Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to mourn the loss of someone we never really knew, and maybe never really loved. But, as the old adage goes, we either wanted to be them – or be with them.
They were glamorous. They were mysterious. They made cigarettes look cool before Mad Men. We only heard from them when their publicists said we could, and when we did they were witty, smart, and evocative. Their real names were old-fashion monikers like Norma Jean, Betty Jane, Archibald, or Belmont, but we knew them as Marilyn, Lauren, Cary, and Humphrey.
They were the Movie Star. And they are gone.
We obviously still have celebrities today. They walk the red carpet. They chat on late-night talk show couches. They appear on screens big and small and sell us cosmetics because “we’re worth it.” We still read about their love lives and addictions and failures and triumphs at the grocery store, only looking up from the magazine when the clerk asks us if we’ve brought our own bags.
But the emerging celebrities of today are not movie stars, at least, not in the traditional sense. They’re not icons or trendsetters. In fact, if I had to pick one word to describe what an up-and-coming actor needs to portray to win fortune and fame it would be…friend.
And just like with everything else in the twenty-first century, we can blame the internet.
THE EVOLUTION OF J.LAW AND C.PRATT
If you were to ask who the biggest actors are right here and now, the answer is in the box office numbers. Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt rule the school that is New Hollywood, and they’re winning in spades.
You could argue that J.Law and Pratt wouldn’t have come anywhere close to superstardom in a different era. Lawrence got her start in a tiny, gritty indie film before she became a badass with a bow, and Pratt is an even more unlikely marquee name. Pre-Guardians of the Galaxy, he was best known as the schlubby-but-lovable Andy Dwyer on the highly adored but barely watched Parks and Recreation. Once upon a time not too long ago, TV stars and movies only mixed at the Golden Globes ceremony. Now Pratt is headlining Jurassic World, one of the most highly anticipated films of 2015.
So what do Lawrence and Pratt have in common? They’re both good-looking, sure, but so is most of L.A. And they’re talented obviously, but I think their appeal goes far beyond that.
They’re the kind of people you want to chill with.
It feels almost pointless to even recount every hilarious anecdote behind J.Law. We have seen the photobombs, the trip up the stairs on the way to getting her Academy Award, the gif of her spilling mints at a press conference, and heard the uninhibited stories that range from butt plugs to getting so wasted at Madonna’s Oscar afterparty that Miley Cyrus told her to cool it.
Chris Pratt is equally as open in his interviews, talking freely about how much he hated dieting for Guardians and unleashing his inner-dork. By the time he French-braided an intern’s hair on Entertainment Tonight, Pratt’s appeal sealed the deal. He was America’s newest, and most unlikely, heartthrob.
The Lawrence-Pratt effect can be summed up nicely in this line from a BuzzFeed listicle counting down the many virtues of Chris:
“And, finally, because he’s able to be refreshingly real and endearing, while still being a total goober.”
Real. That’s the key word.
There’s an episode in Entourage where Vincent Chase is (spoiler alert!) thinking of leaving his agent Ari Gold. He and Eric take a tour of the other major Hollywood agents and get fed almost identical PowerPoint presentations about branding Vince like a fine, luxury car.
I would bet that if we were to see those presentations today, they would all be the same. One slide, with five words: you need to be real.
BUT WAIT…WHAT ABOUT BEYONCÉ
I know we’ve been talking about movie stars, but there’s an important example I think warrants attention.
Beyoncé is a superstar. She may even be the superstar. And, unlike Lawrence or Pratt, she is not an unfiltered one. Her public image is perfectly controlled, with every T crossed and I dotted. Even in #elevatorgate she was stone, not so much undisturbed as maybe knowing, as only someone who has been in the industry long enough can, that everything she does, everywhere she goes, everything she says, is being recorded.
It may seem hard to believe now, in the day and age of The Beygency, but before Beyoncé, Beyonce’s record sales and popularity were actually starting to dip (please don’t kill me #BeyHive).
Beyoncé’s fourth album, aptly titled 4, sold almost two million less copies in the U.S than the preceding I Am … Sasha Fierce. World sales? Five million less.
The rumor is that Solange advised Beyonce to be more personal on her fifth album. And if that’s the case, Bey clearly took her baby sister’s advice. Beyoncé may have been released with the best surprise marketing tactic since Radiohead put all of In Rainbows online for free during the Limeware-plagued era of 2007. But I think the real appeal of the album is that it gives a peak inside the mind of a woman who is famously guarded with the public. The tracks are full of insecurities and dirty fantasies and gender politics and baby weight.
Finally, Beyoncé didn’t seem so damn perfect, even when she still totally kind of did.
Beyoncé outsold 2011’s 4 in four weeks.
FAME IS JUST A CLICK AWAY
I loved reading celebrity profiles when I was a kid. It seemed, to my young brain, that those five pages of small text in glossy magazines always held some kind of secret to the people I loved watching on screen. In reality, almost every profile started with something like this:
She walks into Nobu, dressed tastefully in black slacks and Chanel ballet flats. “I’m a homebody, really,” she tells me, a single strand of her shiny Espresso locks slipping from her modest bun, as she tucks into a plate of fries. “I much prefer staying at home and watching a movie with my dog. The club scene? That isn’t really my thing.”
For a long time, we only got to see the stars as they wanted to be seen, wrapped up and packaged into the perfect soundbite. And then the internet came along and everything changed.
Social media has been a savior or a career-ruiner depending on which celebrity you ask. It has given us TMZ and more access to celebrity scandals than we ever thought was possible, but it’s also given us Twitter and Instagram, allowing us the kind of direct contact that has shown just how funny – or dull – the stars can be.
To the dude who just called me a “spinner” – You think I haven’t seen enough porn to know what that means, but the joke’s on YOU. Wait.
— Anna Kendrick (@AnnaKendrick47) November 10, 2014
It’s also given us the perception that we’re intimately connected to celebrities. We feel like we’re seeing them unfiltered because that’s how Twitter and Instagram are designed. Anna Kendrick‘s dirty jokes mixes with your brother’s cat memes and Rihanna’s sexy insta is above one of your friend’s “look how cute I used to be” #tbt’s, as if we’re all just one big happy family.
But, on the flip side, social media has also made us celebrities. Regular people have become millionaires from YouTube channels. Pre-teen girls follow fashion and makeup tips not from the stars, who unabashedly now walk the red carpet in borrowed pre-selected designer gowns, but from fashion vloggers. A guy working at Target can become an overnight celebrity because a British girl thought he was cute and tweeted his picture.
The internet has made celebrities more ordinary while at the same time given a regular person the opportunity to be a little extraordinary. We are in the post-reality television age, where fame and fortune – even if it’s only for fifteen minutes – feel like a lucky click away. And maybe that’s almost reduced the influence of celebrities. A sort of ‘if they can do it, why can’t I?’
I am not a conspiracy theorist. J.Law and Chris Pratt are probably just as goofy and adorable in real life as they are in the snippets that we see on our daily newsfeeds. But we see those snippets because of social media. Their late-night talk show chats and press conference slip-ups can be played over and over on a loop, whether its via a YouTube video or a BuzzFeed gif.
Social media hasn’t made celebrities more real. It’s just made it more important for celebrities to be real.
So maybe the movie star isn’t really dead. Maybe they just never really existed in the first place.