Willow Pape is the bane of my existence. When I see her at Lif Club in Miami, I get anxious. There will be conflict. She once told me I should slip into something more comfortable like a coma. She continually works against me as I climb the ladder upward toward A-list stardom. On my best days, I roll my eyes at her. On my worst, my publicists spread rumors about her on social media. Being complicit in this process is the trouble with chasing fame.

More… “The (Cult)ure Industry”

Melinda Lewis has a PhD in American Culture Studies. She knows more celebrity gossip than basic math and watches too much television.

Bernardo Bertolucci once told me that I became an actor to get out certain emotions that I couldn’t get out in life. And I thought about that for a long time and, uh, uh, uh…um…uh…I think that’s right.
(Robert DeNiro in Esquire)

Yeah, well … I think that … umm…you know… uh-hah.
(De Niro to Richard Schickel, in Time)

I, uh, can’t, ah, umm … Well, let’s, ah, see uh, I, uh.
(De Niro cited in the Toronto Star)

In any list of all-time most taciturn celebrity interviewees, Robert De Niro would seem to have a lock on a top spot, along with fellow inductees Billy Bob Thornton and the late Lou Reed. Observers are frequently puzzled that De Niro, regularly hailed as one of the most powerful, nuanced actors of his generation, has so little apparent interest in displaying verbal power; as Barry Paris observes in the journal American Film, “It’s ironic that the very thing that draws people to De Niro on the screen — this powerful, largely nonverbal projection of character, emotion and meaning — is what baffles and annoys…people about him offscreen.” But De Niro’s well-known bouts of verbal blockage do not tell the whole story about his relation to celebrity promotion and the performance of a public subjectivity. Indeed, they are representations that do specific kinds of cultural work. As Greg M. Smith perceptively notes, journalists reproduce these inarticulacies, in the way you see them here, on these slides, transcribed literally. “Usually,” Smith reminds us, “a reply in such halting, ‘naturalistic’ speech would be cleaned up, and awkward false starts would be edited out.” Drawing upon recent affect theory that explores so-called “negative,” obstructive affects, I see these moments of inarticulateness as only part of the complex construction of desire and disinclination that I call “reluctant celebrity.” De Niro’s reluctance, then, represents: but how, and what?

More… “You (Not) Talkin’ to Me?”

Lorraine York is Senator McMaster Chair of Canadian literature and culture at McMaster University. She is writing a book on reluctant celebrity.

When It Takes a Village: And Other Lessons Children Teach Us was published in 1996, the book was met with the kind of response that a serious nonfiction writer dreams about. The ideas presented in the book became the topic of conversation across the land, politicians and commentators felt obligated to respond to it, it won awards, including a Grammy for its audio book edition, and it became so ubiquitous, both in sales numbers and in impact, that it started to become heavily parodied.

Any writer would be thrilled. Moved, even. And yet this particular writer also has to watch while someone else, taking credit for her work, takes all of the credit.

Hillary Rodham Clinton may have won the title page and the cover image (and the Grammy), but at best she was just one of many voices filtered through the actual writer. It Takes a Village… More…

Beauty, the saying goes, is in the eye of the beholder. In Grace Kelly’s case, however, it isn’t. Her beauty was so pure that all eyes see the same thing. After all, she had a nose so straight it didn’t cast shadows, hair so blond it seemed sprinkled with gold dust, and lips so finely shaped no Botox artist could duplicate them. In the Huffington Post piece, Mary Hall states that when Kelly met Prince Rainier she was wearing a dress made from a McCall’s easy-to-sew pattern. Hall means to highlight her subject’s impeccable taste in noting this, but the point here is not taste but the irrelevance of taste. It didn’t matter what Grace Kelly wore. Her clothes had one purpose and one purpose only: to keep out of her way. The McCall’s dress apparently did that.

The annals of celebrity are full of women who made the most… More…

“I think I’m ready for my close-up,” Britney Spears intones on her latest album, joylessly, mechanically, as if being the center of attention is now about as appealing to her as spending 72 hours locked inside an oil drum with Dr. Phil. And yet still there are suitors willing to bet on her capacity for self-disclosure. According to the Daily Mirror, a book publisher has offered Spears $14 million to produce a three-volume autobiography.

On first thought, it’s hard to say which number in that sentence is more astounding. Three books to chronicle Spears’ silly 27-year-old life, when even the notoriously long-winded Bill Clinton is taking only two to chronicle his? Fourteen million dollars? At, say, 333 pages per book, that’s $14,000 a page, or more than Henry David Thoreau earned for his complete collected works. The universe is viciously unjust!

Or, is $14 million actually a fair price, given… More…

John McCain was right. Lehman Bros., Fannie Mae, AIG be damned, American workers are strong. They’re still innovative, still entrepreneurial, still willing to spend long hours pursuing their dreams with no immediate reward in sight. Of course, you won’t find them amid all the short-sellers and subprime lenders on Wall Street. Or even in the small towns (unless you count meth dealers as entrepreneurs). But in Hollywood and Las Vegas and the theme parks of Orlando, they’re everywhere: hip-hop fiddlers, flaming baton twirlers, Day-Glo human Slinkys. In 2008, the old-fashioned novelty act isn’t novel at all. It’s commonplace. And that’s pretty amazing.

This is, after all, the reality TV era. If, like Brooke Hogan, you’re the daughter of a famous person, you get your own TV show. If, like Dina Lohan, you’re the mother of a famous person, you get your own TV show. If, like Kim Kardashian, you live… More…

The National Museum of Crime and Punishment opened in Washington, D.C., two weeks ago with McGruff the Crime Dog greeting guests outside the entrance. The museum (which was financed by an Orlando lawyer and produced in conjunction with the Fox TV show America’s Most Wanted) strives to bring interactivity and entertainment to a museum about crime. I visited on a soft opening day, and then again the next day for the grand opening, the major difference between these days being that on grand opening day, McGruff high-fived me at the door, John Walsh of America’s Most Wanted was rumored to be in the building, and entrance was free for all law enforcement officers.


Both days, though, were united by the strange tonal shifts one experiences when one engages in silly fun, reads random factoids, and is then… More…

On a recent Friday night, in a 100-seat club in the hotbed of comedy known as New Brunswick, New Jersey, wild applause rose from the from the audience. The clapping mingled with the clank of bottles, the muted sizzle of the fryer from the kitchen in back, and something else — a rustling noise. It sounded like a chipmunk caught in a garbage can. But it wasn’t. It was the sound of adult men and women wearing ponchos and Hefty bags, sweating and grinning. In a comedy club called the Stress Factory, this could only mean one thing — that the man preparing to take the stage was Gallagher, the bald-headed smasher of fruit, the mustachioed owner of the Sledge-o-Matic.

Yes, in 2008, Gallagher is still touring. And tucked in the back corner of the club, against my better judgment, I was watching him.

I read a lot of comedy… More…


This year, Converse turns 100, and to celebrate its heritage, it’s running an ad campaign that features a single token athlete, NBA superstar Dwyane Wade, amidst a dream team of Hall of Fame screw-ups. James Dean, Hunter S. Thompson, and Sid Vicious: Just try to imagine any one of these maverick malcontents in high school gym class, doing layup drills! And yet because they chose to wear Converse All-Stars while stomping all over the wet concrete of history, the brand survives — divorced from its utilitarian roots, manically fashionable, a tightly laced blend of canvas and contradiction, but at least still alive. Happy birthday, Converse! You don’t look a day over vitally absurd!

When it was introduced in 1917, the original Converse All-Star was the world’s most functional shoe. Its rubber soles gripped hardwood floors better than its… More…

Fret not, guardians of authenticity! Bubbly, super-assured pop variable Miley Cyrus does virtually all her own lip-synching when she performs live in concert. All her own costume-wearing too. Her PR firm has assured us of this. Yes, there is that YouTube video clip that shows the 15-year-old star of the Disney TV series Hannah Montana surreptitiously exiting the stage in the midst of a song, only to have a body double, dressed in identical white go-go boots and classy blonde stripper wig, take her place for a convincingly simulated half-minute of dance-inspired flailings and high-energy pretend-singing.

But does that make Cyrus a fraud — Hannah Nontana, Hannah Faketana, or Miley Vanilli, as Internet hecklers have taken to calling her? Or is she just impressively committed to wardrobe diversity?

On her TV series, Cyrus plays a character with a dual identity. Most of the time, she’s Miley Stewart, an average teen… More…