Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A little peek into my psyche...

I'm reading a book called Celebrity and Power by P. David Marshall for my Culture Industries, Mass Media and Celebrity class, and while I was reading I realized something about why I love film history so much. The book is chock full of insightful inner workings of the star-making machinery (cue Joni Mitchell's "Free Man in Paris", someone) involved in the jobs of studios, publicists and agents. It also rips the veil off of how celebrities are manufactured, and how this manufacturing is in concert with their roles in films and just as equally their personal lives. To me, a look at the details of the history of the star system in 1920s-50s Hollywood is equivalent to going behind the scenes at Disneyland (I performed in a show at Disney's California Adventure during the 2002-2003 holiday season, and when one is hired by the Disney Company one is privy to education at The Disney Academy. This is complete with a behind-the-scenes look at everything, right down to the sonic landscape that fades in and out as one moves between each "land" or section of the park). Removing this screen of artifice has so much appeal to me, and I think completely legitimizes the field I've chosen to study. You might disagree, but it certainly gives it worth to me.

In undergrad when I would mention that I was studying film, everyone would say, "Wow, that sounds so fun!" Well, yeah, it's pretty fun in that I sometimes watched ten movies a week in class, but this wasn't just for the entertainment value of the films; we weren't just sitting in class mindlessly consuming the images in front of us. Watching these films was like participating in a discourse with history, trying to attempt to understand audience perspectives of sometimes seventy or so years ago, and fitting everything together within an understood cultural and historical context.

Case in point: I tried to engage an acquaintance of mine in a discussion of celebrity, a friend who is in the drama program at The New School. She completely didn't believe anything I was saying, especially when it came to the construction of celebrity by the studio system and their agents. "Yeah, but that was really only in Classic Hollywood, right? That's not the way things are now," she said. I wanted to explain, tried to convince her that these celebrities she sees in People and other such magazines are not really who she thinks they are, that this is the same artifice that was in place fifty, sixty years ago. But she just kept saying, "I don't know...". Maybe I like that I (am at least trying to) understand these concepts while most others just look at stars as heroes, as icons, as people to aspire to be, as people worth celebrating just because they are well-known. My friend is also always saying, "Don't you think I look like (fill in the blank of any beautiful celebrity)?", constantly attempting to ensure herself that she has the same characteristics as other well-known faces and therefore deserves a spot among them, like looking similar to a celebrity means that she is also worthy of stardom.

Tut, tut, looks like naivety...

Anyway, back to more unveiling of history.

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