Sunday, July 29, 2007

Today's Celebrity: Living La Dolce Vita

Lindsay Lohan dominated the headlines last week when she was arrested for cocaine possession and driving under the influence after chasing her former personal assistant’s mother around Santa Monica. This happened less than a month after Lohan, barely twenty-one, was released from rehab.

This is certainly not the first of erratic displays from Lohan. Last year, while filming Georgia Rule, producer James G. Robinson threatened to sue her for constantly showing up over an hour late to set, often hung over. Robinson wrote to Lohan:

"You and your representatives have told us that your various late arrivals and absences from the set have been the result of illness; today we were told it was 'heat exhaustion'. We are well aware that your ongoing all night heavy partying is the real reason for your so-called 'exhaustion'."

Also dominating the “news” this week was Britney Spears’ crazed, belligerent behavior at a photo shoot for OK! Magazine that was supposed go with an article declaring her comeback after years of similar (and highly publicized) behavior since her marriage, divorce and pregnancies.

In other news, Nicole Richie was sentenced to four days in jail for driving under the influence after taking her “Mercedez Benz the wrong way down California State Route 134 highway in Burbank. After failing an on-field sobriety test, Richie admitted to having smoked marijuana and taking a vicodin painkiller. (imdb)”. Richie is rumored to currently be pregnant with the child of Good Charlotte’s lead singer, Joel Madden.

All this happened mere weeks after Paris Hilton was released from jail.

And this stuff gets more media attention than the Iraq war.

For years, young girls have admired this quartet of young women who have really done nothing with their clout and fortune but be famous and act famous. Spears hasn’t released any new music since 2005. Lohan hasn’t been in a successful film since Mean Girls in 2004, which wasn’t even that enormous of a hit in terms of box office gross. Hilton and Richie don’t really have jobs—they aren’t singers or actresses, though they’ve tried and failed; they only exist to give OK! Magazine and the like something to write about. (And no, being on a reality TV show doesn’t count as a “job”.) Lohan and Spears are no better. They aren’t artists, they don’t have any work ethic (ie. you’re not an actress if you show up an hour late on set), and they don’t make any real contribution to society.

These four overwhelming media figures play without work. They live a life of privilege without justification. They have no gifts, talents or words to share with the rest of us, no practical purpose in the natural order of the world. They are, quite literally, useless human beings. And yet we lavish them with attention.

If I had a daughter who admired somebody like Paris Hilton, I would shield her from every media outlet I possibly could. That America’s young have come to admire people who are famous for neglecting work, family or any moral responsibility whatsoever in favor of endless nights of partying is frightening. That girls barely in their double digits actually consider a hotel heiress to be a role model—one who is arguably most famous because of her sex video—should be enough to give alarm to us all. Or, at least, one would hope.

With this quartet’s recent string of stints with the law, drugs and outright insanity, I hope, I hope, I hope this is the beginning of the end of this type of media infatuation. I hope Americans who once admired these figures will see how these celebrities' lifestyles have caught up with them, that a life free of responsibility certainly has its consequences.

Then the paparazzo can turn their cameras where they rightfully belong: Brangelina and Tom Cruise.

I saw La Dolce Vita (1960) last week for the first time in years. The film admires a movie star life without consequence or commitment, but then slowly reveals how this lifestyle makes it impossible to make any real connection with a human being. Fellini allows us to admire the beauty of "la dolce vita", but at the same time realize its hollowness. The infamous scene at the Trevi fountain is perfectly indicative of this. Celebrity journalist Marcello (Marcello Mastroianni) admires voluptuous movie star Sylvia (Anita Ekberg) as she gracefully meanders in the fountain. But, as soon as Marcello joins her and tries to kiss her, the entire moment sobers: the fountain stops running, the sun comes out, and no connection has been made.

La Dolce Vita is credited for giving the English language the word “paparazzi,” as the journalists who stalk celebrities in the film are referred to as “paparazzo (little birds)”. Fellini makes the audience experience the characters of La Dolce Vita as if we too were paparazzi. We have little knowledge of the aspirations, wants, or needs of these characters. There is no psychological element here, no third dimension. We are simply intrusive observers of the lives of the rich and famous.

It is unclear, for the most part, what types of films the actress Sylvia makes, or why a figure like Maddalena (Anouk Aimee) gets so much media attention. It doesn’t matter what these people are famous for, it only matters that they are celebrities. Their fame is their career.

Such is the status of today’s dominant media figures. It doesn’t matter what Lohan, Spears, Hilton and Richie have done to become famous, for they have ingrained themselves in our national consciousness and vocabulary to such a degree that they don’t need to make films, release albums or appear on television to continue to be famous. Their fame is literally their career.

(There’s one scene where Marcello and Maddalena drive a prostitute around town and, when she enters the car with these two, it becomes evident that even women of the night have a better work ethic than privileged celebrities...)

Fellini predicted how a then-recent cultural phenomenon would grow exponentially. Some saw Fellini’s film as satirizing the celebrity/media relationship when it first became an international sensation almost fifty years ago, but today’s cult(ure) of fame has reached such ridiculous degree that it’s beyond satire. Back in the day, an actor or musician would have had to continue releasing work to continue being in the media spotlight—not today. Our society not only worships mediocre music (Spears) or unprofessional acting (Lohan), but they worship singers that don’t sing and actors that don’t act. When Paris Hilton announced her “retirement” last year, the big question on everyone’s mind was, “retirement from WHAT?”

Princess Diana was killed almost exactly ten years ago. Di was a celebrity beyond celebrity, a figure that actually exceeded the media attention Americans bestow on their celebrities. But unlike today’s headliners, Di—a kindergarten teacher-turned-princess with a humanitarian heart—actually made an effort to do some good in the world. Her unfortunate death is the only celebrity death that immediately comes to mind that was actually caused by paparazzi.

Paparazzi have a frighteningly influential role in our culture. As evidenced by the case of Princess Diana, they aren’t just intrusive observers, but have direct consequence on their subjects. The endless attention they have given to Lohan, Spears, Hilton and Richie only encourages the quartet's irresponsible behavior. Not that these 21-26-year olds aren’t accountable for themselves, of course. Their own accountability is the one thing they’ve all failed to fully realize.

I just really, really want it all to stop.



Michael said...

Nice post Lando, I completely agree. Isn't it fascinating how the media leads to the deteriorating morals of youth culture. I feel like its such a ingrained part of society these days. Our generation is so bombarded by coverage of these celebutantes that its almost old hat when they do something wrong. It desensitizes us to immorality and gives us a false sense of entitlement. Do you think the fact that we are so fascinated by these people is a representation of what our generation holds important, or do you think our generation holds important certain things because we've been so conditioned? Or maybe its a little of both, a cycle where we perpetuate what we see, and in turn support media that perpetuates these ideals.

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