Random Thoughts and Link-o-Rama

5 06 2010

Things have gotten unexpectedly busy in the first few days of Dr.-hood. So a random thoughts and link-o-rama post is about all I can muster. But at least they will cover a variety of topics!

Celebrity Deaths
I don’t know if it is a function of getting older or the fact that the celebrity pantheon has expanded so much in the past few decades (to include all sorts of stars, not just movie stars), but it sure seems like a lot of amazing people are passing on. Two recent celebrity deaths got me thinking about the different ways such moments are presented in the media. Both are steeped in nostalgia (an mode of engagement with celebrity that somehow seems more a function of this contemporary media culture), but from very different perspectives.

First, Gary Coleman. Since he was primarily known as a child star from the late 70s-early 80s sitcom Diffr’nt Strokes, coverage of his life and death are definitely steeped in nostalgia. At the same time, the coverage is also closely tied to ideas of fame damage. Coleman, like many child actors, struggled to find work after the end of the series. He also struggled with health and personal problems that became fodder for gossip media. Part of his struggle was the fact that he was always linked with his character, Arnold, and his famous catch-phrase, “what’chu talking ’bout, Willis.” His “real” self was never really able to escape this “public persona.” The coverage of his death is, to me, a continuation of this inability to split the character from the person, as it connects the fame damage to his child-star persona. Amber Watts offers a thoughtful and respectful analysis of this complicated star and his death on Antenna that speaks to this much better than I can today.

Secondly, Rue McClanahan. Her performance as Blanch Devereaux The Golden Girls made her an icon, even though she had a robust career before and after the show. I see the same sort of nostalgia surrounding her image as with Betty White’s. Many of her fans are people who discovered her work, particularly on The Golden Girls, well after the show ended its run. I think this is a positive side of nostalgia as a mode of engagement with celebrity, as it can re-evaluate older media through contemporary eyes. McClanahan, like White, challenged norms surrounding female sexuality, desire, and cultural value. She did so during a time (the Reagan years) when such things were largely frowned upon. And she did so both as Blanche and as “herself.” Jezebel has a great retrospective salute to McClanahan that is well worth the read (and features some awesome video clips).

This Week in Bizzare Celebrity
Though I don’t watch The Hills and am generally bored to tears by the antics of its so-called “stars,” I can’t ignore its impact on celebrity culture and reality TV. The over-constructed and controlled images Heidi and Spencer Pratt are just becoming increasingly ridiculous (granted, they didn’t have far to go). Heidi’s plastic surgery and its coverage in the gossip media could be its own post. But I’m sort of fascinated with the new narrative of Spencer as crazy crystal loving hobo. Since these two are so clearly versed in playing the game of contemporary fame (e.g. creating a public persona character and sticking to it at all times, stage paparazzi photos, doing outrageous things to keep one’s name in the press), this new narrative reads to me as a last ditch effort to keep our attention. But a truly bizzare attempt. I mean, what are we supposed to take from his transformation from Hollywood d-bag scenster to crystal-loving mountain man? I don’t know what to make of this. Maybe that’s the point? So deep, Spencer, so deep!

Spencer as Militia Member?

New Media and Politics
And finally, politics. Particularly since the Obama presidential campaign, the creative and concentrated use of new media platforms is an increasingly important part of the political process. It allows politicians to rally supporters and spread your message on your own terms. Thanks to Jovi and Wingo over at The Rad Dudes I was introduced to this important moment of collision between new media and politics. I mostly post this video because it is (unintentionally) hilarious and what is the Internet for if not to laugh at random weird things? Yes, I know, porn and shopping. And LOL Catz. BUT! I also include it for the random way that new media is clearly influencing all sorts of political campaigns. And as another example of how social networking platforms are often used in unexpected ways. Lesson: don’t talk smack about this guy on Facebook because we’re better than that.

That’s about all the scattered thoughts I have for this week. I think it’s time to play outside!

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