this Tumblr post):
“This is probably going to get quoted in every publication just because I said it. And I’m not even saying anything. I’m not talking about my films, I’m not talking about my life, and I’m not talking about the world. And yet, the media will print it simply because I said it. And at this moment in time, I bet there is an artist around the corner of this hotel, on the street, with a mind far beyond ours, but we will never listen to him simply because he has not appeared in a movie. And that is what is fucked up about our culture.”(Okay, so I feel kind of weird quoting RD Jr on a quote in which he says, "Everyone's going to quote me on this." But he said it and I didn't so... gotta give cred, bro. Otherwise it's plagiarism... right?)
I thought of this because we were discussing how films fit different categories of culture - elite and mass. Mass culture is what we usually call pop culture (though popular culture is actually, according to cultural studies terms, not common and probably non-existent thanks to the existence of Ideology) and comprised of things like Hollywood blockbusters, prime time television, and Furbys.
But back to culture distinctions. Mass culture is pretty straightforward. Elite considers itself "high art for an enlightened minority." Think art house films, certain kinds of modern art, and yuppies eating muffins and drinking organic coffee while watching art house films and looking at certain kinds of modern art (FYI, this is me way more often then I'd like to admit).
Most of the time, we're caught between making art that's considered elite or mass. Popular art is very hard to make (and like I said before, probably impossible to get at due to Ideology) because it requires people to just make art, not because they need to for money and not as a hobby (as that implies they have a "real" job that earns them money), to not distinguish between producer and consumer, and to avoid defining people by what they do - instead, they just do it.
We were discussing how certain films (The Battle of Algiers was the one we watched) uses non-professional actors to keep the focus on the issues the film deals with rather than on celebrity associations with big-named actors. This got us into a conversation, stemming from discussions of mass culture, about why we use big-name actors in the first place. And thus my brain went instantly to Robert Downey Jr's quote.
Which then caused me to arrive at a different idea: why do we hold actors in such esteem? I mean, obviously what they do does take a lot of skill and its mind-blowingly impressive. But why do we have favorite actors? I mean, it's not like I write blog posts about my favorite plumber (but man, I should. Plumbers are AMAZING). The whole fascination with acting is bizarre. Especially the stratification that come with it. In what other career (except in probably music) do people regard you as a higher being, better than the common person, like gentry amongst the peasantry? I've described it before as actors taking the place for this sort of yearning we have for royalty in America and, perhaps in some ways, a desire to marry royalty. But really, what does it all come down to? Money.
I am of the sound mind that money is an entirely ridiculous concept. Little pieces of paper that are worth certain amounts based on current exchange rates based on our economy compared to others, all which only has meaning because we decided that this shiny stuff called gold was worth some serious value? Absurd. However, I also know too well that I need money in order to have any sort of perceived success in life and, more importantly, to keep from starving and freezing to death. I want to not care about money, but that's utterly impossible. And thus, like many other twenty-somethings, I find myself thinking about wealth. And wealth and fame - as the two are often described as going hand in hand.
As my brain's been doing weird things, I began thinking about this in terms of celebrity culture. This is generally the vibe I get from people talking about celebrities - that they're in another sphere from them, they could never, ever meet them because there's 7 billion people in the world and they don't inhabit the same locales they do. Which reminded me of this Tumblr post:
I can understand this, to a point. I grew up in Indiana. The coolest thing there, aside from Indianapolis and the universities, are a lot of cornfields. A LOT. (Indiana, I love you, but you used a cornfield as the background of your license plates for cars. You're playing up your own stereotype; c'mon guys.) But on the other hand, I feel like this comes from a sense that some places are prioritized over others. I've lived in the Midwestern United States my entire life and am no stranger to the concept of "flyover country," the idea that everything between LA and New York doesn't matter. Most of the time, this is an unfair stereotype of East and West Coasters. Sometimes, people actually act like everyone not from New York or LA is uncivilized. And because this exists, people start worrying that the Midwest is actually that uncool.
Which is total crap. Minnesota is one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen. Wisconsin's great too (especially around the Great Lakes). Missouri is wonderful (especially the Hill District). But LA does have the film industry and that's why actors are there and not out here. There are certain places to work to make it big, and those places happen to be LA and New York, and thus actors aren't here because the work is different - there's less money to be had.
Of course, we're thinking about certain kinds of actors - famous ones, the recognized ones RD Jr is referring to. There are a lot of actors in the Midwest, especially in Minneapolis and Chicago. There are a lot of community theaters here too and I've seen some really wonderful productions from them. But that's the point RD Jr is making - these aren't the sort of actors we think of. We respect and admire famous actors more than the people in our local communities. Why that is comes from a lot of things. Famous actors make more money, appear more successful, are perhaps more talented. They are under certified scrutiny and have thus succeeded in a way unknown actors haven't because they have been weighed and measured and found promising by the media. And thus they find a sort of success others don't.
This puts me in a very complicated as a fansquee (yes, I'm adopting this word now. The more I use this term, the more I like it and, for the greater good of the world, I'm using it. Reasons for why can be found here. Any confusion that arises from using it... Oh well. Confusion can be good). I really, really like famous actors. If it's not apparent by now that I really admire Cumberbatch and Freeman, you must be new here (and hello!). And I feel I have every reason to admire these two, along with a gaggle of others: they're clever, hard-working, humble, talented... I could go on, but I'll refrain from the long list of praising attributes I could come up with.
But then there's people like Kristen Stewart.
One could argue that she isn't actually acting. But, because I don't know anything about her other than what I see onscreen, I can't make that claim. All I know is that when I see her assume a character, I can clearly tell she's acting. Not in a "I'm non-professional and haven't done this before" kind of way but more like I can see all the director's instructions written across her face, like she's been told what to do but it doesn't sink in any deeper. It's like looking at the floor of a theater and seeing all the marks used to show actors where to stand, and not because she wants us to know she's acting but more out of carelessness. This probably sounds uncommonly cruel and I don't mean it to be. It's perhaps a matter of taste. But she is also the most highly paid actress in Hollywood. And as I happen to find her style far less satisfactory and achievement-worthy than say someone like Mr. Cumberbatch or Mr. Downey Jr., Ms. Stewart continues to bother me.
And since this post is meandering on forever and I haven't even gotten to the stream of thought that prompted the title, I might as well take another detour. Who's to say that one form of acting is better than another? Who is allowed to have that authority? Theater critics? Other actors? Viewers? Peanut galleries such as myself? Do I perceive Kristen Stewart as a bad actress because she actually is bad or because we have a certain idea of what good is and she simply doesn't fit my definition of if? Is acting all a matter of taste or is there really a proper way to do it? Does bad acting remind us more that we're simply watching a representation of a character onscreen more? Can this be better achieved by good acting? Is it up to acting to remind us that we're watching a film? What IS the goal of acting?
I need to bring this gif back...
Before I get too far down the dark, scary road of metaphysics and phenomenology or anything of that nature (which is currently where I feel like I'm headed), I'm going to reroute myself to "simpler" thing. Meaning things I could at least discuss without my head exploding.
Amongst all of this thinking about acting, fame, and money, I began contemplating a very strange thing: how isolating fame can be. The general line of thought is that because one is famous, everyone knows and loves you. That's generally why most people want to be famous. It is, of course, not so simple. And this really came to light when I read a Franz Kafka story for class last spring.
I've prattled on before about the distancing that comes from being a celebrity. I mean, when our magazines come up with stories like this, we sort of have a problem:
Sarcasm aside, this really bothers me. A lot. Way more than it should for a random, blogging college student who has had zero interaction with celebrities. But it does. People who meet celebrities apparently get criticized for not being their biggest fans and having conversations with them (so what, she's a Twilight fan and therefore isn't allowed to hang out with Cumberbatch? What crap. I would hang out with Robert Pattinson if I had the chance. He makes fun of himself for playing Edward Cullen. And saves snails (Snail talk begins around 3:11, if you watch the video). Therefore he is awesome.) (And honestly, I will pretty much talk to anyone these days. I listened to someone talk about cement dome houses for over an hour at a wedding reception. Not to impugn Robert Pattinson as an interesting conversationalist; I guarantee he is far more interesting than cement domes.) Despite my fansquee nature, I'd like to think I could revere an actor and yet still talk to them without treating them like a rare breed of Alaskan muskrat or something.
But then I remember what, in part, freaks people out about celebrities: money. Because people with high levels of wealth get treated differently. And lots of money tends to freak people out.
Example: I was at the Mall of America with my friend Kevin a couple of weeks ago. We were in Nordstroms, looking at clothing we could not possibly afford. I found a woman's leather jacket I thought was cool and pulled the hanger out to get a look at it. And then I saw the price tag and almost died.
So you can't see the jacket in these photos Kevin took, but that's irrelevant. What you can see is me holding the price tag and trying not to freak out (especially as a clerk had just come by moments before and asked if we needed any help). $995 for a coat. From a girl who shops at H&M and Target and at second hand boutiques, and, when she's being spendy, Macy's, this is an unfathomable amount of money.
And a few days later I saw this Tumblr post about a jacket Senore Cumberbatch has been known to wear. Someone tracked it down, found out it was Westwood, and decided to share the price with the Tumblr fandom. In case, you know, you feel like dressing yourself or someone you know like Benedict Cumberbatch (maybe kind of creepy but that's a topic for another time).
But it's £817 ($1,094).
Which is really a rather silly thing to be worried about. Because I didn't care until I knew how much the coat costs. Which seems like a pointless thing to care about. If appearances don't matter and I don't care about money, then clearly I shouldn't care about the price of someone's clothing. And yet once I know, things are suddenly more complicated. And hence my weird feelings about money.
I don't know what I'm prattling on about here. I only have thoughts, not answers. I'm not calling for the dissolution of a monetary society or anything like that. Our idea of earnings go much deeper than just paper and gold. It's an idea of having earnings that we cling to and one that can't just be easily erased. As long as we see work being worth something, and certain types of work worth more than others, then this is how things are. It's not the most terrible, awful thing in existence, but it's rather bad at times. In short, it's complicated.
So of course I have no answer to this predicament. Nor should I; it's not something easily solved and I'm not authority on the matter. I'm not a political science major or an economist or a philosopher or a Marxist; I'm just a bizarre fangirl making things awfully complicated and confusing. Yay!
I'd like to be able to invite artist to tea, regardless of career, status, intellect, etc. I'd like to be able to invite Academy-award winning actors to tea without having to worry about not being impressive enough or interesting enough. I'd like to actually believe that we as a society can treat celebrities as equal instead of putting them at a lofty height and isolating them at the same time. I'd like to think that thinking this way would start to ease some pretty big divides. Because it's just two people, having a chat over tea. What's more simple than that?
The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. Translated by Alison Anderson. Europa Editions 2008.
"Josephine the Singer, or the Mouse Folk" by Franz Kafka. Unknown Edition.
Monstrous Regiment by Terry Pratchett. HarperCollins 2003.