Friday, November 2, 2012

A Different Shade of Gray

Maybe I'm being over-saturated with Tumblr images and it's beginning to affect my brain, but I had a very strange realization upon rereading The Picture of Dorian Gray the other day. Generally, in film, Dorian Gray is performed by someone who looks like this:
Even in early black and white versions and in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, he is a dark-haired fellow with serious vanity issues. But here is how he is described by Oscar Wilde:
Yes, he was certainly wonderfully handsome, with his finely curved scarlet lips, his frank blue eyes, his crisp gold hair. There was something in his face that made one trust him at once (18). 
And a few pages later:
He was bareheaded, and the leaves had tossed his rebellious curls and tangled all their gilded threads (23).
Wilde's Gray has golden curly hair. Fangirls/squees of the same genres I inhabit, I hope that I am not alone when I state that this was the first person who popped into my mind when picturing Dorian Gray:
Dammit, Oscar Wilde, I love you, but really? Of course you can't be blamed for me making such an association but still.... the golden curls and everything? *sigh*.... Yes indeed, before I even realized it, my brain had cast the lovely Tom Hiddleston in the role of Dorian Gray. Besides the fact that Hiddleston in this role would be bloody brilliant (hear that, filmmakers of the world? I have a suggestion for you...), the story of Dorian Gray dwells on acting and performance a bit and art in general. And, being the slightly unusual sort of person that I am, I progressed reading the book differently than I would have before due to this mental casting choice. Now, the many mentions of acting and art were constantly being compared to the modern world of acting and my favorite celebs.

At one part of the book, where things starting going a bit... awry for dear Dorian, Basil Hallward, painter, intellectual, and a guy with a serious crush on Dorian, is trying to convince him of his inner goodness and describes his beauty, telling him, " are made to be worshiped" (119). He admits his love and admiration to Dorian, who simply accepts it as a compliment. Basil is a bit put out by this and states, "It was not intended as a compliment. It was a confession. Now that I have made it, something seems to have gone out of me. Perhaps one should never put one's worship into words" (119).

Hi, Basil. I think you're a hardcore fangirl. And I don't think it's going so well for you. 

Basil's reaction to his confession turned compliment caused me to begin pondering something I've often wondered but haven't really delved into too much blogging-wise: what would it be like to meet a celebrity? While Dorian is not exactly a celebrity, he is well-known in the upper class areas of London and the worshiping and idolization people treat him with... well, it's not so far off from celebrity culture itself. And thus, with Basils' confession turned sour, I began to wonder a bit more what the interaction between fans and celebrities is like.

I have very limited experience with this. I saw NASCAR driver Tony Stewart at an autograph signing at the Mall of American when I was twelve. I also saw Marlee Matlin at MOA by accident, when she was doing an autograph signing as well. I'm pretty sure my professor Robin is a celebrity and he's just not telling anyone. Other than that - nada. Sure, I saw President Obama from a distance, but didn't meet him. I've met a few local politicians and such but have never personally met someone we as a society would consider a celebrity. No one who's well known for writing books or making movies or so on. So, I can only ponder what this would be like.

And of course, because the world is a very, very strange, place, I also happened to stumble across these posts online whilst perusing Oscar Wilde's great novel with Dorian Gray cast as Hiddleston in my mind. One such one was this (and it could not make this weird connection between celeb culture and Dorian Gray any clearer to me):
Now, the angle I'm coming at this from might be a bit weird and is going to take a bit of explaining, mainly because it's my strange, pattern-driven brain connecting dots and making strange correlations. So bear with me as I outline this before I fill in the blanks and color in the lines. As you might recall from this blog post with an absolutely absurdist title, Mr. Hiddleston is known for having some complicated fans. This was recently recalled to mind by this post I saw on my dash:

A well-written post that politely but powerfully conveys a point - "fangirling is cool but please don't go to extremes in your adoration." It's interesting for me to read these as someone who has never met a celebrity because, of course, one wonders what his/her reaction would be upon meeting their favorite actor/singer/athlete/etc. I can't speak for other fangirls, but I confess that around 80% of my daydreams involve meeting celebrities and thus, I spend a great deal of time wondering about it. I worry that I would dissolve into either a gelatinous mess or SPEAK LIKE THIS ALL THE TIME IN A HIGH SQUEAKY VOICE AND RAMBLE WITH RUN-ON SENTENCES AND FEEL EMBARRASSED FOR MYSELF AND THEN NOT BE ABLE TO SLEEP WELL FOR A WEEK BECAUSE I'D KEEP REMINDING MYSELF OF HOW MUCH OF A DORK I AM. In retrospect, I don't understand why I find daydreaming about celebrities fun at all. It sounds like it should be kind of stressful, doesn't it?

Here's why it's not; I present to you yet another (surprise, surprise) Tumblr post:

(Okay, hold on, I'm terribly distracted that this post was reblogged from a Tumblr blog titled Lokisspookybooty. Wow, that's a clever use of rhyme. Okay, okay, back on track...)

If, in said daydreams one is doing epic, awesome, impossible things, and actually able to talk in full sentences and not worry about squeaking in a high, strained voice as if one's caplocks was permanently on, then things are different. Also, fighting mountain trolls is never not epic so, you know, kudos to whoever created this post.

Of course, there is still the lingering worry that one would look like a dork, or (perhaps worse) become one of those overly-ecstatic fans that does nothing but screams shrilly and whom other fans dislike for being over-dramatic. Maybe other people don't worry about becoming stalkers, but I worry about this, if only because I have a bit of an addictive personality and thus manage myself with a bit more critical distance and self-reflection than maybe the average fan does (or maybe more of us do it and just never happen to speak of it). If one of my famous actors was in a nearby vicinity, you can bet I'd be high-tailing it over to that location (what are you talking about? I hang out at MSP Airport all the time...). At what point does that become not okay? At what point does it become weird knowing that Tom Hiddleston is in Iceland vs. searching where Tom Hiddleston is currently located vs. being in Iceland and happening to find out that Hiddleston is in Iceland and wandering past that part of town vs. finding out that he is in Iceland and purposefully going to his hotel and pretending to work as a maid to get into his room?

Yeah, that did escalate quickly. Sorry about that. But I feel like that's possibly how this stuff goes. One idea leads to another and then - either suddenly or slowly - you're one of "those" fans. This doesn't happen for everyone, obviously, or even that many at all, but for some it does. Why? Who knows. You'd have to take it as a case by case basis and we'd be here for the next twenty years trying to sort it all out. It's not just a simple "fans did this because of this" answer. It's something a whole lot more complicated.

But, if you want to continue on more complicated... here comes our good friend Oscar Wilde with a fine work of English literature. Clearly, Oscar Wilde was not writing directly about fan culture and he's not going to be able to answer any of the above questions. But his beautiful phrasing and occasional moral ambiguity leaves plenty of opportunities to tie it to modern fan culture. Why? Because Dorian Gray.
Dear Mr. Gray starts off as a lovely, beautiful gentleman with boyish good looks and a heart of gold. He meets the devious Lord Henry Wotton and is "poisoned" by a book that causes him to obsess with vanity, appearances, and hedonism and ends (SPOILERS) ruining people's lives, killing people, and getting generally fucked up. After rereading this, I'm honestly surprised that there hasn't been a huge remake of Dorian Gray as a destroyed Hollywood celebrity - he certainly seems to be the personification of what Hollywood fame is portrayed doing to people such as Lindsey Lohan and Amanda Bynes. Of course, the question remains for these celebrities - what brought them to this? One could argue that it was fan culture, fame itself that drove them towards this. The paparazzi alone must be a burden and being famous tends to be an excuse to act a certain way, at least from the rumors of Bynes saying she's worth $26 million thus she can do whatever she wants.

However, from the Tumblr posts I've shown, it's not things like paparazzi or fame getting to celebs like Hiddleston - it's worrying about the fans. It's fans hacking into his Facebook and spreading rumors that he died (so I'm new to the Hiddleston fandom and had no idea this happened... yikes). It's a fear that love in certain expressions (perhaps in its "confession" form) will change people like Hiddleston and lead them towards a more cynical end. It's an understandable fear, one I'd worry about and one I worry about for myself. It being election season and all, my cynicism is at a higher rate than usual just because all of this finger-pointing is getting old really fast.

But in terms of fan culture, this is really worrying. In The Picture of Dorian Gray, Basil's friendship with Lord Henry leads Henry to meet Dorian and fundamentally change the person that Dorian is. Henry is also a fan of Dorian, but of a different sort, the sort who proclaims, "I love acting. It is so much more real than life" (84). It is not that he confuses reality and fiction but that he finds fiction more real than reality. He is the sort of person cultural studies would greatly dislike and the sort of man the "worst" of fans would be compared to. I honestly don't know if people like Henry exist in our world; he is so humorously dark and complex that I both love and hate him. But then I think of my friend's friend Nick who parties and drinks to excess despite his two DWIs and is fun to be around even though he can be cruel and unkind. And then I want to ask Oscar Wilde how he could possibly be so relevant to modern society despite the fact that he published this book 122 years ago.

To clear up this meandering, I don't think that fans - the average, the extreme, and all in between - are exactly like either Basil or Henry. Perhaps some individuals are, but as a sum total, that's an impossible comparison. However, there are aspects of them that are relevant. Basil's reaction after his confession, for instance. I have never told a famous person that they mean the world to me (not in person, at least). But I can understand how this might backfire. This is rare, I am sure, but I think of cases where one of my favorite famous people suddenly has their reputation tarnished (Lance Armstrong... *sobs*) and how my appreciation for them feels lost. Once, I told an acquaintance how Benedict Cumberbatch was the best thing ever or something to that respect and her response was a sarcastic, "Well, he's one of the best things ever" and I suddenly wanted to curl up in the corner, feeling worthless and rejected and, as Basil said, "as if something seem[ed] to have gone out of me." The point was utterly lost on her and I just felt silly.
And then I think about meeting celebrities more and how many fans they have already met and the impressions they have made and how much I already know about them just from having a Tumblr and realize there is no way in hell I am ever fighting mountain trolls with these guys (the nonexistence of mountain trolls being irrelevant in this instance). I know too much about them to hang out with them like we're bros. I know too much about them to just go up to them and say, "Hey, how's it going? I'm sort of a fan of how you turn every film your in into a majestic cinematic masterpiece." I'd be trying to make small talk about how I like the band Bon Iver with Mr. Hiddleston while secretly knowing he loves Bon Iver and tweets about their music and acting surprised when he tells me this and trying to ignore the fact that I'd feel like a poser for liking Bon Iver as if I'd just started listening to the band because he tweeted it when SECRETLY I'VE KNOW ABOUT BON IVER SINCE I WAS A FRESHMAN AND WHY DO I LISTEN TO THE SAME MUSIC AS HIDDLESTON I DON'T GET IT. (Sorry, caps locks was necessary there for obnoxious effect.) I'd be afraid to act like a fan in case I was being rude and acting like every other person who walked up to them and was only interested because they were famous (this Walt Disney quote I found while writing a paper only made this sort of thing worse: "I have no use for people who throw their weight around as celebrities, or for those who fawn over you just because you are famous." *sigh*). I'd be afraid to not act like a fan because there is too much I know about said celebrity that it'd be weird and creepy and deceitful to pretend otherwise, and because, dammit, I'm proud of being a fan and enjoy it. But I just want to treat them like a normal human being why is that so hard?!

Yeah, this is what I think about when I should be paying attention to motivation concepts in I/O psychology...

In the end, there's this fear that somebody is going to turn into Dorian Gray (minus the Faustian soul-selling with the portrait and whatnot). Either it's going to be the celebrity in terms that fame got to their head or the fans or paparazzi drove them to it, or it's the fans who prove that "they were right when they said we should never meet our heroes" (song lyric from Metric's "Breathing Underwater." Thank you, the Current, for providing random music for me to sprinkle throughout my blog posts). I'm the sort that would like to blame society, the system, something outside and external for influencing us, something beyond Dorian's poisoned book. But then there's this sobering thought:
Depressing, right? It seems we're doomed by our culture, our fascination with fame, whatever you choose to pinpoint what causes our obsession with celebrities, the problems of celebrity culture, the problems of fan culture, and so on. But here's the problem: this assumes we're going to act like Dorian Gray. Dorian, as fascinating a character as he might be, is a bit daft at times. He completely lets Henry influence him and agrees with everything Henry says, no matter how outrageous or unkind it may be. He allows himself to be corrupted. Oh, look - it's an argument about agency. Perhaps if Dorian had resisted Henry's control, he could have thought for himself and kept himself from falling prey to the power of Henry's ideas. Or perhaps Dorian really enjoyed screwing with people and only felt bad about it later when he realized it was destroying his soul. It's up to your interpretation, really. Point is, we're not necessarily Dorian Gray. And neither are our celebrities.

Because here's the clincher: some of them honestly HONESTLY seem to love their fans. They really, really do. Hiddleston wants to sign autographs and talk to his fans. Cumberbatch gushes about all of the support he receives. They seem flattered that their fans care so much, but not like Mr. Gray who gets smug over it - they seem take fan reactions as compliments (ever so humbly) but also understand that we as fans are confessing something, voicing something. In this way, they are fundamentally different from Dorian Gray.

This, of course, is not to say they are "perfect." This holds them to dangerous ideals, the sort that Basil creates in his worship for Dorian, and the sort that I've described as being a bit worried about, as it holds celebrities to unrealistic standards and doesn't allow them to make mistakes. But they're human - they're going to make mistakes. And I feel that if we really care about and appreciate a person, then we're going to support them even in their mistakes.

And so, if I may address you, celebrities: make mistakes. Be unpolished. Mistakes are part of a growing process and part of being human. But stay gold, Ponyboy. (I swear, if you get that last reference, I will buy you a drink of your choice. Seriously. I am getting more and more obscure over here.) That being said, I don't think I really have to say it. These fine young men with their splendid cheekbones don't need my advice and speculations; they seem to be doing rather marvelously without it. But, you know, just in case I'm wrong... here's my ridiculously long post on it. I hope this makes some semblance of sense.

All citations from:
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. Barnes and Noble Classics, 2003.


  1. I've semi-been one of "those fans" once - I went to see a play on a particular evening because I knew Mark Gatiss was going to be in the audience. In my defence, it was a toss up between that play or another anyway, but it was the MG thing that cinched it. I was sort of sick of having lived in London for 2 years and not having spotted anyone famous, even when I've been told I've walked straight past people! But once I was in the theatre, I didn't look for him - I felt that would have been weird. Unfortunately for the play, there was a fire after about an hour and it got cancelled, and it was whilst we were waiting to hear about refunds etc that he walked past me. The friend with me was surprised I didn't ask for an autograph or photo or anything, but I really didn't want them - I wouldn't want to disturb his evening.

    I was also at a friend's play last week, and Tom Hiddleston was in the audience (she's at RADA, and I THINK he's her mentor, but not entirely sure since I heard this from a comment her brother posted on fb and not got round to confirming this yet). Some of the girls I went with were going a little crazy and stalking him all around the bar (because it's not a big place and the bar is essentially big enough to hold everyone). I was very interested in the fact that he was there, and did glance over once or twice, but when they started talking about asking for pictures at the end... again, I really didn't want to. I didn't think we should approach him (we didn't in the end, due to flocking on the friend in the play and asking for her autograph instead :P) - he was in his old school enjoying an evening. Even if it's a public place, it's just not a public situation for him, if that makes sense?

    I'll still probably tease my friend next time I see her that she should become good friends with him and then have a soiree at her house and invite us both, but if I didn't something would be amiss :P. She did introduce me to Frank Dillane (a fellow classmate, and an absolutely vile character in the play) once, but that was not a "have a party and invite everyone I might find interesting to meet" situation, but a "we passed him on the street that contains both mine and her universities" situation :P.

    I'm dreadfully sorry, I'm rambling awfully. And it's all about me and famous people too, urgh. Apologies. This was a very interesting post! And I really need to get around to reading/watching Dorian Grey at some point soon :D

  2. Also he was very tall, and just as attractive in real life as he is in pictures. Damn people who are attractive without the use of photoshop. Life's just not fair >_>'

    1. Don't feel bad for rambling; clearly I am a ridiculous rambler, judging by the length of most of my posts :) Your comments do something mine cannot- showing from experience that celebrities are human beings that go to theater shows and visit their old schools. And I love what you said about it being a public place but not just a public situation. That is so true; there's a really interesting interaction between what is private and public when celebrities are seen at events. It becomes more than just a visit to their old school or a night at the theater because the moment they show up, they're recognizable.

      I'm also caught up trying to imagine what it must be like to live in a city where it's possible to run into Tom Hiddleston and Mark Gatiss. It utterly blows my mind; I know London is a city like any other (though certainly one of my favorites) but it is still stunning. The most famous person I've met in Minneapolis is local author Emma Bull (who was FANTASTIC), but as amazing as she is, it's different than meeting someone who as the idea of "celebrity" attached to their name. There's something about the international renown of a person that makes things more difficult in interacting with them, I think. So kudos to you for how you handled the interactions with Gatiss and Hiddleston; I'm impressed as I'm pretty sure, no matter how level-headed as I might tend to appear on this blog, I would down-right lose my cool if I met either of them. Especially now knowing Hiddleston really is that tall and attractive xD

  3. I am so so appreciative of this post. It's like...all of my feelz about fangirling & fandoms all rolled up into one large musing. Ever since Emma told me about your blog, I have basically been going through the entire thing and nodding my head along with it all.

    The fact that there are other people in the world who share my thoughts when it comes to celebrities is nothing short of astounding, seeing as I spent nearly the entirety of my middle and high school years convincing myself I was a special sort of loser who got too attached to actors or books or whatever.

    ALSO I am in complete agreement with the whole 'what would I do if I ever met a celebrity' thing. I definitely wouldn't want to be that squealing mess, but how would I convey the amount of love I felt for this person without freaking them out? Meeting Dylan Saunders this summer sort of cleared it up for me (I didn't squeal at all and I formed perfectly coherent sentences-win!), but Hiddles and Cumberbatch are definitely on a higher level. So who knows what I would do if I ever met them.

    ALSO ALSO, Oscar Wilde is one of my favorite authors so I sort of geeked out over the crossovers you made. And I appreciate the Outsiders reference. I just really freaking love reading.

    Thank you for existing. =]
    (Maybe that would be okay to say to celebs?)

    -Jordyn, your friendly neighborhood blog stalker ;]

    1. Oh gosh, I'm full of such warm-fuzzy feels I don't know what to say. This is why I love fandoms - people who've been wondering about the same things regarding meeting celebrities and loving Oscar Wilde and totally getting my reference from The Outsiders (clearly I owe you a drink; perhaps another coffee meet-up with you and Emma is in order :D) are out there and it's nice to know I'm not the only who thinks about this stuff. The fact that people like you read my blog and enjoy it so much continues to amaze me. I seriously started this blog on a whim - and I'm so glad I did. I've met some really fantastic people that I wouldn't have otherwise.

      Okay, I'm done gushing, but I'm just so appreciative of all the page views and comments I get out here. And the "thank you for existing" - wow does that mean a lot to me. I'm amazed that you think that of me and that all this means that much to you because, honestly, this blog wouldn't exist at all without fangirls like you. So thank you for existing. (And yes, I think that would be okay to say to celebrities :D)

    2. Yes!! I know my teenage self would have benefited from greatly from realizing that there were other people in the world like her. I guess I'm making up for lost time now, heh. I definitely think another meet-up is in order with miss Emma, if not to talk about wonderful British actors and their respective projects, then definitely to fangirl over our favorite books.

      Fair warning here-I will probably comment on every blog post from now because I'm external processor and it's how I learn best. =]

      Also my 'thank you for existing' comment is completely genuine and not flippant at all. Although I am generally appreciative of all people, I do only say that to a select few lovelies in my life who truly deserve it. And you do, my dear. ;]

    3. Can I fangirl over other fangirls? Is that weird? Thank you, thank you, thank you for your awesomeness and your kindness; I feel so loved :D And feel free to attack my blog with comments, I love comments and hearing what people think about my posts.