In the kick-off to BH’s “Death of the Movie Star” series, Steven Crowder posited that new media has rendered the Hollywood machine irrelevant. If you have the talent and the drive, you don’t need them. And writing for the UK Telegraph earlier this year, David Gritten has a similar theory in that Hollywood can no longer afford A-list stars (who are also aging and may not appeal to younger audiences) and is relying more heavily on lesser-known names and reality-based entertainment. They both make valid points. However, I think there’s something more to this rapidly spreading phenomenon.
Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire – class and glamour during Hollywood’s heyday
The term “movie star” used to mean a lot to the American public – glitz, glamour, excitement. It embodied an “other worldliness,” if you will, that took hard-working people away from the daily grind and gave them something thrilling and new to take their minds off of their troubles. An afternoon or evening at the movies really meant something then, and the stars who populated the silver screen lived up to the hype – publicly, anyway. This was due to the studio system. During the 1930s and ’40s:
…the major studios groomed their stable for stardom by picking suitable vehicles that developed their personae–sophisticated comedy for Grant, intense melodrama for Davis, and so on. They also controlled the stars’ publicity, doling out digestible, often-erroneous tidbits on their personal lives for the fan magazines and gossip columns.
Once the studio system was broken, however, we began to see Tinseltown’s residents through a very different lens. Stars began to develop their own careers, making their own decisions and living with the consequences, both good and bad. And the press, which was once held at bay by the studio bigs, had much more access to celebrities. Television talk shows like The Tonight Show and Merv Griffin brought us even closer to our idols. They became…well, more like us, except with oodles more money, fancy cars, designer duds and entrée into exclusive clubs and resorts.
Which, of course, they are. Movie stars, celebrities, whatever you wish to call them, are “just like us,” with the same fears, worries, and issues about their love lives. The problem is, we don’t want them to be just like us. They are blessed with fabulous careers that bring them ever so much more than the average person can expect out of life. Think about it: how many of us can hop on a private jet to some exotic locale and have millions of people around the world waiting eagerly to read all about it in the celebrity rags? We want them to rise above the every day humdrum. We want glamour. We want excitement. We expect them to live up to the hype.
Brad Pitt looking more like a boxcar vagrant than one of Hollywood’s hottest men.
But these days, what do we get? Scandal upon scandal. Constant whining. Leading ladies pushing grocery carts outside of the supermarket. Leading men sporting very unattractive facial hair and looking like badly aging skater dudes. So-called celebrities who became celebrated not based upon any kind of talent, but because they figured out how to work the system.
One word: blech.
I expect that many of BH’s commenters might take exception to the “we want glamour from our celebrities” theory, and it’s true that not everyone is enamored with the whole glitz and glamour aspect of the entertainment world. Fair enough. So let’s move on to something we can probably all agree upon: We want to be entertained. Whether it’s acting, singing or dancing, entertainers are paid to, well, entertain the masses. And those who have made it to the top of the heap are paid very, very well.
Remember, actors and musicians were, until perhaps a century ago, near the bottom rung of the social ladder. Men in high society had affairs with beautiful actresses and opera singers, but didn’t bring them home to meet mother and they certainly didn’t do anything so rash as to propose marriage to them.
Jennifer Aniston greets her rabid fans in Berlin.
But today, Hollywoodists are treated as close to royalty as one can get in American society. And what do we get in return for our admiration and hard-earned dollars that we spend at the movie theater or concert arena? Instead of focusing on what they’re paid to do, entertainers often want to use their very large public platform to “do some good in the world.” Sounds good, but too many of them seem to go about it in a way that’s insulting to the unwashed hordes without whom they’d still be just another waiter or dry cleaner attendant. Frankly, we get treated like a bunch of dumb hicks who wouldn’t know how to figure our way out of the proverbial paper bag. Environmentalism is one area in which celebs have invested themselves heavily. I’ve quoted him before, but it’s worth quoting Christopher Grey again on the topic:
Celebrities want attention, but they also want credibility because they typically don’t have any. Environmentalism is an easy cause for them to promote to get attention and at the same time appear somehow thoughtful and even educated because it is allegedly based on science. Of course none of this has anything do with reality, but this is the entertainment business. Reality is not important at all. Image is everything. Talking about recycling, stopping offshore drilling, solar power, and electric cars is a lot easier than really trying to do something for people in the world like feeding the hungry, helping abused children, or building houses for the homeless.
It also deflects attention from the obvious fact that celebrities are often some of the most wasteful, energy inefficient, materialistic, shallow, and superficial people in our society. A classic recent example was James Cameron, who talked about how his film, Avatar, was a shining example of environmentalism. Obama echoed this praise. This was the most expensive movie ever made about a war on an alien planet. What exactly about this movie helped to conserve resources or save our planet? The answer is absolutely nothing.
The emphasis on that first sentence is mine. Actors and actresses are not “rocket scientists.” Some of them do attain higher education, for what it’s worth – Brooke Shields and Jodie Foster come immediately to mind – but a good number of them are either high school or college dropouts. This obviously rankles, and they want to be more than just pretty faces. And so we’re told how great it is to live in cow dung huts and do our business in the jungle in a country where half the children are underweight and maternal mortality rates are high; treated to movies about how greedy and destructive human beings are by movie moguls who work in an industry that is one of the world’s biggest polluters; and in a mythical face-off with a giant robot, the “white trash, hillbilly, anti-gay, super bible-beating people in Middle America” would be the first to go.
Cameron Diaz is inspired by cow-dung huts in Nepal – but not inspired
enough to move there and live in one.
Of course, don’t forget that if you don’t agree with Hollywoodists politically, you might as well shoot yourself now. If you don’t like the current administration, you’re a racist. If you live in Arizona and support the law that makes it harder for illegal aliens to pour across the border, they’ll punish you by boycotting your state – of course, they don’t live there. Perhaps some of them are has-beens doing it to get their names back out into the press. Whatever. Interestingly enough, there isn’t a boycott of Rhode Island, a state that has been doing what Arizona is trying to do since 2008.
In a nutshell: Americans don’t like being lectured by those who live in glass houses. We don’t like being lectured by people who, because they happen to make a lot of money without breaking into a sweat, behave as though they are more intelligent and more cultured than the rest of us. We don’t like being belittled by those who claim to represent us while they’re overseas. The death of the Hollywood star can, I believe, be partly put down to our being tired of their elitist attitude toward the public whose support makes their fabulously privileged lives possible.
There’s an old saying: Don’t bite the hand that feeds you. And a newer one: Shut up and sing. And if you can’t manage that, don’t complain when your adoring public isn’t so adoring anymore.