Celebrity is a GENRE all to itself, and once upon a time, when HOLLYWOOD mattered as a DISTINCT ENTITY — and not just as a tie-in to seven other media platform rollouts — there was a NARRATIVE that a star could FOLLOW to chart their progress and signs of decline.
Sort of like with with MOVIE NARRATIVE. There are certain rules that need to be obeyed so audiences feel like they just saw a “MOVIE”.
Ergo, there was a certain STAR comportment which telegraphed the MESSAGE to audiences — I am the PERSON you can trust to carry this “MOVIE”.
But there are no STARS anymore, because there are practically NO THEATRICALLY RELEASED MOVIES that exist in the classical sense of FILMS. A FILM being an artistic entity that could EXIST as a stand-alone piece. A one-timer that needed STARS to bring people in. The only MOVIES that matter TODAY create and pollinate a CROSS-OVER UNIVERSE of FRANKEN-FRANCHIES and FRANKEN-NOVELS.
STARS are unnecessary when the UNIVERSE and not the MOVIE is what brings people to the theater. And THREE CELEBRITIES (Ben Affleck, Shia LaBeouf, and Robert Downey Jr) are case studies in what happens to STARS when they realize they don’t EXIST.
CASE #1: BEN AFFLECK
COLLAPSE SYMPTOM: DENIAL
As a result of the Sony hacks posted on WikiLeaks, we know that Ben Affleck’s great-great-great-SOMETHING Grandfather was a slave-owner. But a little backstory:
Affleck was appearing on Henry Louis Gates’s PBS SHOW based upon genealogy, and after Gates unearthed the SLAVE NARRATIVE in Affleck’s family closet, Affleck asked for the information in the episode to be suppressed.
Now let’s be honest. This is SELF-IMPORTANCE pure and simple. The unveiling of this information and televised discussion (it’s PBS for Christ’s sake) wouldn’t have made a DENT in AFFLECK’s career. So why did it have to be covered up?
Because AFFLECK has constructed his identity on two NARRATIVES:
The outmoded role of the HOLLYWOOD STAR who has to be a BETTER PERSON than the people who attend his movies, otherwise why would they pay (SPECIAL EFFECTS, SHARED UNIVERSE, and MARKETING, Ben…)
And also, the HOLLYWOOD LIBERAL NARRATIVE, wherein one must fight injustice and hypocrisy (Affleck’s impassioned defense of Islam against LIBERALS less tolerant than himself), yet run and HIDE when HYPOCRISY comes back to BITE THEM. SEAN PENN, bless his soul, NEVER DOES THIS (see his non-defense of his poorly received OSCAR MOMENT).
What Affleck doesn’t seem to realize is that neither of these NARRATIVES exist anymore.
He’s basically trying to have WARREN BEATTY or GEORGE CLOONEY’S career (HOLLYWOOD STARDOM/POLITICAL ACTIVISM), but BEATTY dropped out 15 years ago (he saw the writing on the wall), and CLOONEY’s career when he first started (1997-1998), is IMPOSSIBLE to replicate today.
AFFLECK harbors the delusion that he is an integral part of the NARRATIVE of how his films are sold, and that he must project a certain IMAGE as part of said FILMIC ENTERPRISE. This belief is both woefully out of date and somewhat charming in its ANACHRONISM. Incidentally, it’s also probably why David Fincher (an unparalleled cinematic meta-mind-melder) wanted Affleck for the lead in “Gone Girl” — Ben has a genuine desire to be adored and admired…
…no matter WHAT has to get swept under the rug (definite shades of Nick Dunne). But what Affleck should have realized by starring in “Gone Girl” is that the media NARRATIVES have changed. Nothing stays under the RUG anymore. Better to be transparent…
CASE #2: SHIA LaBEOUF
COLLAPSE SYMPTOM: RECOVERING SCHIZO BUILDING A NEW NARRATIVE…
Shia has had some spectacular meltdowns as of late: wearing a bag on his head at the Nymphomanic premiere, getting kicked out — and later arrested — of “Cabaret”, to launching a bizarre performance art piece as an act of public apology (during which he claims to have been raped), and finally being charged with plagiarism for his short film, and then plagiarizing his apology…
In all honesty, there was something about LaBeouf’s meltdowns that seemed GENUINE to me. This was a man STRUGGLING with a demon beyond the normal pressures of STARDOM, a man searching for IDENTITY, searching for something outside the NARRATIVE the media gave him (TRANSFORMERS STAR goes WILD).
This wasn’t performance art of the JOAQUIN PHOENIX strain, which was a send-up of the inflated importance of CELEBRITY. The type of celebrity Phoenix was mocking with his art doesn’t exist anymore. LaBeouf’s meltdown had a truth hidden in the core of all the madness. He wanted to SAY SOMETHING, but could only find RECYCLED behavior and words…
And a section of a talk he gave at the Tribeca Film Festival put some of his project into context for me:
I turned to performance art, as I couldn’t find another container/platform/discipline for individual expression, self-presentation. I couldn’t contact the audience. Performance art tightens the space of relations and allows me to work in real time, as opposed to only synthetic time. It liberated me from the old constraints of genre and taxonomic systems (drama, thriller, comedy, mystery). It liberates me and allows me to work in broad complexities.
Now is some of this retro-image recovery? I don’t know. But what is sounds like is a performer looking to escape from MUSTY GENRES, both in his role as a celebrity, and as an ACTOR trapped in them.
Now is it going well seamlessly? No. But it’s no less MESSY than BEN AFFLECK desperately trying to shore up the OUTMOTED NARRATIVE he refuses to let die.
CASE #3: ROBERT DOWNEY, JR.
COLLAPSE SYMPTOM: BUDDHA
Robert Downey, Jr (RDJ affectionately) is a master of NARRATIVE. He’s literally turned himself into a FICTIONAL CONSTRUCT (Iron Man, Sherlock Holmes), but before becoming ahistorical and metallic, he had to do countless mea culpa narratives wherein he explained his decades-long descent into drugs and prison.
And he did it LIKE A CHAMP. Downey owned NARRATIVE, tamed it, and used it to turn himself into a COMIC-BOOK (likely in the hope people would leave him alone about his past).
But now the NARRATIVE NINJA just turned things around again, by walking out of an interview with a BBC REPORTER who wanted to use “The Avengers 2” press junket to probe Downey’s soul. But what Downey did was more radical than just walk out, he put Celebrity Media in it’s rightful place by saying:
There’s NO CELEBRITY JOURNALISM anymore, because there are NO STARS anymore. I’m not doing anymore rehashing, anymore mea-culpa’s, because that NARRATIVE is over. He basically told the interviewer HOW TO DO HIS JOB.
I don’t take this as Downey being petulant. I take it as Downey bearing the bad news to CELEBRITY JOURNALISTS: What we BOTH used to do is OVER. I refuse to be hamstrung to the old HOLLYWOOD NARRATIVE (wherein we have to rehash my past transgressions), because there is no HOLLYWOOD anymore…
…I’m IRON MAN and I’m here on a press junket as IRON MAN. That’s the new NARRATIVE. I’m not a STAR, I appear in a UNIVERSE, and that’s the NEW REALITY. And you need to get with it…