doubting her parental fitness, and wondering what the hell she was supposed to do next.

Beyond carefully-selected woe betides, it turned out, not a whole lot. Teenagers will march on towards adulthood, after all, and there’s not much to be said for the concept of a postemptive strike.

When I was a teenager – the mid-nineties, which as far as I’m concerned are still the very recent past – I thought that my mam would absolutely curdle if she knew what we got up to of a Saturday evening, though that would be a problem entirely her own, for we were doing nothing Wrong. No one was in danger. No one was compromised. It was just the generational gap and it was up to the oldies to bridge it. So is it that I’m an oldie now that I can’t get my head around the carry-on of kids today? Has an unwelcome fuddyduddyness infected my tolerance and common sense and wherewithal? Am I just pumped up on the fear of that which I just don’t, like, totally get?

Have I no good reason to be alarmed by the young and scantily-clad and surefooted?

Miley Cyrus has been all over the gossip sites of late; all of Miley, all over. The seventeen-year-old popstrel is keen to ditch Hannah Montana’s blonde wig, tweenie fans and wholesome blether for a more sophisticated image befitting her advancing years. For which read: less pants. Bigger hair. More simulated mutual masturbation with hawt leather-bound dancers. Singer and actress Taylor Momsen, a similarly pantsless chica who wants to be Chrissie Hynde from the waist up only, celebrates her seventeenth birthday later this month, yet is happy to tell us all that she’ll dress in t-shirts, suspenders and ripped stockings now because it would be inappropriate in her thirties. The world’s most extraneous wild child, Peaches Geldof, had, at seventeen, been photographed in more compromising positions than you could shake a paper cone at.

However, just because Ms. Cyrus wants to be seen as a fully-fledged sexual being in control of her own whims and intimate piercings doesn’t mean you should treat her as one – blogging nitwit Perez Hilton recently got a scalding when he posted an upskirt image of an apparently commando Miley getting out of a car. Distribution of child pornography! yowled his critics. Even if she’s dressed in killer heels and negligee and waving her crotch about in concert doesn’t mean you should be looking at it! Miley, in short, is old enough to court controversy for sales figures and column inches, but certainly not old enough to be held responsible for such marketing decisions. Likewise, Taylor Momsen remains stubbornly unable to understand any objection to the persistent flashing of an underage girl’s inner thighs. Peaches Geldof, now old enough to vote and know better, has her boyfriend call out the mothers of those who capture her posing, glassy-eyed, in manky, strange bedrooms. Give me the perks of adulthood so that I may taste, but get them consequences Out Of My Face. Disturbing? Absolutely, but mostly because the Age Of Accountability seems a long way off for each of these little madams. Am I climbing ever faster to the peaks of irrelevance if my jaw drops and my skin crawls? You tell me.

Are we destined – the generation in power, of child-bearing and wine-appreciation age – to wring our hands at the hyperbolic sexual statements of younger ladies? Perhaps it’s as simple as that; perhaps daring text messages are to be taken as nothing but Ye Olde Boundary Pushing, and the disregard of trousers in fashion ensembles equates to a modern day bra-burning. Despite our initial squawks and retchings, when I think about it, it’s unlikely my friend’s daughter was having a train run on her in the back bedroom of her best friend’s house. Most likely, it was just our paranoid, terrified adult minds pinning advanced sexual foibles to clumsy teenage fumbling. There is no doubt that today’s little women are coming of age in a more aggressively sexualised society, but just because you’re surrounded by pole-dancing hotties in music videos, blowjob tips in magazines, and glamour models empowering the shit out of everyone, doesn’t mean you have a wisp of a notion what to do with any of it.

Incidentally, my friend had a fancy-dress party recently, and as a treat, the fourteen-year-old was allowed to join in. As a Playboy bunny. Which she thought was sweet. I shit you not.

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What would we ladies do without Heat Magazine? If it weren’t there to inform and educate us, we might forget to subject other women’s bodies to the sort of scrutiny once reserved for crime scene investigations. We might not be aware that cellulite is shameful but clavicles are even worse. And I’m pretty sure we would be blissfully ignorant of the private lives of Jade Goody and whatever annoying nonentities are in the Big Brother House this year.

While Heat loves to sneer at celebs who’ve commited the cardinal sin of leaving the house without dieting and exercising away every fat cell in their body, they reserve their special ire for those who dare to go out and about looking a bit thin.

It's time for the Two Minute Hate!

It's time for the Two Minute Hate!

A few weeks ago (in that dark period when we Anti-Roomers were sadly too overwhelmed with jobs and stuff to do much posting), they ran yet another cover about too-skinny stars. The defiant headline was “We’re Skinny – Get Over It!”, displayed above the usual array of photos designed to show the likes of Keira Knightley at their most scrawny. Could this be a rare example of Heat, in typically cack-handed and hypocritical style, defending women’s right to go about their business without complete strangers judging their physiques? Of course not! Because the charming subhead beneath this declaration was “Deluded stars claim they eat normally”.

I am not a large woman. I’m 5’2″ (just about) and weigh about eight stone. I have a slight frame and am, by most people’s standards, pretty slim, and when I was younger and my metabolism hadn’t started slowing down, I was downright skinny. When I was in college, I weighed under seven and a half stone. And while I may not have had the healthiest diet in the world back then, that was more because I was a student and was living on supernoodles, toast and all-day breakfasts in the Alpha rather than because I was on a diet. In fact, I’ve never, in my entire life, been on any sort of diet, and I don’t own a scales – I only know my weight because I sometimes measure myself on the scales in a friend of mine’s bathroom when I’m over in her house. I eat three vaguely healthy meals a day and a few biscuits and go for walks. Basically, it seems that nature – or rather genetics – has designed me to be a small, skinny-ish woman, the same way my sister is a tall, skinny-ish woman, and when I say that I eat normally, I’m not “deluded”.

So when I see Keira Knightley and her ilk, I don’t automatically think “oh, they’re starving themselves to death!” Yes, there are some plenty of celebs who are unhealthily thin, too thin for their natural frames. I’m not going to pretend that someone whose every thigh sinew is sticking out like a cable is eating a balanced healthy diet. But Keira Knightley, to me, just looks like a skinny, flat-chested girl. And that’s another thing that enrages me about Heat‘s approach. One of the reason Knightley looks particularly thin is because she doesn’t have big boobs. In fact, she’s probably barely barely an A-cup. And while the weight gained as my metabolism slowed now means that I’m (just about) a 32B, I was (just about) a 32A until my mid-twenties. Most clothes are made for women with larger bosoms, and can often make a flat-chested woman look more scrawny, especially about the chest, than she actually is (I speak from bitter, badly fitting experience). It’s actually quite hard to put weight on your upper chest (as opposed to, say, your hips or thighs), and looking a bit bony there doesn’t mean that you’re wasting away.

Of course, by Heat‘s standards, the worst thing about being stick-like and boobless is that it is apparently inevitably unattractive to men, and we should, of course, always think about how our bodies appeal to the opposite sex. The “deluded” stars on the cover enjoy the privilege of having their bodies judged by two “experts”. One of the experts is actually a nutritionist – albeit one who has no personal knowledge of the celebrities themselves, of course – and the other expert is….some bloke who presents some programme I’ve never heard of. His expertise seems to consist purely of the fact that he’s straight and a man. And he doesn’t fancy really skinny birds. That is, seriously, about it. That apparently give him the right to criticise the arses and thighs and collar bones of lots of women he’s never met.

Heat started off as an attempt to copy the far superior American magazine Entertainment Weekly, but it wasn’t until it started dissecting famous women’s bodies that the magazine really took off. These days, the average issue of Heat is more like the Two Minutes Hate in Nineteen Eighty Four than EW. It encourages its mostly female readers to sneer at and mock the appearance of other women. Are some of the women in those faux-horrified photo spreads unhealthy? Yeah, probably, although there’s no way of knowing that unless you’re their doctor. But what good does it do to point this out on the cover of a magazine? Do they really think Mary Kate Olsen is going to see herself on the cover of Now magazine and get herself to an eating disorder clinic? Of course they don’t. It’s Schadenfreude masquerading as concern for these poor unfortunate waifs, and it’s revolting.

These magazines encourage us to see totally normal bodies as somehow wrong and freakish. I’d like to think that I’m fairly media savvy, and that I view the world of magazines with a critical eye. But it’s hard to avoid the warped ideas peddled by these magazines, even if you know how cynically they’re put together, even if you know that they’re designed to appeal to our worst, most self-hating instincts, even if you’d never dream of buying Heat (and I wouldn’t, although I’ve been known to read it in the newsagents). We’ve been so trained to hate our “bingo wings” that it’s hard to remember that adult women’s upper arms usually have some actual flesh on them. We forget that most adult women’s stomach aren’t concave and that visible collar bones aren’t a sign of terminal anorexia. We forget that unless you’ve Botoxed your armpits, you’re probably going to sweat under your arms at a crowded pary. We forget what normal women’s bodies actually look like and what they do. And as long as Heat and its ilk continue to put women on the cover in their pants with circles around their cellulite and sweat-stains, it’ll take us a while to remember.

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