Comedy and Celebrity Critique: Kathy Griffin

21 11 2010

As my incredible lack of updates demonstrates, my first semester in a new teaching position has been a busy one. My attention has not just been diverted from this blog, but from blogs in general. Compared to the dissertation-writing-me of last year, I am woefully behind in my celebrity gossip. Considering I used to spend my days immersed in it and constantly checking the various blogs in my sample, it’s pretty amusing how far behind I am. Case in point: I found out about Jessica Simpson’s recent engagement from a gossip headline in the Boston Metro, the ridiculous free newspaper they give out at subway stations. The Metro, people!

Sure, I’m getting “things accomplished” and “being productive,” but for someone who is still interested in studying celebrity culture and gossip media, I’ve got to figure out a way to stay a bit more current. The answer is probably Twitter, which has essentially been my news feed for a variety of media and media studies related topics in these past few weeks. I’m actually enjoying Twitter much more than I thought I would. It’s an easy place to lurk as, I think, it lacks Facebook’s constant update imperative (yeah, yeah, I know I’m not on FB, but this is how I see it used by others, including those who constantly hassle me to join). Don’t get me wrong, I love the people who tweet frequently, but it’s easy to just follow and not have to post yourself.

Someone who has no problems staying current, and in fact makes her living doing so, is Ms. Kathy Griffin. I had the pleasure of catching her live show in Worcester last night, and it was hilarious. I love when she mocks celebrities, but she’s also got a critical and political edge to her comedy that I think is often overlooked. If you haven’t seen the episode of My Life on the D-List where she judges and then participates in a toddler beauty pageant, I highly suggest you seek it out (and a big BOO on Bravo for not putting episodes of their shows on their website). It’s an episode full of feminist critique of the child pageant industry and our cultural obsession with youth and beauty.

Kathy Griffin takes on beauty pageants

At last night’s show, Kathy cast her insider/outsider eye on various aspects of celebrity culture. What was most interesting to me was the way that her own mocking reminded me of the type of gossip talk I saw across the blogs during my dissertation research. It’s complex and often contradictory. For example, though she made fun of celebrities (and herself) for “visiting the dentist” aka getting plastic surgery as a way to challenge ridiculous beauty norms, she also, fairly viciously, body snarked on Bristol Palin for “being the only contestant on Dancing with the Stars to gain 40 pounds during the show. Look, I’m not fan of any of the Palins, but this moment of contradiction really stood out to me. She talked explicitly about feminism and the idea that young women don’t relate to it in today’s culture even though it is still desperately needed, yet she mocked a young woman’s body size as a way to discredit her. If there was some deeper critique in that, I missed it.

Nevertheless, overall the show was fantastic and I continue to love me some Mrs. Kathy. I generally love her over the top performances because they show that female comics can be just as political, raunchy and hilarious as the guys. She uses her femininity in a way that makes people uncomfortable, particularly in the sense that she acts and talks like women “shouldn’t.” Furthermore, I think because so much of her work centers on celebrity culture that she is often dismissed in ways that reinforce “women’s talk” as something outside of the political sphere. She’s officially added to my ever expanding list of topics for further research.


Stars–They Tweet Like Us!: Some Thoughts on Celebrity and Twitter

23 10 2010

This post is really overdue, as I’ve actually had it written for some time. I attended the *amazing* Flow 2010 Conference at UT-Austin just over three weeks ago, and this post is taken from the position paper I submitted and presented at that conference. I really cannot say enough positive things about this conference. It’s non-traditional set-up consists of panels where presenters have 5 minutes (no, really!) to discuss their position papers around a common topic and the rest of the time is used for discussion between panelists and audience. This allows for a really productive dialogue to emerge and everyone (from grad student to senior scholar) has the opportunity to participate. It meets every other year, and you can bet I will be submitting for 2012. I highly encourage any media scholars to check it out. Plus, Austin = awesome.

Since completing my dissertation on gossip blogs, I’ve been widening my view to think about intersections of celebrity culture with other forms of new media. Twitter and celebrity is basically a match made in heaven. I know Twitter can serve lots of different functions (and I highly recommend checking out the other position papers from the Flow Twittertube panel) , but its use by and for celebrities is really fascinating to me because it so perfectly encapsulates the private/public blurring that is inherent to the celebrity image. It’s also very distracting, as I can’t seem to go through a day without checking for Kanye’s latest tweets. Where is his antique fish tank anyway?

So here is my position paper, which explores how celebrities use Twitter to manage the private self and manage scandal. I will also mention that I have a post on celebrities using Twitter for more straightforward self-promotion that will appear on next week’s In Media Res. I’ll post the full link when it is published on Thursday, October 28.

Celebrity Twitter Feeds and the Illusion of Intimacy
The media product known as the celebrity emerges from a “circuit of celebrity production” in which various cultural intermediaries—the celebrity, her industry producers, the “legitimate” and the gossip-oriented celebrity media—feed off of each other in a constant struggle to control how that individual is represented to audiences.

In modern celebrity culture, the extratextual media coverage of stars has played an increasingly important role in promoting the “illusion of intimacy” between a star and her fans/audiences by elevating the private side of the image as the privileged site of meaning. Tabloids and other entertainment-oriented media forms encourage the audience to pursue the “real” person behind the star persona with the hope that, beneath the controlled surface, the star “really” is who she seems to be.

Tabloids, in particular, seek to disrupt the carefully constructed public image forwarded by the celebrity-industry producers (studios, publicists, managers, etc) through the revelation of the “unguarded” private self as the “real” or “authentic” star, often challenging the dominant meaning of the celebrity’s image. But the contradictory and ambivalent nature of celebrity means the circuit of production is a highly unstable process and no one player ever fully controls the meaning of the celebrity image for audiences. In other words, the meaning of the celebrity is constantly contested terrain.

Tabloids attempt to define the meaning of Angelina's image. This certainly is not sanctioned by her or her management. But nevertheless becomes an important part of how we read her image.

Social networking platforms, particularly Twitter, offer new insight into this fraught process of production by highlighting the ways in which the illusion of intimacy can be manipulated by various players in the circuit. On Twitter, unlike traditional celebrity media outlets, audiences are offered immediate and interactive engagements with the celebrity that (purportedly) originate outside of industry control and even specifically challenge other representations of the “real” celebrity. Though celebrity media outlets have also taken to Twitter, I suggest that Twitter offers the celebrity-industry intermediaries a way to recuperate control over the image using the same appeals to the unguarded and private self central to gossip media constructions of celebrity. That is, celebrity Twitter feeds recuperate celebrity-industry control over the image by explicitly engaging the same media discourses and platforms that typically disrupt that control.

The most successful celebrity Twitter users offer a glimpse of the everyday and even mundane details of their private lives, thus stressing the ordinary self behind the extraordinary public image.

Twitter’s appeal is based in its interactive nature, offering audiences a more direct sense of engagement with the celebrity than, say, reading a publicist-sanctioned interview in Vanity Fair. Though there is typically no way for a fan to know whether a Twitter feed is actually written by the celebrity (or to what degree other intermediaries influence the tweets), the very nature of Twitter as a social network gives at least the illusion of the celebrity herself as the sole author of her tweets. [NB: Annie Petersen has an excellent blog post about the believability of celebrity tweets]

This is not to suggest that celebrity tweets are not “real,” and indeed many are genuinely authored by the celebrity. Yet as a site of image production, celebrity Twitter feeds offer glimpses of the star’s private life that appear uncontrolled and authentic, even as these glimpses are limited and, often, deliberately staged. In this way, Twitter provides the celebrity and her intermediaries greater control over her image by engaging the same appeal to the unmediated and authentic self more typical of the tabloids.

The illusion of intimacy promoted by Twitter’s interactive access is also a site of struggle in which the star can challenge the tabloids’ construction of her as the “truth.” For example, in the days leading up to Lindsay Lohan’s court appearance and jail time, she used her Twitter account to challenge the negative way she was represented in the gossip media. Such a move uses the illusion of intimacy promoted by Twitter as a means to control the representation of her image to her most important audience, existing fans. In fact, she explicitly encouraged fans to “get the news straight from me” via her Twitter feed rather than turn to other media outlets, thus rejecting their representations of her as false and untrustworthy.

Of course, using Twitter cannot guarantee her version of her image will be the dominant one, and many of Lohan’s tweets have been used by the gossip media as further evidence of her instability. Nevertheless the ability to speak directly to her fans about the “truth” of her situation exploits the illusion of intimacy and offers Lohan and her producers a controlled platform from which to “fight back” against tabloid gossip in the midst of scandal. In these tweets, Lindsay attempts to control the scandal after she tested positive for drugs and alcohol just days after being released from jail:

Such image control is crucial if she wants to rebuild her public career post-incarceration. Within the contested terrain of celebrity culture, Twitter enables the celebrity to (at least appear to) bypass other players in the circuit of celebrity production, recuperate (if temporarily) control over her image and, most crucially, increase the illusion of intimacy with her audience/followers.

Films on Stars: All About Eve 1950

25 09 2010

Has it really been almost a month since my last blog post? Starting the new job and teaching three courses has got me in a constant whirlwind of course prep. Finding time to do research related things, let alone write blog posts, has been tough. The fact that my blog hasn’t been updated in quite some time is always gnawing away at the back of my mind, especially since there’s still a lot that I want to cover. I’m reminded of Walter Winchell, who said he had to constantly be working to “feed the maw” of his column. Of course, I’m not trying to write a daily column, like Winchell did, but if he felt overwhelmed in the old media days, imagine what he would think of Twitter. Which reminds me, I am tweeting a bit more often, so you can always follow me there (erin_meyers) for small tidbits of pop culture goodness.

On to today’s topic! The 1950 Bette Davis classic, All About Eve. Much has been written on this wonderful film, which I re-watched a few weeks ago, and here I’ll focus, naturally, on how the film depicts stardom. If I was to create a “canon” of films about stardom (which I suppose I am with this series), this film would be near the top, along with the two versions of A Star Is Born, as the definitive word on classic era stardom. In the film, we are presented with both the process of achieving fame (in ways both deserved and nefarious) and the fading of a major star. Basic plot summary from IMDB here. My quick version: Bette Davis plays Margo Channing, a diva theater star whose talent has brought her fame and admiration. She is introduced to a devoted fan, Miss Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter), who becomes her assistant and eventually (and diabolically) works to usurp Margo’s fame and her boyfriend, director Bill Simpson. The seemingly naive Eve is, spoiler alert, actually working the angles at all times in order to secure fame and fortune for herself.

So on one hand, the character of Eve presents us with a view of stardom as something entirely constructed. It’s not that Eve lacks acting talent, as we are shown that she is quite talented. Rather, it’s that she is actually “acting” at all times, being what you want her to be in order to get ahead. She doesn’t leave her acting on stage and become a “real” person, she is always putting on a facade. Eve wants to become a star like Margo, or, more accurately, to become Margo in both public and private.

This is a particularly gendered view of stardom, because Eve’s ascent to fame rests on constructing an idealized version of a feminine self to get what she wants. She initially plays the shy ingenue, a small town girl who dreams of acting on the stage. But she is ultimately revealed to be a schemer who manipulates everyone and will stop at nothing to get what she wants. In a fun twist at the end, the now famous and revered Eve meets her biggest fan, a young woman who wants to be just like her idol, just as Eve did when she met Margo. The aging female star is always going to be threatened by, as Margo says earlier in the film, “a new, younger version.”

Margo presents us with a different view of fame as a gendered phenomenon, one in which female stars (no matter their claims to talent) are always deficient and always replaceable. Margo’s fame is genuinely presented as rooted in her talent as an actress. She is a success because she is good. The cost of this talent, however, is her inability to have successful relationships. She does have a loyal friend in Karen (Celeste Holm) and a devoted boyfriend, Bill, who is also her director (an interesting merging of her private and public self), but generally treats them poorly and takes them for granted. This diva attitude is tied to her performance of stardom…she has to act the part of the star and put on the facade to “be” Margo Channing. She is unable to find her “real” self, and the fact that she is getting older and losing her grasp on her fame means she’s losing the facade as well. Of course, this “real” self is framed as a more properly feminine woman, one who is essentially the opposite of the boozy, brash and snarky Margo.

Again we see the price of fame: that the female star is unable to maintain personal relationships because of a deficient femininity brought on by public fame. Margo must give up the public life of the star in order to be a “proper” woman and to actually find happiness with Bill. In this scene, she finally drops the facade of “Margo Channing” and admits that stardom has kept her from true (feminine) happiness.

Margo’s awareness of her deficiency is rooted in her recognition that she is getting old, and even though she was never exactly framed as a great beauty because her fame came from her innate talent, an aging (female) star is a fading star. She describes herself at one point as “an old kazoo with some sparkles.” Eve can replace Margo as a star and as a woman because she is younger, more beautiful, and therefore more desirable. Everyone else fails to see this point, but Margo is keenly aware of it, as evidenced in this fabulous scene:

The fact that she can be replaced with a younger model means that she will have nothing. That’s the price of fame, and only Margo as the female star is able to see it. But she’s not going down without a fight, and the film is based around the idea of female competition between Eve and Margo. Margo is admonished at one point for not recognizing what she has and instead focusing on what she is “losing” to the younger Eve. Bill says, “You have every reason for happiness but take every opportunity to let that kid turn you into a hysterical screaming harpy.” This version of femininity is most undesirable, both on a private and public level, and Margo’s struggle is she is losing her place in both. Her fame has made her a pathological female who is unable to maintain any part of her life. This clip is long, but this scene perfectly encapsulates the problem of the female star and also the awesomeness of Bette Davis:

In the end, Margo does give it up and learns to be “real,” in part through the exposure of Eve’s facade and realization of the importance of her personal relationships (see the monologue in the first clip above). Margo essentially “recovers” from fame through more proper femininity. Eve, on the other hand, is betrayed by her false facade of femininity because, in the end, fame has not brought her happiness. In fact, since she is presented with the new, younger model in the form of her biggest fan (the same way she met Margo), we are told that the cycle of female stardom is simply going to begin again. Eve will get old and hard, and the new model will take her place. But unlike Margo, Eve does not have any personal relationships, as she simply used people rather than connected with them. So the moral is that she will ultimately get her punishment without any hope for redemption through a return to proper (read: authentic rather than constructed) femininity.

Films on Stars: My Favorite Year (1982)

31 08 2010

It’s with great pleasure that I include My Favorite Year in my Films on Stars series, as it is one of my favorite movies of all time. I have no idea how old I was when I first saw it, but the movie, and its hilarious lines, were a mainstay in my house as a child. I have probably seen it dozens of times and could probably recite most of it from memory. I recorded it on Turner Classic Movies the other day not because I immediately thought of it for this series, but just for the pleasure of revisiting a favorite of my youth. Imagine my surprise when I realized it is clearly about stardom and fame damage, albeit from a comedic rather than melodramatic perspective. It also works well as an example of a film about stardom that centers on a male star, which does not seem to be the norm.

For those of you unfamiliar with this film, you can read a more detailed plot summary here or watch the trailer on TCM’s site here. Set in the early days of television, freshman comedy writer Benjy Stone (Mark Linn-Baker, better known as Cousin Larry to fans of 80s sitcoms) must ensure matinee idol Alan Swann (played by the superb Peter O’Toole) shows up for his guest star appearance on a popular sketch/variety comedy show. Swann is a thinly veiled reference to movie lothario Errol Flynn, down to the heroic swashbuckling roles he plays in his films and this scandalous reputation as a ladies man off-screen. But he is also an unreliable drunk, so Benjy must babysit him to make sure he shows up, sober, to all rehearsals and for the live broadcast of the show.

Swann’s on-screen persona, like Flynn’s, is the epitome of masculine movie star glamor. He is handsome and debonair in an innate and natural way. He simply doesn’t even have to try to charm people. Female audiences swoon over him and male audiences, especially super-fan Benjy, look up to him as a courageous and heroic ideal of manhood. This sort of fame and devotion has allowed Swann to, as he himself says, “get away with murder” in certain contexts. Here’s a moment that encapsulates that movie idol charm and how it relates to his off-screen ladies man persona:

Fame seems to have given him everything he could possibly want. This is actually presented as the “problem” with fame because it ultimately robs him of the “real” things in life: real relationships and family. His life is a series of meaningless flings with women who want the Alan Swann they see on the screen, and, he says, “no matter what I do, I never fulfill their expectations.” He is keenly aware that he is a facade created by the studios. Late in the film, he tells Benjy his real name is Clarence Duffy and that his whole life, from his name to his lifestyle, was created by the studio. He is an image, and is increasingly lost in that image without any connection to his “real” self. To cope, he drinks and cavorts with women, simultaneously living up to his image and distancing himself even more from his real self. He tells Benjy he “can’t tell where the bogus [self] ends and the real one begins.” He’s sick of everyone allowing him to get away with whatever he wants (including his boorish behavior when he’s drunk) simply because he is famous, but doesn’t see the way out of it. He doesn’t know how to NOT be Alan Swann and just be Clarence Duffy.

His loneliness and fear of his real self is most evident in his (seemingly self-imposed) estrangement from his daughter, Tess. In his life as Alan Swann, everyone wants a piece of him, and he is usually more than happy to oblige. But when he goes to Connecticut to see Tess, he can’t even get out of the car because he is afraid of what she thinks of him. O’Toole’s face conveys so much in this scene:

This is all very serious, but I swear this is a comedy! And, as a comedy, the treatment of Swann’s fame damage and loss of “real” self to his “reel” self is not quite as serious as in, say, A Star Is Born. Swann’s drunken escapades are certainly played for humor, like when he tries to help Benjy win the heart of co-worker K.C. Downing by rappelling into her parents’ apartment on a fire hose. This move is straight out of his swashbuckling movies, as he can’t separate himself from them, and he nearly kills himself in the process. The contradiction between “real” life and “reel” life in this scene pure comedy gold, not a crushing melodramatic moment. This is clip is a bit long (6 minutes) and not the best quality, but the scene is hilarious and a good example of Swann’s fame damage in action.

I also think that because this is a comedy, we get a solution to the fame damage problem in the form of a happy ending. We are left with the sense that Alan Swann, though his experiences with Benjy, finally finds his real self, reconnects with his daughter, and generally becomes a happy (and presumably sober) person.

After having a breakdown at the thought of doing live television (the sketch show is, after all, live and Swann is used to the multiple takes of Hollywood movie making), Swann finally admits that he is scared. He says, “I’m flesh and blood, life-sized! I was never the silly goddamn hero!.” But Benjy refuses to let him get away with it, for once, saying “I can’t use you life-sized! I need my Alan Swann’s as big as I can get them…You couldn’t have convinced me the way you did if you didn’t have that courage inside.” Okay, a little schmaltzy, but that’s comedy wrap ups for you. Regardless, it is this realization that he DOES have an innate courage and specialness that makes Swann recognize that he is more than “just” a silly goddamn hero and that his “real” self matters too. He saves the day on the show and, as we learn in a voice over, goes back to see Tess and “this time, he knocked on the door” and is greeted with open arms.

As a side note, Swann’s breakdown is also makes a distinction between talent-based stardom and media-based stardom. He is afraid to do live television and perform in front of an audience and says “I’m not an actor, I’m a movie star!” Any talent he may have believed he had has been overshadowed by his persona, leaving him unsure of his ability to actually do the work of acting. Being a movie star is not the same sort of work, from Swann’s perspective. It sort of happens to him, rather than him being an active agent in creating it.

Though I chalk this happy ending up to the fact this film is a comedy, I think there are also some gender implications here. The male star can overcome fame damage and rediscover his true self in ways we haven’t seen in the other films I’ve discussed. His daughter, apparently, instantly forgives him for being an absentee father and he goes right back into a happy family life. Compare that with the failed attempt to forge a real family or relationship in A Star Is Born or The Rose.

The male star’s fame damage, in this case his drinking and womanizing, are played off as essential, if not endearing, elements of his appeal as a star. His private life exploits help elevate his star status, not diminish it. Though there is clearly still damage, he is never abandoned by others (like Rose is) nor does his damage alienate people (he can always smooth talk his way back). It’s a much more private failing compared to the public downfall we saw in The Rose, for example. He is never humilitated and shamed by his behavior, and even frankly answers Benjy’s uncle’s question regarding a paternity suit and laughs off a newspaper report of him swimming naked in a fountain with a girl he met at the Stork Club. Compare that to the “brave face forward” of Vickie Lester after her husband’s suicide in A Star is Born.

Of course, maybe Swann gave up the public life to become a father, we don’t know. But I think the film leaves us with the sense that fame can be a problem and can make one lose sight of what is really important for a false sense of entitlement and attention. But fame and movie stardom also gives audiences (personified by Benjy) something to aspire to and dream about. It also can enable the star (Swann) to find his true inner strength by appealing to the very star image that seemed to trap him. He can still be “Alan Swann from the movies” because he always was that courageous person on the inside…he just lost track of it for a while. In other words, some people are still destined to be stars, but may need a little help staying grounded.

The 62nd Annual Emmy Awards: Show Time!

29 08 2010

New post for the show itself!

8:03 I’m loving the star power in the opening. And the Springsteen!

8:11 Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy…my toughest category to pick! Oh, and Eric Stonestreet wins! He’s my favorite on that show, but I didn’t see this coming.

8:13 Love that John Hodgman is doing the intros again!

8:14 The acceptance speech, in general, is interesting because it does reveal the other forces behind the star as playing a role in creating the star. Thanking writers, producers, other creative professionals or even the star’s publicity team is a quick glimpse behind the controlled facade that says stars are natural phenomena. But that hardly ever gets play from the media after the speech. It’s just who won.

8:25 As if anyone but Jane Lynch could wind this one!

8:26 Thanks Jane Lynch. Now I see that actors and academics have a lot in common…we do this because we have no other marketable skills. 😉

8:28 Oh man…the last season of Oprah is upon us. This ad is already getting me choked up with its emotional manipulation. This farewell season will be bonkers.

8:38 Rewarding a new face! Nice. Haven’t really seen this show, but Jim Parsons’ clip earlier made me laugh.

8:40 I think the acceptance speech plays an important role in the emphasis on the private celeb in the moment of rewarding their public performances. Seeing a genuinely flustered actor/actress win is pretty endearing.

8:45 I haven’t seen Nurse Jackie at all. Worth watching? But I do love Edie Falco…reward for successful cross over from drama to comedy?

8:47 I’ve only gotten one category right so far (Jane Lynch)! And I didn’t do any reality picks!

8:49 Promo moment! Will Arnet and Keri Russell are in a new show on Fox this fall. But since this in on NBC, they didn’t mention that in the intro. I’m sure we’ll hear when new NBC stars are on!

8:52 Damn it Oprah! You are killing me. How much did they spend to get these spots on? It doesn’t even run on NBC (at least my Oprah doesn’t, its CBS).

8:57 Drama! Okay, time to redeem myself and get some picks right this time!

9:02 Mad Men wins writing…but I’m sticking with Lost for best series even though I personally enjoy MM more.

9:04 I’m wrong again! But happy to be wrong to see more awards for Breaking Bad. Congrats to Aaron Paul who plays Jesse on BB.

9:11 I am wrong again…but An Admirer’s dreams of a hotness qualification for an Emmy comes true! Archie Punjabi wins for The Good Wife

9:13 My head was right, Bryan Cranston wins for Outstanding Actor for playing Walter White Breaking Bad. Love him, love the show, but would not have kicked a John Hamm acceptance speech out of bed.

9:18 I’ve only gotten 2 picks out of 6 correct so far. Not a good record!

9:19 Another promo moment…Undercovers ad followed immediately by the (unknown) stars presenting an award.

9:32 Outstanding Actress in a Drama. Kyra Sedgwick with the upset. I don’t watch The Closer either.

9:53 Thought it would be Conan’s big moment. The Daily Show has been pretty hilarious lately, especially the Glenn Beck stuff.

10:04 George Clooney, the biggest star in the room, just made the distinction between star vs. celebrity. Should have used him as a source in my dissertation.

10:26 Maura Tierney looks great with the pixie haircut. Glad she is well and coming back to TV. Note that the NBC shows got mentioned in their intro. Industry promotional moment.

10:31 Definitely hitting the wall and ready for the big awards of the night, comedy and drama series. I’m also amused by the irony that I am not watching the new episode of Mad Men in order to see if Mad Men wins outstanding drama series.

10:51 Finally! Outstanding Drama Series!

10:51 Yay for Mad Men even though it means another category I lose! Last season was really spectacular.

10:54 With one award to go, will this telecast actually end on time? Miracles are possible!

10:56 Outstanding Comedy….my chance to get 3 out of 10 for my picks! C’mon Modern Family

10:57 Woo! I get 3 out of 10! My reward is I get to go to bed!

11:00 Thanks for reading along with my live blog experiment! Good night!

The 62nd Emmy Awards: Red Carpet Live Blog

29 08 2010

Welcome to my experiment in live blogging! I’m gonna start with some red carpet coverage to kind of get the feel of the live blog before the main event. NBC’s red carpet starts at 7pm, so I’ll be watching E! until then. Show starts at 8pm EST.

By way of context, I’ll just say that the red carpet is a major moment for the construction of the celebrity image. Given the context of the event (which I discussed here), the emphasis is on the extraordinary and glamorous side of stardom. As much as contemporary audiences love seeing stars stripped down and caught off-guard in paparazzi shots, the awards show is where we want to see them LOOK like stars. The fact that celebrity media devotes so much attention to the fashion/glamor of the awards shows demonstrates, I think, the importance of the extraordinary star endures in contemporary celebrity culture.

The celebrity media obviously have a big stake in this, as best/worst dressed issues are generally big sellers. It’s also a big deal for the stars (and their cultural producers). Ending up on a best dressed list is a big plus for (especially female) stars because it gets them positive press coverage…even in the tabloids! That said, even ending up on the worst dressed list still gets you some coverage, so it can be a momentary image buster, but at least still gets name out there. I think some folks deliberately go crazy just for that sort of thing.

Either way, it’s a really important space for celebs to get their names/faces out there. Which also makes it a space that kind of gets away from the talent focus of the event (we’ll save that for the actual awards show). This also allows the industry to sneak in new faces (like Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who will star in the new NBC show from J.J. Abrams Undercovers premiering this fall. She’s there as a presenter, but it’s obviously a move by NBC to promote the show since she’s an unknown) and people whose talent is not their claim to fame or, really, the reason they are at the show (I’m looking at you, Kim Kardashian). So the overall event is not all talent-based fame, but it still holds on to the stars-as-extraordinary focus no matter who is on the carpet.

I’m turning on E! now, so let’s get this red carpet live blog started!

6:02pm Love that Ryan is keeping up the facade that this is a totally uncontrolled and unscripted glimpse of the stars. “You never know what will happen!” Also, Jane Lynch looks amazing in that plum dress.

6:14 I’m renaming the Glam Cam 360 to Scary Cam 360. This is almost as weird as the reporter hologram from the presidential election coverage.

6:17 Ty Burrell, my pick for outstanding comedy actor, wins points for not going for standard black tuxedo.

6:32 I love Kathy Griffin at these events because the celebrities are afraid of her.

6:35 Kim Kardashian may be on television, but, let’s face it, she’s there because she’s gorgeous and makes good red carpet fodder. Sort of a celebrity seat filler…can be in pictures and help the celeb media sell some magazines.

6:43 Except for that moment of awkwardness when Ryan asked Mark Salling about the rumor that his Glee castmate and rumored girlfriend, Naya Rivera, keyed his car, Ryan is keeping all the chatter at the level of star-as-worker (talking about show) or positive personal info (like the fascinating insight into the home life of Eva Longria Parker and Tony Parker). Keep the drama out of it, Ryan, this is the Emmys! Industry gossip only!

6:47 Sofia Vegaras is just crazy gorgeous. I love her!

6:48 John Hamm! Swoon! Love his gf, Jennifer Westfeldt, but also love to pretend that he sits at home pining away for me.

6:53 Kate Gosslin! No! That’s just wrong.

7:00 January Jones is wise to go very modern with her red carpet looks since she does the vintage in her character. Way to separate your “self” from your character!

7:02 Christina Hendricks. Like the purple color. Do not like the feathers or the sleeves. But she’s sure working the girls.

7:05 Switched to NBC just in time for Betty White! But now a repeat of Claire Danes. But I think I’ll stick here for Nate Berkus’ handsome scruff.

7:09 Now Nate Berkus is ruining the illusion by talking about the supportive undergarments that go into making these dresses possible.

7:38 Matthew Morrison has the innate inner talent necessary for fame! Thanks, mentor guy.

7:42 One benefit for changing to NBC…get to see John Hamm again.

7:57 I’m gonna start a new post for the show itself, so I’m calling this red carpet finished. Big winners: ladies: Lea Michele, Sofia Vegara men: Ty Burell and (duh) John Hamm.

Celebrity Culture and the Awards Show

27 08 2010

Awards shows play an unusual role in celebrity culture. On one hand, they (allegedly) reward the famous for their talent—for actually doing something to deserve our adulation and, in turn, their fame. We are asked, if only momentarily, to put aside any extratextual details of the star’s life and focus only on her performances. The awards show privileges the extraordinariness of stars…these are exceptional individuals who do exceptional things, wear amazing and glamorous gowns and tuxedos, and generally are gorgeous and fabulous at all times.

But, as is always the case with stardom, the private or “real” person never goes away. Thus, the awards show is also a key, albeit tightly controlled, moment for the audience to see the “real” and private person appear in public as her extraordinary self. We logically know we are looking at Katherine Heigl as she accepts her award, not at her Grey’s Anatomy character. But we are always brought back to her talent in portraying that character as the key to her image (despite any extratextual reports we may have read about her). We are also asked to equate the “real” Katherine Heigl with the fabulous extraordinary person we see on stage, without bothering to think about all the effort that went into producing the self we see on stage (hair, makeup, dress fittings, endless campaigning for the award etc). In other words, her private “real” self is the effortlessly extraordinary vessel of glamor and talent!

Aren't I Fabulous? Now give me an award!

Thank You! I REALLY mean it!

Contemporary awards shows are a throwback to the glamor and control of the Golden Age of Hollywood, when stars were created to support the interests of the studio and then tightly policed by the studio to uphold that image. Make no mistake, the awards show is work for the star, and they know how to put on the proper kind of private self in this public moment. A successful appearance at an awards show (whether nominated or not, and whether or not the star actually takes home a trophy) is key to continued work in the industry and audience devotion. Even if they end up on the worst dressed list, their still wearing designer dresses and hanging out with other celebs and you aren’t.

On the hallowed ground of the awards show, the stars are nothing but special. Even Joan Rivers saved her snarking for the next day. Awards shows are full of ridiculous, self-aggrandizing, and ass-kissing behavior, so obviously they are perfect vehicles for celebrity culture! Where else do you get a bunch of beautiful people congratulating each other for being so beautiful and fabulous? I kid, celebrities, I kid. I do (much to my partner’s chagrin) love the major award shows precisely because of the stylized glitz and glamor that, I think, perfectly encapsulates stardom.

Which, of course, means I am quite excited about this weekend’s Emmy Awards. At the request of frequent (dare I say favorite?) commenter, An Admirer, I’ll be live blogging the event on Sunday. I’ll probably start with some pre-show red carpet ridiculousness on E! around 6pm EST, but will definitely be on board for the entire awards show proper.

I’ll even venture some picks for the major categories, based mostly on my personal preference over what industry buzz I might have read. I’m gonna stick to just the acting categories (and “big” award of best comedy and best drama series), since that’s most relevant to my focus on stardom here. Though I will say Lost’s final episode is probably the one to beat in the Drama Writing category. I invite you to share your own picks or tell me why mine are wrong in the comments section. You can find a full list of nominees here

Outstanding Actor in a Comedy Series
I’m gonna go with Alec Baldwin for his continued excellence on 30 Rock. Though the fact that Steve Carell is leaving The Office after this season may make him a dark horse. Sorry Mr. Shue.

Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series
Tina Fey’s my favorite here, but I think Julia Louis-Dreyfuss has a shot since her show, The New Adventures of Old Christine, was canceled and there’s nothing like sticking it to the man by rewarding a show that did not make it (see: Arrested Development)

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series
Will the Modern Family men cancel each other out? Will NPH finally get his due? How much do I love Chris Kofler as Kurt on Glee? I don’t know, so let’s say Ty Burrell as doofus Dad Phil Dunfey on Modern Family. One part of me loves to see so many gay characters (and actors) nominated, but sort of sad (though not entirely surprised) that it is in the supporting category.

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series
Jane Lynch as Sue Sylvester on Glee. The end.

Outstanding Actor in a Drama Series
My heart says John Hamm, but my head says Bryan Cranston. Who completely deserves another win for his portrayal of Walter White on Breaking Bad. Dark horse is Matthew Fox from Lost. He did a great job this season, and the voters love to reward a show in its final season.

Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series
This is a tough one for me, because I only watch one of the nominated actress’s shows. Which probably makes me a bad feminist spectator, what with the strong characters and actresses nominated here. So I’ll say Julianna Margulies for The Good Wife because I know some other people like her. 😉 And because as much as I enjoy January Jones’ portrayal of ice queen Betty Draper, I somehow think her performance is related more to the luck of finding the perfect role for her than her acting chops. Though no one furrows her brow quite like Jones.

Outstanding Supporting Actor Drama Series
Gah, this one is so hard! I really want John Slattery to win for Mad Men’s Roger Sterling, who always gets the best lines. But I think it will be either Terry O’Quinn or Michael Emerson for Lost, both of whom were fantastic in the final season. Edge to O’Quinn for so convincingly turning Locke into FLocke.

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series
I am still a bit miffed that Anna Gunn was not nominated for her tense and nuanced performance as Skylar White Breaking Bad. She really was outstanding this past season. Nevertheless, Christina Hendrick’s Joan on Mad Men keeps getting more complex and fascinating. Her scenes with her no-good husband last season were brilliantly subtle. Go Joan!

And the really big ones:

Outstanding Comedy Series
Though 30 Rock continues to be one of my favorite shows ever, I think they’ve probably won it enough times. Torn between Glee and Modern Family, I’m gonna go with Modern Family because the sneaky punchlines and deadpan delivery make me laugh out loud and rewind my DVR to see it again.

Outstanding Drama Series
As much as I love Mad Men, no other show makes me say “holy crap!” more consistently than Breaking Bad, which just keeps getting better. That said, Lost is totally winning this category.

See you back here on Sunday night!