CELEBRITY as COMMODITY FETISH: Recycle Those Tropes and Posers

For better or worse….Celebrities are not diversions for our society anymore; they are the basis of our social and economic lives.The worship of celebrity, for many is a religion fabricated and patented piecemeal out of the hollowness of some foregone and obscure corner of the psyche. However, the personality or cult of celebrity is inherently a contradiction. A paradox.There cannot be genuine intimacy exactly because he or she offers mass intimacy. Social networks, in particular, Twitter are “loud hailers”, a one to many medium, for this phenomenon, “friends” and “likes” without interaction.

The basis of our intimacy with celebrity is exactly their retreating when we try to see them. Their very resistance is why we can’t stop looking. “Who are these people really?” is the question that we can’t answer but can’t stop asking. The icon retreats behind the screen. Smoke and mirrors hide the fire and reflection of an established archetype.Andy Warhol’s oft-quotes phrase that everyone in the future will have fifteen minutes of fame was only stating the obvious even back then. The digital age has created a content void, a black hole and landfill brimming with gossip and inanity that nonetheless is a reflection of who we are:

---Andy Warhol and Fifteen Minutes of fame?: “It’s the new Emmys,” Zonday, 25, said of the video-sharing site’s awards in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. “It’s the next Oscars. The next People’s Choice Awards. It’ll be interesting to see what happens five years, 10 years (from now).” His competition included comely singer-songwriter Mia Rose and “the vegetable orchestra,” featuring a jam session with a carrot flute and squash drum. Neil Cicierega’s video featuring “Harry Potter” hand puppets (and Professor Dumbledore without any clothes on) won for best comedy video. Guillaume Reymond’s “Human Tetris” won most creative video. Image: Chris Crocker Earl Carter / AP Chris Crocker, who shot to stardom in his video freak-out over Britney Spears’ public meltdown, was beat in the commentary category by a clip from Michael Buckley of the popular online show “What the Buck?” slamming fellow YouTube celebrity Lonelygirl15. Chris Crocker, who shot to stardom in his video freak-out over Britney Spears’ public meltdown, was beat in the commentary category by a clip from Michael Buckley of the popular online show “What the Buck?” slamming fellow YouTube celebrity Lonelygirl15.---

Pop culture has become the primary way we understand the world. Just before she died, the film critic Pauline Kael is alleged to have confided to a  friend, “When we championed trash culture, we had no idea it would become the only culture,” and though a divisive figure, Kael’s view is plausible. The North American household views about eight hours of television a day, though a large proportion of that is sports and news. If we want to understand ourselves, if we want to understand the civilization to which we belong, we have to understand celebrities, because the modern world of freedom, alienation and loneliness has produced them as the primary communal experience. We confront the mysteries and the terrors of life through them.

Celebrity itself is a fairly benign phenomenon. The issue is that it is linked to corporate ownership and a vehicle for imperialism, consumerism and racism by the forces which control its content and distribution.At the end of the day, it all boils down to corporate power and the pursuit of profits being valued far more than the public good, media literacy or a free and open culture. To this date, there has yet to arise an alternative; the creation of  a new and transparently public commons as a creator and disseminator of culture, pop or otherwise. Simply attacking pop culture is a false flag, a path of least resistance.

“From the beginning, scripted television was heavily sentimental but it now encompasses a remarkable mixture of pathologies. Whole programs float on cushions of pure malice, for instance. House became a huge, enduring hit by depicting a brilliant doctor who delights in humiliating his colleagues. Glee has a high-school cheerleading coach who tries to destroy everyone in her way. Entourage focuses on a ruthless talent agent, possibly the most despicable show-business character ever seen on TV. The irascible protagonist of Curb Your Enthusiasm astonishes even himself with his awfulness.

"Within the maelstrom of image, however, certain celebrity types return to the public consciousness again and again. Gwyneth Paltrow is not just Gwyneth. Without Greta Garbo, there is no Grace Kelly; without Grace Kelly, there is no Gwyneth. The power of this particular trope—the blond princess—is huge; Great Garbo was the most charismatic actress in history. Avenue Princess Grace in Monaco is the most expensive stretch of real estate in the world, over twice the per-square-foot value of an average Fifth Avenue apartment. Each manifestation of the Gwyneth/Grace/Garbo figure wears the skin of the previous manifestation. For women, along with the blond princess, we have the blond whore (Mae West, Tallulah Bankhead, Marilyn Monroe, Madonna), the exotic (Sophia Loren, Penélope Cruz), the independent (Katherine Hepburn, Barbara Strei­sand, Ellen Burstyn). Among men, the tough guy, the consummate gentleman, the upstanding fellow, the outsider, the shlub, the permanent child, the destroyed adolescent, the man who consumes himself to death, have all been constantly reinvented. As in any other form of polytheism, gods appear and disappear, built to fit time and occasion and place."

Television and its ancillary services, including YouTube, have become the curators of shared mythology. Who is Susan Boyle but a 21st-century British version of Cinderella? Scorned and ignored, an unlovely 48-year-old, she turned into a princess of mass culture before our eyes while astonished television reporters tracked her progress. Her full-throated, heart-stopping vocal power impressed so many people that her audition tape was watched more than 100 million times.” ( Robert Fulford )

"In the twentieth century, aristocracy by image emerged from aristocracy by talent. The invention of film took the magic of brand-name people and gave it world dominance. Film is celebrity, a something-nothing, a cloudy and vague gloss over reality. The earliest audiences were entranced not by the plots of her films but by Greta Garbo’s face, maybe the purest form of ecstasy the modern world has produced. The experience is both plural and singular, the transmission of an image that spreads everywhere but seems directed at each individual viewer. The illusion of mass intimacy changes celebrities into works of art felt so deeply that they are no longer art—Greta Garbo becomes more interesting than any movie in which her face appears. "

“Religion, like art, philosophy, and any other product of human culture, develops as an essentially futile attempt to solve the problem of civilized discontent­ment; yet as we shall see, Freud has noth­ing better to offer us, for he doubts the very possibility of any gen­uine solution to human unhappi­ness.” ….

Celebrity culture is religion in disguise. It pretends to be junk while giving us the sustenance that we need. Celebrities live like gods; they act like gods. They dwell in the dark recesses of our souls where we crave the images of gods. In the aisles of the supermarkets they stare down at us like the saints and gargoyles that once crowded the cornices of medieval cathedrals with the iconography of suffering, or like sculptures in Hindu temples that celebrate birth, sex, death, re

h. The latest American Religious Identification Survey shows that the fastest growing religious choice in the United States is “none,” now larger than every other group except Baptists and Catholics. Pop culture is rushing in to fill that space, an unacknowledged religion of consumerism, guiding the major transitions of life: birth, adolescence, marriage, sin and redemption, death and life after death.

"JM: It was really fascinating to hear Glenn Beck concoct a conspiracy theory live on the air involving me, the stimulus package, the NEA, the “communist union organizers” and Donald Duck. But honestly it was even more exciting to see another remixer on YouTube take what Glenn Beck said and combine that with a Mickey Mouse cartoon. That remixed response – which built on my video to further the conversation – was ultimately much more a badge of honor for me. That along with the thousands of supportive, insightful, hilarious and sometimes scary comments left by people all over the Internet in response to my video was far more satisfying."

Jonathan McIntosh, Pop Culture Hacker:From my point of view it seems clear that vidding is not only an integral part of remix history but vidding practice can also can teach political remixers an enormous amount on a wide range of practices and techniques. Through my engagement with vids and vidders I have gained invaluable insights about the fannish use of narratives and pop culture characters in remix videos. When I look at vidding I see as a core element the idea that it is possible to simultaneously enjoy and love a television show while also being critical of aspects of the show’s writing, characters, story arc, embedded messages etc.

Most people engage with mass media stories in a subtle and complex way – we both love it and are critical of it. I’m slightly embarrassed to admit this now but I didn’t really understand this tension very well before I learned about vidding. I think that part of the resistance to vidding I encounter from other political remixers might be related to this point. They may be uncomfortable with the fannish and or sympathetic relationship that vidders have to their source because self-conscious political remixers often have a relationship of ridicule or animosity to their source.

Political remix video can be a blunt tool that uses ridicule as a way to expose hypocrisy, illuminate tropes, and talk back to power – but it is a little harder to use the form in more subtle ways (especially if you still want to get the lolz).

"HJ: Political remix makes about the strongest case possible for fair use as a fundamental right of citizenship. Yet, it is clear that our current legal environment does not always support that position. Can you tell us more about how political remix intersects with current debates about intellectual property? JM: We are living in a culture that increasingly speaks in an audio-visual language. Videos which remix, transform, quote and build-on pieces of our shared popular culture are not only valuable to the larger social discourse but are actually an essential part of full participation in society. I absolutely agree that remix is a basic right of communication – it’s the right to communicate using the language of the new media landscape(s). This right extends to all genres of DIY video that appropriate fragments of mass media pop culture including vids, AMVs, machinima, lip-syncs etc....

Read more: http://www.nationalpost.com/opinion/columnists/What+learn+from+idiot/4030916/story.html#ixzz1AG4JsKU4
ADDENDUM:
Greta Garbo famously said “I want to be alone”. These were not her own words, they were the words of her character Grusinskaya in the 1932 film Grand Hotel.

Or were they?

Later Garbo was to say this:

I never said I want to be alone. I only said I want to be left alone. There is all the difference.

And indeed there is.

In fact, the shift that David Willetts and others are trying to make for Conservatives is based precisely on an understanding of the difference between being alone and being left alone. Tory modernisers believe that people want to be left alone, but don’t want to be alone.

Hence my assertion that the quote was of importance.

Yet Garbo’s remark about the quote is puzzling. Study the script of Grand Hotel and it is quite clear that she did say “I want to be alone”.

"In the largest annual Aztec festival, the feast of Toxcatl, a young man, selected by the king, was given complete freedom for a year. He was treated like a god, decorated in white eagle feathers, and given four beautiful wives, but at the ceremony at year’s end, he himself, of his own will, climbed the steps of the temple and willingly suffered his heart to be cut out of his body. Celebrity implies its own destruction. The bigger the celebrity the more glamorous the destruction. The mourners who laid flowers at the gates of Kensington Palace in memory of Princess Diana might well be the same people who kept in business the paparazzi who hounded her to her death. No one knew or cared about her person—they cared about the face on the memorial plate. "

Pauline Kael:. But this would deny those of us who don’t believe in censorship the use of the only counterbalance: the freedom of the press to say that there’s anything conceivably damaging in these films — the freedom to analyze their implications. If we don’t use this critical freedom, we are implicitly saying that no brutality is too much for us — that only squares and people who believe in censorship are concerned with brutality. Actually, those who believe in censorship are primarily concerned with sex, and they generally worry about violence only when it’s eroticized. This means that practically no one raises the issue of the possible cumulative effects of movie brutality. Yet surely, when night after night atrocities are served up to us as entertainment, it’s worth some anxiety. We become clockwork oranges if we accept all this pop culture without asking what’s in it. How can people go on talking about the dazzling brilliance of movies and not notice that the directors are sucking up to the thugs in the audience? …In the sixties, the recycling of pop culture — turning it into Pop art and camp — had its own satirical zest. Now we’re into a different kind of recycling. Moviemakers give movies of the past an authority that those movies didn’t have; they inflate images that may never have compelled belief, images that were no more than shorthand gestures — and they use them not as larger-than-life jokes but as altars. ( Pauline Kael )

http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Pauline_Kael

http://www.laphamsquarterly.org/essays/consumer-products.php?page=all

http://www.rebelliouspixels.com/2010/henry-jenkins-interview

Jonathan McIntosh: The widespread use of automated content ID bots for removing videos from media sharing sites like YouTube has been catastrophic for remix video makers. This practice has brought about huge increases in the number of fair use works being zapped into the void by baseless copyright claims. When a creator’s remix or entire channel is deleted, not only are all their videos lost, so are all their comment, subscribers and playlists.

These video removals leave gaping holes in the Internet – and I mean that quite literally. Video embeds on blogs, forums and social networks are suddenly missing. Tweets and links to remixes are all abruptly dead or lead to YouTube’s notorious pink line of death. In the past month alone five fair use political remix videos I had planned on posting to my blog politicalremixvideo.com have been removed from YouTube for “infringement”. To make matters worse many DIY video creators I speak with are either not aware of their fair use rights or are afraid to rock the boat by challenging the takedowns. As a result, valuable online conversations and visual discussions are being shut down.

"JM: There is no question that powerful corporate and political interests are actively attempting to co-opt the DIY video and remix aesthetic. (I also see this co-optation extending to the re-use of actual viral videos for corporate advertising campaigns like the recent Honda Odyssey ad built around David After Dentist and Kitten Afraid of Remote Control Mouse.) Powerful institutions understand that they have a serious crisis of legitimacy on their hands resulting from widespread public cynicism about advertising. So as genuine DIY videos become enormously popular online, marketers are desperately trying to capture and bottle that sense of authenticity for their own brands. This type of co-option has been happening for decades. Marketers have long been coming in and stealing from various DIY subcultures. But, though advertisers may be able to copy the mechanics of DIY video to mimic the look and feel of low/no budget viral videos, it’s obvious to almost everyone (especially DIY video makers) that these poser videos are made for a very different purpose and with very different messages...."

All of this, for me, highlights a larger problem surrounding our creative new media culture which is that it is all taking place in private corporate spaces. There are effectively zero public spaces on the Internet. The online public square has been completely privatized from the beginning. This strikes me as especially problematic because the development of the Internet was primarily done with public funds. And then it was just unquestionably handed over to corporate interests.

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