How is it possible to be a celebrity, attain extreme fame, and feel like you are living in a small claustrophobic cage? Jennifer Lawrence is not the first celebrity who has “nightmares” about it, and won’t be the last. Though it might seem paradoxical, extreme fame can be quite freedom limiting.
While many fantasize in reaching the top of the fame pyramid and be able to attain the so precious extreme fame, it does not come without a cost. Those living in the faceless crowd sometimes dream about the glamour and stylish images that media presents us about being a celebrity. But are we taking a look at the whole picture? Worshiping celebrities from afar might give us just the wrong image about what it really means to be the center of the spotlight.
Jean-François Gravelet Blondin was a Frenchman who attained fame thanks to crossing the Niagara Falls back in 1859. Though he was internationally famous, no one knew which type of undies he wore, the shaving cream he used, or what type of sex life he had. Only his family and friends knew. But the only thing the rest of the world knew about him is that he was amazing: he crossed the Niagara Falls, not once, but many times, doing different things. In those times performing was a way to arrive to the top of the fame pyramid, something that changed as soon as the Victorian period ended. [Cashmore, 56]
So, what happened after Blondin? What was the thing that changed the rules of the fame game? What made it possible for us to be thrilled to want to know absolutely every single movement of a celebrity like Jennifer Lawrence? When did celebrities started to loose their privacy?
As soon as media (printed press) started to use halftones. Once technology made it possible to recognize the famous from pictures and not drawings, the doors started to open for the unknown public to want to know more about the good and evil of the famous. A combination of better media and transportation (technology) and literacy made it possible to become this ferociously and incessantly curious about the lives of celebrities, to the point that some might decide to steal nude pictures stored in their mobile phones and share them online.
Greta Garbo wanted to be alone, and yet her public interest grew as she became more a mythical being. Media, prayed upon celebrities in the same ratio as the public was more and more interested in their private matters. If, at one time, media was more about practical news, gossip was the thriving motor of sales. The public had an insatiable thirst for news about celebrities. Their vouyerism fueled media, who turned to be more and more cannibalistic: paparazzi appeared in the 60s, and the age of the claustrophobic life for celebrities started to endure.
The image of celebrity is calculated to the last eyelash. When something goes astray, or when there is no equilibrium with the public and what’s left with the private life, the public might bring them to ashes. Hollywood has been producing stars for consumption since the early 30s. Some stars became indistinguishable from the fictional characters they played in purpose. This was achieved both by perfecting a public image and by choosing that star roles in films. The management of publicity was also paramount: the game was to present stars as ordinary people gifted in a way. That spice is what made them stars. [Cashmore, 64] But there’s more. While excellent actors still play by the efforts game, other type of celebrities have also appeared into the landscape. In an age where everyone can be a celebrity, with or without skills for the job, extreme change and scandal are the wheels that make the media go on.
With the beginning of the era of consumption from the 60s onwards, advertisements started to play a key role in selling images of celebrities. While they assured you that you could get anything, even the celebrity skills if you will, just by purchasing some object, they started to transform celebrities into the perfect memes. Get a celebrity to announce something you don’t want to become just like the celebrity, or at least, to have some of their attributes is something we are used to. Celebrities are the memes to be copied. We are just the replicator machines who pass one to another the memes.
As industrial media got more concerned in selling anything, so stars became goods for consumption as well through images. Consumerism and the market economy has transformed the vouyeristic public into something else than consumers: ferocious replicator machines. The public demands commodities and images (memes), and thus media sells them in a cannibalistic way. Those commodities come in image packages where stars are bought and sold like if they were tooth paste.
While Blondin was able to maintain quite a lot of his private life private, we cannot say the same for the modern celebrities, who have obviously lost a great deal of privacy in their lives. Media follows them wherever they go, just to get the “image” they want to sell to the public. The private sphere of celebrities has never been as thin as it is today. Contemporaries of Blondin might have thought how great the man was, but found themselves, perhaps, not as willing to try to be on the odds their lives while trying to cross the Niagara falls blindfolded. And yet, nowadays we can find ourselves fancying replication in an extreme way. Not only we replicate memes, we transform them. We are not a simple voyeuristic public who thrives and enjoys the view of a man crossing the Niagara Falls carrying a man on his shoulders: we are creators as well. Images of celebrities are immediately transformed in a language that per se is a meme. Memes transformed in other memes to transmit a message online.
Democratization of celebrities is a painful reality for those who arrive to the top of the pyramid in light speed. The change in their lifestyles is profound, and the psychological consequences in their personalities are undeniable, specially if they are also target of “modern paparazzi.” While becoming memes, they are more than just images to be shared, re-touched, changed, altered and deleted: they are humans, and replicators machines of other memes as well.
Not only the traditional media are thirsty for tons of new images about the latest hot celebrity on the top, but also the replicator machines who share and change the images as they see fit. Some, go as far as to enter the most private life of celebrities and get the ultimate prize: the inner core of privacy!
The public on the internet thrives with pictures. Not only it is voyeuristic, it is also incredibly creative. Memes, like the ones used in this post, are just a way of communication, a language for support, ridicule and replicating the celebrity. The more on the top the celebrity is, the more memes will be created about them. The more on the top they are, higher will be the chances to be target of steel-hearted “digital paparazzis” eager to get into the most private spheres and share the “meme images” online.
Thus, the public thrives on scandal and change. Scandal not only comes from the deed of the celebrity, but also from the deed of fans and media who might decide to crash that celebrity’s privacy (like what happened with Jennifer Lawrence, and many other stars who say their private pictures stolen and shared online). Like vampires, the public wants fresh blood. Like vampires, once we’ve had enough, we go on and feed on the next victim. Thus, fans can change the lives of celebrities with just a click onto the “delete” button. We can put stars on the top as quickly as we can put them in hell.
So, it is undeniable that fans are able to change a celebrity’s life deeply as stated by Jennifer Lawrence herself. And it comes with a great loss: privacy and freedom. If every time she moves she is followed by a battalion of cameras trying to capture the last pic that will be democratized, it is not a wonder that this might become a “nightmare” that many might find hard to swallow. Celebrities are transformed from human to mere commodities that can be bought, shared, exchanged and deleted. Their transformation in memes is the key to understand their drama: they not only loose their privacy or their freedom of movement without being seen by the crowd, they become a thing, and as such they are copied, shared and trashed. Being worshiped from afar also brings the drama of being dehumanized and deprived, little by little, from some rights like the right to privacy.
Thus, the glamorous fame and stardom that we all dream about, the stylish dresses and wonderful parties are but an expensive mirage, a cage in which many stars are stuck in. Some are perfectly okay in their cages, others are learning how to deal with them. The public can be as angelical as demonic, as forgiving as condemning, as lifting as diminishing. Being on the spotlight doesn’t mean not being in a cage. Yet, when we stare at celebrities from afar, when we worship them from the distance, when we share their images and create fan art and memes, we tend to forget that they are just human and that we have the real power to create new stars, and to kill the ones that already make us bored.
So, while celebrities might have it easy to pay the bills, they have to live in little cages where they can feel normal again, always on the void, under the button of “delete.” We are the replicator machines who decide which memes to share, and which to condemn to oblivion.
Celebrity Culture, by Ellis Cashmore. Routledge, 2006.
Copyright: Images on this post are mostly memes. (C) of images by their owners / Other images from Wikipedia.