There was a time, granted it wasn’t when I was alive, but there was a time when the movie star was a revered position in America. He/She told us what to smoke, what to drink, what to wear but that wasn’t all. They told us what was American. There was a bizarre sense of patriotic duty in their work, perhaps because there was a stronger need for patriotism, but I’m not here to theorize on the state of affairs in present-day America.
The relationship between the movie star and the American public. The movie star needed people to continue to go to their movies. The American public needed someone to idolize, to revere almost. For a long time, that was the way it worked, with countless PR folks controlling the strings and doing all the behind the scenes work to hide any trace of flawed humanity. This helped to establish the golden age of screen culture. Sure, it was a messy business, but the men and women behind the scenes didn’t care as long as their pet project stayed out of the gossip columns. The American people at home? I find it hard to believe they really didn’t know that there was a darker side to Hollywood, but it was almos mutually agreed that nobody talked about it. It wasn’t an age of decency, it was the packaging, production, and placement of the American dream. “What’s that? Donna Reed uses Mop and Glo? You should too!” It was all about the money, but at least there was this false promise of purity.
Now what do we have? We have celebrities doing, I’m sure, the same thing that people did in the golden age of celebrity screen culture, we just have different needs this time around. Now, your average American doesn’t want to be sold a pack of Virginia Slims by some big-eyed starlet. No, now we want that element of flawed humanity. We want to know that these big names make the same mistakes as us. In fact, if at all possible, we want them to make bigger mistakes than us. Today’s celebrity culture wants to strip away the layers and see that everyone’s just as fucked as everyone else.
There are a variety of contributing factors, but who’s the real culprit? Why, it’s everybody’s best friend, technology. I mean, the blame can’t be squarely placed on the shoulders of Twitter and cell phone cameras. After all, celebrities do have to take responsibility for their own actions like the rest of us. Still, this fascination of the reality of the American celebrity (or celebreality for short) is this. The constant level of exposure usually leads to one of two extremes; either the American public is smitten or they quickly become disenchanted and disengaged from the work the celebrity produces based on their actions in real life. One of the more recent examples is the whole Mel Gibson racist, anti-semitic rant. I was disgusted by what he said, as I hope most people were. However, it is his personal life that informs us on his professional life. If we had never heard that rant, would people be more likely to see his movies? Well, maybe not because he doesn’t seem to make much these days… plus, there’s that whole DUI thing… but if he did, without this exposure to the inner most workings of his seriously depraved mind, none of us would have known any better.
I’m not taking a stance either way. Believe me, I hate that most of us, myself included, have gotten to point of judging people based on anything besides their work, but in certain instances, they’re just too horrible in real life that it’s impossible to avoid. Still, I’m just saying, there’s no way Frankie Avalon would’ve tried to pull this shit. We’ve come along from the birth of celebrity culture to our star obsessed celebreality.