By Keisha Allisse
Wonderfully self-aware, pop-referential and with tongue firmly planted in cheek, RuPaul’s Drag Race arrived on Logo TV for its third season. Now all you naysayers reaching for your Bible to quote Leviticus can unclench. The show is less about being gay (although that is a reality not hidden) and more about the celebration of a transformative art which happens to be practiced predominately by gay men.
RuPaul, arguably the most mainstream drag queen stateside, ushers in a cast of superstar wannabees. As host, Ru is one part Tim Gunn; in the first half of the show, he plays mentor, administering challenges and issuing critiques; and in the second half, he’s the love child of Iman and Carrie Bradshaw, with a fabulous runway entrance, over the top costumes and pointed, pun-y one liners. He is joined on the judging panel by Santino Rice (he of Project Runway fame) and former sidekick from his talk show days, Michelle Visage along with a rotating lineup of celebrity guests (Lily Tomlin, Vanessa Williams, et al).
Truly, the commentary on the main stage is the highlight of the runway presentation, though the humor bleeds blue at times, it’s clear that RuPaul has a handle on pop culture and fashion as he capably culls from different sources in his observations. He knows his stuff and he ain’t afraid to show it or tell it!
The drag queens this season are a step up from last year, though there are conspicuously few black contestants (the previous seasons two winners were both African and African-American, respectively). This, however, doesn’t prevent the field from being crowded with contenders (Delta Work, Manila Lauzon), an impressive frontrunner, Raja, who once worked onscreen as a makeup artist for America’s Next Top Model, and a fan favorite, Shangela, the first cast off from season two, who returns with some of the best lines and catchphrases (perhaps an after effect of being aware that coming across memorably on reality TV leads to a bigger payoff at the end.)
This season is also noted for the fact that it includes three full figured queens, a rare feat on any reality show not related to weight loss. Though one, Stacy Layne Matthews, is clearly obese, his transformation is one of the more believable, fishy (slang in drag for ‘looking real’) interpretations. As a matter of fact, if you like the kind of drag that pushes the illusion, then Manila, Mariah, Stacy and Delta might make you break your neck on the double take.
For those who don’t let assumptions get in the way, the show is a lot of fun. The liberal use of the word ‘bitch’ and pronoun ‘she’ amongst men does arch the eyebrows, but I get the fact that, as a viewer, this is a different world I’ve been transported to and I’m not clicking my heels until the finale airs.
RuPaul’s Drag Race airs on Logo, Mondays @ 10pm.
By Keisha Allisse
The Golden Globes, the second biggest night in Hollywood trumped only by the Oscars, was hosted Sunday night by comic Ricky Gervais. The telecast was filled with oohs, aahs and groans, but that mainly happened anytime the host opened his mouth. Charlie Sheen, The Tourist, Cher, the Sex and the City cast, 'some famous Scientologists', Hugh Hefner, the Lost finale and Mel Gibson were all in Gervais' crosshairs and that was just in the first five minutes.
Gervais' scathing humor had been on full display before on last year's Golden Globes and Emmys. He previously joked about Gibson's alcohol fueled rant that got him arrested…right before the star took the stage. In another bit, he tells Kate Winslet how right he was about the accolades pouring in once she did a 'holocaust movie' (aka The Reader, the movie for which she won her first Academy Award.) Of course, I'm paraphrasing, but hearing the words come out of the horse's mouth was hilarious. Tasteless? Yes, but who says comedy is classy?
The same humor that has made Gervais famous was on turbo power last night and I have to say, the Hollywood elite were spoil sports. In a room full of people accustomed to getting their butts kissed, stinging jabs of the verbal kind weren't taken well. Miffed by their roasting intros, a few stars took to the stage with a little vengeance in mind; Robert Downey Jr. commented that, 'aside from the fact that it's been hugely mean spirited with mildly sinister undertones, I'd say the vibe of the show has been pretty good so far, wouldn't you?' Tom Hanks remarked, 'We can recall back when Ricky Gervais was a slightly chubby but very kind comedian,' to which Tim Allen drily responded, 'Neither of which he is now.' (Ouch)
Gervais' jokes went over so poorly that halfway through the show, the announcer started doing some of his work for him. Granted, I thought some of his jokes were a bit much, but this is what comedians do. Why is everyone so bent out of shape? I actually thought RDJ's introduction of the best actress-comedy nominees toed the taste line, but when you're dealing in funny, that's the risk you take.
The sad part about all the criticism facing Gervais is that he likely won’t be invited back to host (at least not a live show) for awhile. While I enjoy the Globes as a viewing experience more than the Oscars, this year’s show lacked the spontaneity of the past. It seemed every winner gushed about how they didn’t expect to win the award as they unfolded a napkin-sized piece of paper full of names (talk about disingenuous.) Enter Ricky Gervais who’s sharp, freewheeling, anything goes comedy added much needed zing. The audience knew what to expect as did organizers, but as with anything, people with will jump off the bandwagon as they see fit and they did, but he did himself no favors by closing the telecast saying, ‘I thank God for making me an atheist.’ (Cringe)
If there’s something to learn, it’s that the sole requirement of a joke is a punchline; someone, something has gotta take a hit, but Hollywood shows us they're fine with humor so long as they're not the butt of the joke.
By Keisha Allisse
As of right now, Lady GaGa is the most talked about artist on the planet. She’s been on the cover of numerous magazines in various states of undress and has been called one of the most influential and fascinating people on the planet (by TIME magazine and Barbara Walters, respectively).
Since her debut in 2008, the praise has been effusive and nonstop, but is it deserved? She has been called the heir apparent to uber-popstar, Madonna, and counts her, as well as, Elton John, David Bowie and Andy Warhol as influences. While she is arguably the most exciting music personality to come along in quite some time, it remains to be seen if her name should be uttered in the same breath as her idols. Much of her music, outrageous performances and costumes are eye-catching and eyebrow raising, yet full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
A year ago, I fell hook, line and sinker for her vague descriptions that the disturbing imagery in her videos and concerts were a response to some greater civil issue; when asked about some of her getups, she has said, ‘it’s a rejection of people’s views about women’; her Kermit the Frog coat? A statement against the fur industry; and the meat dress from last year’s VMAs? Something, something…fight for our rights. Blah, blah, blah. Can someone explain to me how you don’t wear animal skins, but are perfectly content wearing their flesh? I’m all for being yourself and uniqueness, but I think it’s cheap to try and explain exhibitionism with some highfalutin, morally conscious answer.
True outsiders who love themselves, despite rejection from the mainstream, don’t waste their time on explanations because they don’t need (or want) others to get what they are doing. Besides, true outcasts wouldn’t be listened to anyway.
Lady GaGa has made her fan base swell on the concept that she wants her fans to feel free to be themselves; her Monster’s Ball tour is an opportunity, as she described to Larry King, ‘to put everything on the table and reject it.’ But why? Is nothing worth keeping? Do we, for the sake of being contrary, throw the baby out with the bathwater? In GaGa’s world, within the culture, tradition and society there are no concepts worth preserving, which is maybe why her art strikes me as pointless. If everything means nothing, what could your art possible say? This is why her shock operas stun more than inspire. When you have nothing to say, but want people to listen (or watch), you’ll likely resort to making them feel (grungy, weirded out, sick, all of the above) rather than think. Her idea of art is the merging of the popular (her music) and the fringe (her style and supposed ‘outsiders’ ideology), two concepts which go together like oil and water, but for her, seem to mix.
The lack of substance in her work (both musically and visually) makes me wonder what the fascination with her is all about. First, her near symbiotic relationship with her fans, whom she affectionately calls ‘little monsters’; it can’t be said that GaGa doesn’t adore her fans. Her desire to help relieve them of their feelings of insecurity and doubt are of messianic proportions. She wants very badly to foster a strong relationship with them because she knows how lucky she is to have them and that ultimately, she needs them more than they need her.
She has remarked that many of her costumes are designed in manner that would allow her fans to easily copy her look - I wonder what suitable material could they use to duplicate that meat dress – She says the process bonds them, strange sentiment for someone who waves the banner of nonconformity.
The blatant duality of her logic is what confounds me and the fact that she isn’t called on it. In her interview with Larry King, she says that she ‘doesn’t like violence,’ but what else could describe her 2009 VMA performance? She has stated that she’s not interested in being ‘ a perfect, placid pop singer that looks great in a bikini and is on the cover of every magazine,’ but that is exactly what she is and she’s so good at being a cover girl that her face sold more magazines that anyone else’s last year.
She pretends to be uninterested in celebrity, that she can’t help being who she is and getting attention for it, but don’t be fooled. No one goes dressed to their sister’s graduation in a partially see through, lace bodysuit in an effort to blend in and nobody names their album The Fame unless they’ve given the idea some thought.
When I first heard the title of her debut album, I thought it bit presumptuous, but now, seeing her meteoric rise last into 2011, I’d have to call it prescient. And perhaps her pre-knowledge of her impending success comes not solely from the hard work of writing and singing a full length album, but by the creation of a fully staffed image machine she calls the Haus of GaGa. If you look at early pictures of the former Ms. Germanotta, you won’t see the awkward beginnings of what is now before us because her look is completely manufactured, created by others to sell a product – a flashy, utterly unique product, but a product nevertheless.
In a decade of music defined by the power to create a star (American Idol, Making the Band, Nashville Star, Popstars, etc), Lady GaGa is the poster girl for just how well the machine works and sadly, how easily the public can be duped into believing they’re seeing something fresh and organic. To her credit, GaGa has a strong vocal ability which her theatrics can obscure, but she, at the end of the day, is a mirage that has a powerhouse creative team behind it, but most especially, a young woman hungry enough for success that she’d re-imagine her image for commercial purposes, so delusional in her thinking that she believes her creation to be her own and so bold that she would tell people about it. At a concert in 2009, she told attendees, ‘Have you ever loved something so much, you told a tiny, little lie? A negative truth? And you believe and love your new invention so deeply, you would kill to make it true? Your visualization, your futurization is all you have, so honor it. Some say Lady Gaga is a lie…and they are right; I am a lie.’ Truer words have never been spoken.
By Keisha Allisse
Simon Cowell Leaves American Idol:
And with him goes any quote-worthy phrases, laser precise (albeit mean) critiques and any other reasons for watching the show.
2011 Prediction: AI will leave the air after two more seasons and replace another judge.
NBC’s Late Night Debacle:
Comedy is truly tragedy plus timing and nothing summed that up more than the nightmare transition of ‘The Tonight show’ from Jay Leno to Conan O’Brien back to Leno. It was hard for Leno to come out of this not looking like the villain as Team CoCo (and rivals, Letterman and Kimmel) mobilized support against him.
2011 Prediction: Conan wins an Emmy for his new talk show on TBS. Leno isn’t nominated.
Bristol Palin ‘dances’ with the Stars:
Nothing was more painful than watching Bristol clump her way through a jive or waltz, yet somehow she managed to snag a spot in the finals and onto the list of America’s Most Reviled.
2011 Prediction: Bristol gets her own reality show shortly after her mother’s gets cancelled.
Project Runway Goes Off Course:
So not only did the move to Lifetime prove to be a bust, so did the expanded 90-minute format. And the jaw-dropping (in a bad way) season finale in which bland know-it-all designer Gretchen beat out exciting frontrunner Mondo, didn’t help things any.
2011 Prediction: The show will return to 60 minutes, and hopefully, Bravo.
Housewives Fly the Coop:
Bethenny Frankel (NY), Danielle Staub (NJ), and Lisa Wu Hartwell (ATL) left their respective shows. And while Hartwell never grabbed too many headlines, Staub and Frankel did which made their departures surprising and disappointing.
2011 Prediction: All three housewives write juicy tell-alls about their experience on reality TV.
Tyler Perry Paints a Picture…For Colored Girls:
And while the effort was admirable and brought together some of the most talented Black actresses working today, it was choppy and relied too heavily on negative stereotypes of Black men.
2011 Prediction: Wanting to branch out further, Perry attempts another adaptation: a remake of ‘Raisin,’ the musical version of the Lorraine Hansberry play.
Billboard just named Lady Gaga the top artist of the year and Ke$ha, its top new act of the year. Since the advent of the distinction, only seven women have earned top honors. For Ke$ha, she becomes the first woman ever to have a debut single become the top song of the year. Bravo, ladies!
2011 Prediction: Female artists will own the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100 for an unprecedented 38 weeks.
By Keisha Allisse
As the queen of daytime talk prepares to descend her throne after 25 years, the question on everyone’s lips is, ‘who’s next?’ The most obvious choice would be Ellen DeGeneres whose Emmy award winning talk show, in its eighth season, features a mix of celebs and everyday folks getting couch time with the popular comedian. The show’s feel, however, is more a mix of chat fest, game show and Soul Train, a far cry from Oprah’s platform of self improvement. Another contender is long time fave, Live! With Regis and Kelly, but the key to the show’s success is the dynamic interplay between the co-hosts rather than life affirming ideologies. And finally, there’s The View, the Barbara Walters coffee klatch featuring women of different backgrounds and ages, but once again, what makes the show tick is the energy between the five women rather than the energy and thought they inspire in their audiences.
What makes Oprah so singular is the fact that she, like Phil Donahue before her, redefined the genre. When Oprah entered the daytime race in 1986, the traditional talk show subjects were polarizing (racism, politics) or seedy (gold digging women and the seniors who love them!); hosts would float through the audience to catch ‘everyman’ commentary. Now, post-Oprah, everyone pretty much remains seated (except for when they get A BRAND NEW CAR!) Winfrey shifted the format from everyone has a voice to everyone has a story. The show evolved from ratings bait stories to one on one conversations with everyday people, celebrities revealing their innermost thoughts and a rotating cast of Oprah-approved experts.
Of all the most influential aspects of the show, it is her endorsement that is the most powerful (and likely to be the most missed); like a fairy godmother with a magic wand, Oprah’s seal on everything from books to house wares to people have turned little know critical faves into New York Times bestsellers and local professionals into household names. Recurring appearances on Oprah’s couch have led to spinoffs for Nate Berkus, Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz and Rachael Ray (whose show is produced by Oprah’s company). It’s interesting to note not one black woman has spun off successfully from her show (Iyanla Vanzant and Gayle King’s shows didn’t last).
Considering Oprah’s goliath reach, she could have easily handpicked a successor to continue the show’s format, but considering that Rosie O’ Donnell attempted a handoff to Caroline Rhea to abysmal results, it makes sense to avoid a similar fate and announce the replacement to be…you. Oprah launches her own network, OWN, January 2011. And when the first signal goes out, her millions of viewers will be sure to follow, but what will free TV do to fill the gaping hole left in her absence?
Court shows and game shows are taking up more morning slots as soap operas begin to die slow and painful deaths. Tyra’s no longer on the air (whew!) and Wendy Williams is fun, but not for mass consumption. I guess if the mantle needs to be handed down it would have to go to…Anderson Cooper. You read right! The CNN host will be on double duty when he launches his own talk show next fall.
Cooper has subbed in for Regis Philbin on Live! a couple of times and showed good humor and a biting wit. It will be interesting to see him transition from ‘serious journalism’ to the lighter fare of daytime, but it shouldn’t be too hard (he hosted ‘The Mole’ after all). As it stands now, he is likely the best hope to evolve a format pioneered by Donahue, popularized by Oprah and in desperate need for a game changer to keep it relevant.
By Keisha Allisse
Don't believe me? Look back at the very first season when the little known soap star, Kelly Monaco, won over John O'Hurley. The brouhaha over her win led to primetime show coverage, interviews and publicity that an 'expected' win would have not delivered. The outrage led to a dance off, which O'Hurley won, and the fan base widened and carried over into the next season. Bristol Palin's continued success in the competition is a ratings bonanza for ABC (don't mind that man who shot is television after Palin survived yet another round and Brandy got the axe). People are talking about the show; the controversy is a part of the national dialogue and as we fume and get pissed off at the results, ABC is reeling in the dough.
There's no such thing as bad publicity. People are watching to see if the person considered the worst will actually win. Chances are she won't. Enough blood has boiled that naysayers will vote in droves making a win unlikely. Although if people flood the lines for Jennifer Grey and Kyle Massey, the lines will be busy making calls easier for Bristol…hmm… I don't want to plant the seeds to grow more suspicion, but you can bet voting will come up if the ending isn't a 'happy one'. Faithful fans will swear off the show, promising to boycott the next season, but you can bet butts will be in the seats when the famous intro is played and the announcer introduces another season of Dahn-cing with the Starhz!
Viewers have suggested that the voting system is questionable and the results, rigged. Bristol's longevity in the program is evidence of that, they claim. But a good point made by a colleague of mine is that unfavorable results are evidence of honesty not proof of impropriety. Nothing in life always works out in a way that is fair and just. George W. Bush was a two-term president, after all. We all remember how the elections in 2000 went; who's popular isn't always who's chosen. That's reality and as disappointing as that can be, I would be surprised if a couple of decisions didn't go the way I expected.
Sometimes the unforeseen can be exhilarating. The Giants weren't expected to win the 2007 Super Bowl; the Patriots were thirteen to fourteen point favorites and entering the game undefeated. Despite the resume, the unbelievable happened. The underdog won (and as a NY Giants fan) it was thrilling. Would it be so bad if the more gifted person didn't always get the crown? I can hear the protests now: 'But that's not fair!' "The best dancer should win!'. We have a very limited view of success. Someone who improves vastly over the course of a competition has just as much an argument to win as the person who's been coasting on being good.
Bristol's surprising underdog run is no different than Master P's confusing success in season two and Brandy's elimination the previous week was shocking but perhaps not more so than Sabrina Bryan who was season five's frontrunner and was eliminated in week six. My point? Life repeats itself. What's happening in this season has happened in season's prior and I think Bristol's been getting the brunt of media scrutiny due to a dislike of her mother('s politics) rather than her dancing. The same people that complain about tea partiers pushing Palin into the finals would have no problem voting against Palin by choosing other competitors (whether they deserved the support or not).
Palin's success comes down, not to some convoluted conspiracy theory, but to the fact that the outraged aren't out voting. DTWS attracts a lot of family viewers, many in the heartland, who will vote to support their favorites. Many city cynics don't pick up the phone. Are you one of them? I am and if we outnumber those viewers who call or text in their choice, brace yourself for a jaw dropping finale one that will have the execs at ABC jumping for joy.
Last year, Sandra Bullock won an Oscar for her tough as nails portrayal of
Leigh Anne Tuohy in The Blind Side. While I loved her performance, I was a little put off by the tired 'white savior' cliché that's used in movies where black people are in need; instead of the story focusing on how the individual helped themselves, the focus is on how this nice white lady made all the difference in the poor, poor black child's life.
How does the actor who played Michael Oher (pronouced oar, the aforementioned 'poor black child') become a supporting player in a movie of his life story? Minor details notwithstanding, my real issue is with the depiction of Oher. It's quite common for Hollywood to keep African American men in check, but for black men of a formidable size, they go one step further, they dumb them down. The character in The Blind Side is an insultingly child like variation on Oher's real life persona. In the film, Michael's closest friend was his surrogate brother, SJ, a kid half his age. Are we to believe that Michael's mental abilities made him incapable of befriending other high schoolers his own age?
In one scene, Miss Sue (Kathy Bates), his tutor, spins some Halloween-like yarn how the FBI bury body parts under the field at the University of Tennessee in an effort to spook him out of attending the college. Is he 8 or 18? I'm not uptight; I realize that there will always be artistic license taken with biographical stories brought to the big screen, but what's so impossible about translating a character's strength (physical and mental) to the picture as well? The same fiery energy that made Ms. Tuohy character so admirable is all but stripped from Michael.
It seems there's a growing trend in Hollywood to 'simmer down' a big black man to make him more palatable to audiences. The process of making black men safe for mass consumption isn't new, but the belief that emasculation is a form of character diversification is. It seems that filmmakers deliberately avoid making the character typically ignorant or angry in order to stay clear of stereotypes, but by dodging that hole, they stepped into another. Infantilizing black men (especially physically intimidating ones) has become more of a film device (The Green Mile, The Hand that Rocks the Cradle), but one that viewers might be more familiar with is 'black men in disguise' (i.e, drag).
From Flip Wilson's Geraldine to Tyler Perry's Madea, more black men are dressing up and acting out. It's almost a rights of passage for a black actor at some point in his career to saunter across the screen in full face makeup and a wig, even the seemly ultra tough (Wesley Snipes in To Wong Foo…) have donned a dress, but when's the last time Tom Cruise, Harrison Ford or Bruce Willis was asked to do the same? I wouldn't argue for an outright ban on any type of character, after all, it is just fiction. It’s the dependence on a certain type of imagery that concerns me. Many black performers are put in between a rock and a hard place when faced with a less than gratifying role and the financially unstable alternative. Some, like Perry, admit to using less than savory characters as a means to pull in audiences to other uplifting qualities within the film. That's like saying pastors should use whiskey to lure the alcoholic to church. The reasoning doesn't work for me because at some point the bait becomes the draw.
The Word According to…
Dancing with the Stars
It might seem a bit lazy to get moral lessons from pop culture, especially when there are so many other sources of spiritual insight, but consider how many of us read a newspaper or magazine, or watch television. It’s quite possible that something we are so often exposed to can provide us with more than general information and entertainment, if we are willing to look... Dancing with the Stars is television’s newest number one show, so it should be no surprise that it has become my latest guru:
1) Thou Shalt Step Outside the Box
Most reality competitions center on talented people, doing what they love, to see who the judges say do it best. Dancing with the Stars levels the playing field (for the most part) by making people known for one thing, try their hand at something else. How many of us would try something new and challenging, in outrageous, skin baring costumes in front of a studio and national audience? Ok, most of us wouldn’t have that opportunity, but you have to give Florence Henderson (famous for playing wholesome as apple pie TV mom, Carol Brady) props for slithering and shimmying through an uncomfortable to watch rhumba.
2) Thou Shalt Take the Stick Out!
Dancing with the Stars doesn’t take itself too seriously; the tanning is over the top; makeup is borderline clownish and the costumes are bedazzled and feathered within an inch of its life. The winner gets a disco ball trophy, for crying out loud, but that’s the fun! Spectacular host, Tom Bergeron, exemplifies the spirit best with his fast one-liners, witty off the cuff remarks and charming banter with the celebs and dancers.
3) Thou Shalt Not Assume
Looking at Kyle Massey’s (That’s So Raven, Cory in the House) chubby physique, I figured maybe he would be a step or two behind his partner. WRONG! I figured Mike ‘The Situation’ Sorrentino (Jersey Shore), being a frequent club-goer (and fist pumper), would have his fingers (or at least his feet) on the pulse of contemporary music. WRONG! He wasn’t on the pulse or on the beat, for that matter. Watching ‘The Situation’ become one, clumping through a dance on two left feet made me realize that looks should be taken for granted.
4) Thou Shalt Make Faces
Speaking of faces, did anyone notice the monotony of (recently eliminated) Audrina Patridge’s? I suspect Botox, which has left her already youthful brow, unwrinkled, and, unfortunately for this competition, expressionless. Patridge (and former DTWS competitor, Priscilla Presley) suffered from the same face freezing symptoms and provided the greatest endorsement against ‘work’. Dance is an emotive performing art; watch the pros and see how they use not only their bodies, but their faces to sell a performance to the front row and the bleachers. The inability to express common emotions like sadness, joy and anger leave dances lacking.
5) Thou Shalt Take Thy Work Seriously
The judges don’t mince words. Bruno Tonioli’s scathing review of Michael Bolton’s jive made news, but if you take your work seriously, which I sense the judges do, it’s quite natural to approach it with a critical eye. Granted, the stars aren’t skilled and many choices (like choreography and costuming) are out of their control, which is why you’ll find Inaba, Goodman and Tonioli occasionally offering leniency instead of criticism, but their scores usually reflect their honest opinion. The audience can boo all they like, but who really wants to hear three ‘polite Paulas’ tell everyone how great they are and how good they look when that has nothing to do with the dance? The truth may hurt, but it makes for better TV.
6) Thou Shalt Have Support
Bristol Palin surviving a week where she forgot her steps while in an ape suit, made me think a couple of things, mostly bad, one, printable: Palin represents the power of a fan base. Clearly, she’s not as good as the front runners, and if she wins the title overall, it will harm the legitimacy of the show’s voting process, but what she lacks in dancing talent, she makes up for in supporters who are willing to vote, in droves, to see her on the show each week. Fair? Maybe not, but life wasn’t designed to be fair. Perhaps another deep lesson from a fabulously superficial show.
The story was so ridiculous it had to be true; Kanye West appeared on the Ellen DeGeneres show this week to promote a film and show off his (literally) million dollar smile. I know what you’re thinking, ‘I got bills to pay and this fool is putting gems in mouth!’ Perhaps West is the latest victim of the Midas Syndrome or ‘new money’ (normal people whose taste and common sense are lost when exposed to extreme wealth.)
We’ve seen what happens to the average Joe when his coffers become outsized; he’s the one buying every tricked out car and wearing every label known to man. Most celebrities have a bit of this, but with proper management, the ‘buy it’ bug doesn’t sting so badly which makes Kanye’s decision even weirder. Doesn’t he have people around him who can say, ‘Hey, you know what? That’s crazy’?
I will admit that part of the blame for his outlandishness lies in us, and by us, I mean the fan base. We have expectations of our stars: how they look, dress, where they live and what they drive. If Kanye walked the red carpet wearing Payless and Kmart, we’d wonder, where’s the money? We’d make fun of him and laugh him into oblivion (NOTE: Some of you might remember when Sharon Stone wore a Gap tee to the Academy Awards back in 1996, but that was novelty and she paired it with Valentino and Armani.)
Nobody follows someone considered cheap and/or tacky because what does that say about you? We demand extravagance from celebrities and our attention to shows like VH1’s The Fabulous Life of…, MTV’s Cribs prove as much. When asked about his oral upgrade, Kanye replied, ‘I just thought diamonds were cooler. There’s just certain stuff that rock stars are supposed to do.’ Really? I don’t know if Bruce Springsteen will be following suit anytime soon.
Going back to West’s response, the key words are ‘supposed to’. Who makes up these rules anyway? That someone with a lot of money has to live in house with more rooms than people? Have more cars than fingers? And use gems as dental wear? Can it be that we, the fans, created the monster than not only chases us to keep up with the Joneses, but makes the same demands of the Joneses themselves?
We all know who Kim Kardashian is, but do any of you know what she did for a living before her notorious sex tape with, then boyfriend, Ray J, made her a household name? Yeah, neither did I (she ran a boutique called Dash, at the time, little known outside of the Los Angeles area). Before her tabloid cover days, Ms. Kardashian was likely more well known for the men in mother, Kris Jenner's life (father, the late Robert Kardashian was a part of OJ Simpson's defense team and stepdad Bruce Jenner was a gold-medal winning decathlete) than the men in her own.
As her Twitter followers exceed five million, there is no question that Kardashian has become the poster child for the new celebrity, a breed of famemongers who are more known for something they did rather than what they do, who, to paraphase Ricky Gervais, 'wear their fame like an open wound'. It's easy to lump the everyday people who make it onto reality shows into this category. Their brush with fame, like a shooting star, is brief, but fabulous…sometimes. The rise is fast and the attention, addictive. Many find themselves unable to go back to regular life and they try anything from posing for Playboy to selling stories of depravity to anyone willing to listen just for another chance at the limelight. Some have had surprising success sequeing into legitimacy (Elisabeth Hasslebeck's rise from fourth place finisher on Survivor to co-host of the View is the gold standard) and others have found new ways to beat and stretch their fifteen minutes into submission (Omarosa, so infamous she doesn't need a last name, appeared on the Apprentice back in 2004 and just had her own show, the Ultimate Merger air on TV One this year.
The rise of reality television as a form of entertainment has allowed for the democratization of fame; now, you don't have to be rich, talented or connected to have the world at your feet (albeit temporarily). So now, everyone can have it, but not everyone has 'it'. Case in point, the aforementioned Kardashian. I can't question her business savvy; it takes smarts to develop what could have been a career killing faux pas into a multi-million dollar empire, but what exactly does she do? For the most part, her money comes from endorsements, which are due largely to the fact that she is attractive. There is no professional expertise or experience that comes with her name being on a label. The sad part is that no one would really have batted an eyelash at her if not for that sex tape. Her mother had been trying for years to get the show off the ground, but no go until Kim caved and dropped her lawsuit against Vivid (the company distributing the sex tape)and settled for $5 million, essentially putting a price on her body and self-respect, but ultimately the move gave her and her family a future and a fortune.
Now young women like Montana Fishburne, Devon James (Tiger Woods' alleged porn star mistress), Jaimee Grubbs (Tiger Woods…again), Michelle McGee (Jesse James) and recently, Brittney Jones (Ashton Kutcher) all look to sell their sex tapes or stories for a chance to make a name for themselves. The key is sell yourself (and others) at a cost. While the Kardashian clan exemplifies this new model for fame, they didn't invent it. That title goes to none other than Paris Hilton. Back in 2003, Hilton was more known for her recognizable last name than anything else. But then came THE sex tape, 1 Night in Paris, which bolted her from the society pages to the front pages. Her show the Simple Life (with pal Nicole Richie) became a hit and Paris, a star. Soon books, TV appearances, endorsements and fragrances followed. Paris' uber-successful model has become the way to gain access into the upper echelons of fame once reserved for the impressively talented, but what does her and those like her success say about us?
Is it any surprise that youngsters put all their business on front street without regard for the affect it might have on family or loved ones, much less their reputations, when they know that it could lead to more friends, more fans or a larger following? Exploitative fame has whet our appetites for the kind of notoriety which celebrates exposure over decency and self-control and wields lack of discretion as honorable truth-telling. But truth at what cost? What’s off limits? In today's culture, 'friends' are people who have access to your profile not people who you have fostered a close bond with over a period of time. A social network, more often than not, refers to interaction online rather than face to face. When bonds are so vast and indistinct, is it any wonder that they are disposable?
What makes reality celebrity disturbing is that it suggests that what you're seeing is normal, that this is what real and regular people do. And more often than not, what these 'real' people do is coarse and rude. It reinforces the idea that the most interesting people are the ones that are harsh, that show little restraint or respect for other people. Initially, such behavior was marginal, a freak show that we watched out of horror and awe, but now, it's just awe. And don't think it's just women; Simon Cowell, Gordon Ramsay and Perez Hilton have built their houses with their acidic tongues.
The rise of those whose public actions betray the core values we claim to hold dear is more a statement of our character as a nation than it is on theirs. Maybe deep down inside we wish we could be as outgoing and as outrageous; maybe we believe that such behavior is more exciting than our 'hum-drum' lives, but what kind of world will we create if that kind of behavior becomes the norm? The majority of people aren't like those who you see on reality TV because most of us will never be in a situation where our actions are broadcast and scrutinized by millions and most of us wouldn't want to be, but our viewership casts the vote. How can we invite someone into our house through our television that we wouldn't waste a minute of our time with in person?
I don't hold myself to a different standard; I'm addicted to the Real Housewives... and some of the women featured on these series are the most annoying, cringe worthy people EVER. So what to do? If you share my dilemma here are the solutions that I have brainstormed for myself: one, get a life. To clarify, I have a life, but if I have the free time to watch people living life in a way that I find deplorable then I need to find something else to do with my free time; two, choose to believe that most 'reality' is scripted, meaning that these aren't real people but second rate actors loaning their name and likenesses to a show, so in fact, I'm not endorsing bad behavior; I'm simply watching fiction, people playing out a plot. This choice alleviated me from the guilt of watching, but reality's success thrives on the suspension of disbelief. The fun comes from thinking that there are people out there that are this crazy. So in good conscience, I can't play that card; third, I can choose to only watch reality shows that showcase talent and are in place to help people reach their dreams (Project Runway, Top Chef, etc) or shows that are played as exciting games (Survivor, the Amazing Race, even Big Brother) because I can accept that people will behave differently in a competitive setup. I don't believe that because I am ruthless playing Monopoly that somehow that translates to who I am on a regular day.
I know that because we watch people on TV that that doesn't mean that we will emulate them or admire them or that they're even liked, but I no longer want to reward people with my time for selling themselves in the absence of talent.