After months of glowering like the angst-ridden unpopular kid in his yearbook photo, is fortune slowly cracking a smile? Other than claiming one of our favorite writers, Death has been sort of lazy this week—which actually worked out great for one of our favorite philosopher-scientists—and even our descent into destitution has been downgraded from “everybody slit your wrists” to “uh, maybe just take a bunch of Xanax and see what happens.” It’s no wonder that everyone seems to be taking a vacation from worrying about real shit and instead carping about what wannabe models think about gay marriage; after all, we’ve reached the end of Obama’s first 100 days without any signs of the Apocalypse yet. I mean, yeah, there’s that massive swine flu outbreak spreading its way across the South and killing people by the dozens and sickening thousands—but that’s why they make antibacterial soap, right? Besides what’s a little ol’ pandemic compared to an itchy, persistent outcropping of Friday Buzzkills?
- And oh hosanna, you know that the rivers could be running red and moon turning to sackcloth as we speak, and still we’d be willingly flown to the pearly gates on the wings of Scottish songbird Susan Boyle, who has singlehandedly redeemed the human race by reminding us that not being conventionally attractive and dutifully completing years of singing lessons are somehow not mutually exclusive. What a miraculous tale, and just the inspiration needed to lift us from our global stewing-in-our-sweatpants funk! Except that some cynics out there have to ruin everything with nasty old “context” by pointing out that Boyle’s sudden bloom is both not-so-sudden and a whole lot less bloomier than we think. According to nearly instant investigative reports like this one, not only did Boyle not come straight from her late mum’s deathbed, finally spurred by an existential fearlessness to unleash the song she’d been softly singing from her never-kissed lips into her tear-streaked pillow for lo these many years, she in fact had spent most of her life chasing a singing career, cutting demos, auditioning for TV shows, and even contributing to a charity CD, which makes her not so much “unfairly undiscovered” as "frequently considered and rejected in a setting that didn’t have the benefit of pretending to be a celebration of the commoner"—and in fact, it was those same grounds for rejection that eventually sold her as the perfect reality TV package.
But hey, like we said, that’s just cynicism talking. None of the pageantry involved changes the fact that Boyle is a genuinely lovely singer. What we really find troublesome is how the media and the world at large has now latched onto Boyle as a testament to what all the norms can accomplish, burdening her with our collective blues and setting expectations so sky-high that she can never possibly live up to them. Suddenly, Boyle’s dreams of starring on the West End simply aren’t grand enough: She’s now a symbol for the way your fortunes can change if you just never stop believing they can—just like we’re supposed to feel if we ever want to get out of this durn recession!—which is an ass-load of pressure at best and, to some people anyway, a harbinger of Western society's decline at worst. And hey, why stop there? She’s also a living thesis on the nature of celebrity, a jumping-off point for musing on how it so often confuses actual talent with fuckability, something to be endlessly worried over and pontificated on, including, in the usual ouroboros-style of the blogosphere, worrying over why we’re worrying over so much. (Like we’re doing now! Our ironic distance, she cannae hold!) For realz: Some people have even looked at her and seen God.
That Susan seemingly loves all that attention—and the attention about the attention—doesn’t change the fact that it’s all still backhandedly based on an image of her as the “homely spinster,” which gives the fascination with her an icky undercurrent of pity: We’re supposed to look at her as a walking illustration of “never judge a book by its cover,” but the truth, as many have already pointed out, is that her cover is the only reason we’re interested. If she were pretty or even merely plain, she’d be just another set of pipes, not an “inspiration.” While this is bittersweet and sadly telling about us as a society on its own, what happens when her fortunes really do start to change—for example, after she gets a fancy new makeover? At what point does she become merely another good singer, corrupted by fawning interviews and endorsement deals, and eventually overshadowed by the latest “triumph of the human spirit” story so that she’s tossed into the “remember her?” file by a public who loved and petted and squeezed her until it finally grew bored—even perhaps slightly resentful? Seriously, could she have chosen a more fitting, premonitory song? “I had a dream my life would be / So different from this hell I'm living / So different now from what it seemed / Now life has killed the dream I dreamed.” Oh, just wait…
- Unfortunately, that’s just how it happens with celebrity: It starts with a dream and it becomes an addiction, until before you know it you’ve abandoned everything that used to matter to keep chasing that dragon, sucking dick on the corner just to get enough for one more applause fix. It’s not just Susan Boyle who’s hellbound for corruption; it happens every week here on another Simon Cowell-masterminded fame incubator, American Idol, and while we’ve already seen it turn Scott MacIntyre from a sweet slice of humble pie to a shit-talking muffin, its latest victim is the similarly underdoggy Anoop Desai. Once a charming, slightly goofy brainiac who really knew his way around a Bobby Brown song and whom everyone used to root for because he was an affable nerd who pretended he was a total stud, viewers could see that Desai was slowly starting to believe his “smooth criminal” side was the real Anoop, dawg, which made him that much harder to love. Well, America finally wised up this week and busted him back down a peg, but not before Desai became convinced that he’d found his true calling, announcing that he had dropped out of grad school to follow what he “does best,” which is singing schmaltzy ballads for easily amused white people and Indian-Americans still on a Slumdog Millionaire high.
Of course, once the Idol summer tour ends and Desai is left to fend for himself, something tells us that it’s going to be hard to convince a record company to market him seriously in a genre where Robin Thicke is considered a “breakthrough.” (And no amount of jauntily tilted fedoras or undone bowties are going to help here.) Once the novelty of seeing “that Indian guy from American Idol” sing “My Prerogative” wears off, where will Anoop be? Something tells us his “software designer father and biochemist mother” are going to be slightly less indulgent of his dreams this time next year. (Ask your Indian friends: Their parents really like school. They also have this weird fascination with their kids having actual careers.) Just once couldn’t someone step away from this damn show with some modicum of rationale, recognize that their one-night stand with fame is more than most people get in a lifetime, and be satisfied with that? Must everyone try to up and move into fame’s apartment? Look, the truth is fame was a little drunk, and you’re a nice guy, Anoop, but fame has a lot of love to spread around. Maybe fame will call you later, but like, don’t start making a bunch of plans like you and fame are going steady.
- Still, it’s hard to fault people like Susan Boyle or Anoop for dreaming the dream, as it were, especially when they possess actual talent. The trouble is, likeability will only take you so far. What audiences really respond to are hateful and stupid people—preferably with unearned wealth and senses of entitlement—humiliated repeatedly for their self-aggrandizing tendencies, while we simultaneously justify those tendencies by turning them into de facto celebrities. Mmm yes, that’s delicious viewing! Hence the unstaunched flood of arterial bleeding from America’s decapitated head that is reality television, which only continues to pool and congeal around our increasingly useless feet with each passing season.
From the same black heart that pumped Keeping Up With The Kardashians all over your nice clean floor, the coming year will find America’s favorite family of famewhoring holograms dividing and spreading like a simpleminded-even-for-a-single-cell zygote into the spin-off Kourtney And Khloe, where kameras will kapture the spores that kling tenaciously to sister Kim’s buttocks as a gentle breeze shakes them loose and lifts them off to Florida, where they will then glide into their very own boutique and pretend to work until the network grows tired of paying their bills. Still can’t get enough nepotism? Don’t worry: You’ll also have The Lamas Family, which follows defiantly untalented actor and amateur cellulite inspector Lorenzo Lamas as his children—including daughter Shayne, the former Bachelor heartbreaker who just couldn’t seem to make true love work with her British fiancée (but hey, it’s cool if she keeps this ring, right?); son A.J., currently following in his father’s footsteps by going from not being very good on soap operas no one watches to not being very good in movies no one sees; and daughter Dakota, an “aspiring musician." (Guess which one will: a) get a pointless record deal on a boutique label; b) get slapped with a DWI in the next couple of years; c) pose for Maxim. If you guessed "Shayne" for all three, you could come work for us.)
- And that’s what we want, after all: We may pretend that we want to see ordinary people overcome incredible odds to succeed, but that’s actually giving ourselves far too much credit. No, the truth is we want to see extraordinary people who already have everything try to get everything else they believe they deserve and then fail miserably, because it is funny and makes us feel better about our own middling existence. And what we definitely don’t want to see are moving stories about complex heroes solving equally complicated problems without using big guns or fast cars—or at least, that’s what The Hollywood Reporter said this week when it asserted that adults are “steering clear” of movies, ignoring headier fare like seeing Russell Crowe whack society on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper in State Of Play, and giving theaters over to kids so they can “sext” each other during Hannah Montana. The result is a lot of studios are scaling back the production budgets on “adult-skewing” films and reconsidering their subject matter: “With an R-rating you're playing to an older audience, and the subject matter has to be something besides politics,” one distribution exec says. “People at the moment are kind of fed up with that stuff."
- Indeed: How bored are you guys with all that politics stuff right now? It’s like, we already elected Change, so why is Change always pre-empting Two And A Half Men? How are the networks supposed to make any money in this recession when Change always wants to drone on about how he plans to fix this recession? And if, God forbid, you absolutely have to write an “adult-skewing” film, at least make sure you hire an expensive script doctor to make it a little more Tom Cruise-y so it’s worth getting off the couch for.
- But it’s not just Obama who’s always mouthing off like he was elected president of your damn living room or something: His fellow celebrities all have a bone to pick with various things, and darn it, they’re not going to let a little thing like a short-sighted understanding of the consequences prevent them from espousing their potentially dangerous opinions. A guy like Jackie Chan doesn’t have time for mealy-mouthed considerations; when it comes to the issue of possible democracy in China, he’s gonna reach right out and touch it like it’s a black man’s radio, and tell everyone in the room that he believes that “the Chinese need to be controlled” and “I’m not sure if it’s good to have freedom or not,” because that’s the kind of high-kicking loose cannon he is. (A loose cannon that wants to have his every move watched closely by a totalitarian authority—the rarest of all loose canons.)
- The same goes for Stephen Gyllenhaal, self-proclaimed poet and father to Maggie and Jake, who emulated his scions’ indie spirits with his totally edgy, system-bucking assertion that Bernie Madoff should be freed because, like, he’s totally just a scapegoat, man, and “at least Bernie had the decency to admit he was a liar.” (Note: It is possible that Gyllenhaal is engaging in Swiftian satire here, in which case he’s not being maddeningly illogical. Just not very funny.)
- And what would a week of ill-informed celebrity statements be without a little autism talk? Picking up the “offering unsolicited and unqualified medical advice” torch from his girlfriend Jenny McCarthy, recovering funnyman Jim Carrey also took to The Huffington Post to propagate their pet “vaccines probably cause autism” theory, based on “the anecdotal evidence of millions of parents who've seen their totally normal kids regress into sickness and mental isolation after a trip to the pediatrician's office,” which to Carrey is reason enough to suspect the entire medical and scientific community of a vast conspiracy to repress findings linking vaccines and autism. Yes, by all means, Jim Carrey, continue to put science and your celebrity in the ring and make ’em duke it out. It’s not like anyone’s lives are riding on it or anything…
- A master of rollicking adventures and capturing breathtaking action sequences, British director Ken Annakin first made his mark with a series of wartime documentaries, a subject he would later revisit several times in huge WWII epics The Longest Day and, most famously, Battle Of The Bulge. But Annakin wasn’t just about grimfaced men and their guns: He also excelled at madcap comedies like Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines, swashbuckling folktales like The Story Of Robin Hood And His Merrie Men, and one of the most beloved live-action movies in Disney history, Swiss Family Robinson. He also surprised many with smaller, character-driven pieces like the British crime drama The Informers and the dark Graham Greene adaptation Across The Bridge. Annakin’s long career ended with 1988’s The New Adventures Of Pippi Longstocking, and a pair of Genghis Khan-related projects he attempted were never completed. (On a side note: It was long rumored that George Lucas borrowed his friend’s name for Anakin Skywalker, though Lucas, ever the buzzkill, denied this in Annakin’s obituary.) Annakin died this week at the age of 94—coincidentally on the same day and at the same age as his Fifth Musketeer cinematographer Jack Cardiff, a long-respected veteran of the industry who won an Oscar for his work on Black Narcissus. Both Annakin and Cardiff were tireless and influential craftsmen who never quite received the household fame afforded to some of their more flash-in-the-pan contemporaries. Man, why did they even bother?
Have a super weekend!