Friday, February 14, 2014

The Prestige, Part 2

I was in a coffee shop in Northeast Minneapolis Wednesday, catching up with my friend Jordyn about my London trip and life in general. The conversation turned to Tom Hiddleston, based upon my seeing Coriolanus at the Donmar, and Jordyn mentioned an interview Mr. Hiddleston had done recently in which he'd said this:
("I don't want to sound like a twat, but sometimes you just don't want to stop and take a selfie.")

Curious about this, I considered looking for the interview, but thanks to entity that is Tumblr, I didn't even have to look - it found me. This post came across my dash and, while I generally wouldn't link to someone's Tumblr blog, I think it's important. I also came across the interview mentioned above on the same Tumblr user's blog and gave it a look-through.
This situation is one I have given much thought to recently. After seeing Coriolanus and, while not having any overtly negative experiences at the stage door but feeling very odd about it, hearing about negative experiences people did have, and thinking about the show itself, along with the assortment of thoughts collected in the first prestige post, I have been juggling issues of celebrity culture in the back of my brain for the last few weeks. Shakespeare's play, with its consideration of acting, playing parts, and assuming roles to please the public is full of allusions that could be made to represent current issues within celebrity culture. While seeing the performance, I thought perhaps it was just me looking for these issues in a staging with a lead actor who, in what I believe is his first return to theatre since the rise of his cinematic popularity, might be juggling issues of performing in a small theatre with a world-wide fanbase. I didn't want to conflate what I was perceiving socially about the actor with what I was seeing onstage, though I couldn't help but notice it. After reading both the Tumblr post and the interview, I'm wondering if perhaps I was on to something.

The Tumblr post is poignant and refreshing. It's great to see someone analyzing both their position as a fan along with issues going on in the fandom in a way that is personal, touching, and wonderfully phrased. C.J., the blogger who wrote this, says things that I have precisely been thinking about myself.

C.J.'s initial reaction of feeling foolish and guilty was how I felt reading the quote discussing odd fan experiences as well. Not long ago, I wrote a blog post formed as a letter written to Mr. Hiddleston. I often regret writing that post because, while it did provide a certain way for me to grapple with my more fannish thoughts, I am not certain it was the best choice of mine to publicly share it. However, I did not share it with said celebrity in question, so perhaps it isn't that different from the other usual shenanigans I get up to out here on my blog.

I also love C.J.'s comment on not regretting being able to thank him in person - given the experiences shared, this must have been a wonderful opportunity and one well deserved, and also gives light to the fact that interactions between fans and celebrities do not have to be weird.

But there are some weird things. I thought I had noticed the same "subtle shift" in Mr. Hiddleston's attitude that C.J. notes and, after seeing Coriolanus, felt the production had some influence upon that. As a would-be dramaturge and academic of theatre, I am trying to imagine what it must be like to leave work each day with throngs of fans waiting outside, how one can focus knowing that after the show you as an actor will face a very large, public entity that is very intent on seeing one person and having their desires met. Having started in theatre and now returning to it after being in the "Hollywood spotlight" was something really exciting for Mr. Hiddleston. But now I worry that issues involved with fandom and fame might make it less likely for him to continue to do this in the future.

There are two paragraphs that C.J. absolutely nails - okay, the entire post nails it but I particularly like these and am going to include them here:
Tom, and every other celebrity, is a HUMAN BEING. He is quite rightly entitled to respect and privacy. He is a human being. He is NOT Loki. He is NOT the characters he plays. He is his own person, with his own beliefs and morals. He is under NO obligation to interact with fans the way that he does. He DOES NOT owe you anything. He is NOT the embodiment of your fantasy, who will drop to his knees and profess his love for you when you finally meet him.
I feel both angry and guilty that the entire fanbase has been relegated to “insane” and “obsessive” because of the actions of a few. I feel that we can never apologise enough to Tom for the behaviour of certain people within the fanbase. I feel that we will never be taken seriously as people, due to how the media has interpreted this behaviour (do not even get me started on the interviews involving fanart).
Again, nailed it. I so grateful I had the opportunity to Coriolanus performed, if not simply because it was a marvelous show and with actors of an amazing caliber, but also because seeing a favorite actor of mine perform live utterly changes things. I know I've said this all before, but seeing someone the internet is so fascinated by in the flesh adds a different dimension. It gave me a certain sort of clarity and understanding that, yes, Mr. Hiddleston is a real human being, not a fairytale entity. I know nothing about this human being and yet I still regard him with utter respect and admiration. While it has made it insanely difficult for me to deal with fandom behavior, both on my part and on the internet now, it's a dimension I'm grateful to now have.

There's another layer to add on to this, thanks to my having seen Anton Chekhov's The Seagull last weekend. Though it is described as a comedy and, when performed, is actually quite funny, the play ends very tragically for many of the characters involved. In Act II, there is a fascinating conversation between the young woman, Nina, who longs to become a famous actress, and the esteemed writer Trigorin who, while claiming to not care about his fame, constantly yearns to be as well regarded as other Russian authors. On one hand, there is something sympathetic about Trigorin - he seems confused by Nina's obsession with him and his fame, thinking him such a genius, while he expresses that such thoughts are "like gumdrops, which I never eat." He sees writing as something he has to do, to the extent that every bit of daily conversation, everything that happens he must "capture and lock up in the back of my brain" (Chekov 132-133). But Trigorin also uses his fame for a terrible end, having an affair with Nina and leaving her when he is no longer interested, destroying her "like a seagull" which is killed earlier in the play and Trigorin considers writing about, using Nina as source material. The story that Trigorin aims to write is the story that he enacts on Nina and the one which ruins her life.Though there seems to be more than one seagull in this play, Nina is the one who recognizes it on stage, and grapples with it, muttering, "I'm the seagull...No, that's not it," seeming almost crazed by her struggles (Chekhov 158).

Seeing how fascination with fame and misunderstandings of it can be destructive is a powerful piece to this puzzle. In the play, it's a fan and a aspiring actress who is impacted by longing for fame and injured by someone who is not self-aware of how fame has affected them. Trigorin is unhappy with his status and is consumed by trying to better it, unaware of how his own yearnings and desires work to destroy those of Nina's.

After writing my previous prestige post, seeing something like The Seagull is troubling. Fame can be destructive and Nina's mumbling, "I'm the seagull" is terribly heartrending. I don't want actors to become seagulls, to see them destroyed by the very things that could have led them to greatness - other actors, fandoms, celebrity culture itself. While it's a shame that Mr. Hiddleston has to say things like he doesn't want to stop and take a selfie and that he has to change the way in which he interacts with his fans, it's for the better. As the commenter says on the selfie quote, it's time for him to stick up for himself. He deserves respect and privacy not to have his kindness and open regard with fans be taken advantage of. It's a shame that it isn't already understood that he doesn't always want to stop and take a selfie and that fans don't always recognize this.

It's also good hearing this from an actor, to get a perspective on how they feel. One of the many things I loved about the Jack Gleeson video in the other post was him being so open about his feelings on celebrity culture, which is something I feel isn't often discussed as it's often pretended there isn't a problem. But how often do we really get to hear actors speak as themselves on issues pertinent to their careers? How often do we hear them speak as something other than a character and on something beyond the often banal questions they get asked in interviews? One reason I love the Academy Awards is because I get to see actors as themselves, if some public presentational version of themselves, and hear them speak about acting as actors, not characters. Speaking of which, I really wish Shia Labeouf would illuminate his art project thing he did in Berlin:

I admit that I am a strange soul in a strange situation. I want to work as an academic as well as work in theatre. I want to remain a fan but gain a different perspective, one that is partially insider and also self-reflective. I want to be able to handle having a Loki poster on my wall and going to work in an environment in which (if I'm really really fortunate) people might have worked with Mr. Hiddleston. But it's hard to juggle these things when most media forms continually pull out celebrities as different, stratified, not like the rest of us. When the environment you're in is built up so much in this way of thinking, how do you work through it?

And so, I leave you with an other post on celebrity culture, of which I'm accumulating quite a few. There's not really any resolution here but it's the thinking that's important. I just hope that more and more fans consider this perspective and remember that the celebrity they adore is not that different from themselves.

Citations from:
Chekhov, Anton. "The Seagull." The Plays of Anton Chekhov. New York: Harper Perennial, 1997.

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