Navigating Kayfabe in the Reality Era.

dolph ziggler

This article originally appeared in Calling Spots Issue 21. Republished with permission.

The dwindling amount of old-timers still alive that experienced the territories of the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s and even ’80s tend to look back on making towns with fondness, when wrestling was still considered by the masses to be “real”, so much so that even many rookies making their debuts at that time weren’t “smartened up” until after they climbed through the ropes.

The Attitude era that dominated the latter part of the 1990s will be remembered as the heyday of “sports entertainment” when anything could happen and often did. When the WWE “got the F out” in 2002 it took with it outrageous shenanigans such as DX invading WCW, Alundra Blayze dumping the WWE Women’s Championship in a trash can and Sable parading around the ring in hand print pasties, making way for the PG era in which John Cena and his candy-coloured merchandise reigned supreme.

Now, with social media and the WWE Network, it seems kayfabe is almost non-existent and Superstars have to strike a balance between making themselves available to fans on Twitter, Instagram and at meet and greets while attempting not to engage in any bad behaviour that might piss off sponsors. (Though there are still untouchables: Seth Rollins’ cheating dick pics were leaked early in 2015 before he became WWE Champion and when the new girlfriend he sent said pics to was revealed to be a Nazi-sympathiser later that year, she was promptly fired from her developmental deal while Rollins remained a dual champion. And although Hulk Hogan and Jimmy Snuka’s histories have been effectively erased from WWE, Legends who’ve behaved badly in the past but not since the company brought in the domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse clause in their Wellness Policy, such as Scott Hall, are still decorated.)

Perhaps the most obvious example that we are living in the reality era of sports entertainment is Total Divas. What was first marketed as a glimpse into the unique careers of female professional wrestlers quickly devolved into your typical E! fare: 40 minutes of personal drama such as Brie Bella and Trinity’s husbands, Daniel Bryan and Jimmy Uso, respectively, taking issue with their sexy clothes, and Brie’s desire to start a family. The latest seasons seem like an attempt to rectify that and, in the midst of the #DivasRevolution, explore what it’s like to be a woman in a male-dominated industry.

What’s also interesting about Total Divas is that it builds a fifth wall between kayfabe and the “scripted reality” of shows such as Keeping Up with the Kardashians and The Hills. In a profile on The Hills villains Spencer and Heidi Pratt in Complex magazine last year, “a talent manager who requested to remain anonymous” claimed that the show was “80 percent scripted”.

From that article:

The talent manager isn’t breaking news here—almost everyone who was on the show has admitted how fake it was. [Lauren] Conrad, [Brody] Jenner, Kristin Cavallari, Spencer, Heidi—they were actors on a show marketed as real life so that an audience could buy into a fantasy… On the final episode of The Hills, the fourth wall was broken, the camera panned out, and a street in the Hollywood Hills was revealed to be a movie set… [T]hat audience seem[ed] willing to accept the unreality of The Hills…”

As a culture we’re still getting our heads around the cognitive dissonance of reality TV being rooted in anything but reality while wrestling has long been determined to be, erm, pre­determined. So, when it comes to the intersection of the two, does that mean the storyline on the third season of Total Divas about Nattie and her husband T.J.’s marital woes is more or less real than Nattie’s accompaniment of Kidd to the ring when he wrestled (before his sidelining neck injury, which is a focus of Total Divas this season)? Are they both just tools to further the fantasy or is it a case of real life spilling into the workplace? And what about when we add social media platforms to the mix? We know they can be used to portray the best, not necessarily truthful versions of ourselves to the world, so was Nattie posting photos of TJ and their cats on Instagram at the time of their alleged estrangement part of the ruse or were the couple working on their relationship?

A more obvious distinction between kayfabe and IRL can be seen on Total Divas this season when Rosa wants to remain involved in WWE in the wake of her pregnancy. She can’t wrestle so she suggests backstage interviewing as a consolation, which is deemed to be too risky because “anything can happen” and she might be placed in “harm’s way” in this role. Had Total Divas been more like NXT’s more sophisticated reality show Breaking Ground and/or aired on the Network, perhaps this storyline would be left on the cutting room floor. But because it caters to E!’s audience—one that WWE doesn’t necessarily want to break kayfabe in front of—the reality of simply writing altercations to take place away from a pregnant employee isn’t portrayed.

The most glaring example of Total Divas and social media colliding is in Dolph Ziggler’s inclusion in the show. As one of the more active WWE Superstars on Twitter and in his extracurricular endeavours, such as stand up comedy, Ziggler appears in season four and five of Total Divas as Nikki’s ex-boyfriend and a potential foil in her current relationship with John Cena. The photos of Dolph and Nikki together prove their past relationship was real, but can we assume Ziggler’s apparent rekindled feelings are also?

Ziggler moonlights as a stand-up comedian and there’s a sense that he’ll have a successful, Dwayne Johnson-esque career after WWE in Hollywood. His WWE Universe (apparently separate from both the worlds of Total Divas/E! and the one you and I inhabit) relationship with Lana dragged on for months while Lana’s former client/love interest/real life fiance Rusev was injured, Ziggler went on hiatus to film a WWE Studios production, and when Lana broke her wrist, with the three Superstars relying heavily on social media to prolong the love triangle (and then a love square with the involvement of Summer Rae). Instead of putting the kibosh on the ill-fated storyline, Lana and Ziggler were tasked with promoting their “relationship” on social media. As lacking in chemistry as their pairing was, Lana and Ziggler seemed to genuinely enjoy playing it up on Instagram and Twitter, proponents of an alternate reality where images alone convey something very different to what’s really going on.

Returning to Total Divas, if WWE wants our suspension of disbelief to remain in tact (which they apparently do, as one can’t imagine that Ziggler would choose to carry on an Instagram relationship if it wasn’t part of his job), why do they cross-promote the conflicting reality show and their own programming so heavily? Given Ziggler’s growing reputation as a love rat (he gifted Summer Rae jewellery while she was allegedly involved with Rusev), was his wooing of Nikki on the show for real or an attempt at rectifying his WWE character?

During an interview on The Sam Roberts Wrestling Podcast, the host further pitted Ziggler and Cena against each other in that Cena plays a musclebound meathead who’s hooking up with Amy Schumer in her runaway box office hit movie, Trainwreck, a role allegedly based on Ziggler, who dated Schumer in real life.

Relatedly, Tyler Breeze burst onto the scene as Summer Rae’s rebound, taking the spot of Ziggler both literally and figuratively. He appears on Breaking Ground and at once parodies and makes use of our obsession with social media, asking if he’s who we follow, toting selfie sticks to the ring and streaming his entrances on Periscope.

Total Divas also uses social media to their advantage with things posted by its stars on Instagram have been used to punctuate storylines, most notably Eva Marie’s falling out with the rest of the cast.

In the first few episodes of season four, Alicia Fox and the Bellas were irked because of Eva’s continued posting of ads for her hair extension line and various self-promotional content at the detriment of anything about wrestling. Then, when the rest of the cast blew up that Eva was getting specialised one-on-one wrestling training while they all had to tough it out in developmental, Eva retorted with an Instagram post about a lion not worrying “herself with the opinion of sheep”. (Just FYI: A female lion is a lioness, Eva.)

Since then, Eva has made amends with the rest of the show’s cast, even joining babyface Team Total Divas at WrestleMania, despite cultivating a successful heel gimmick in NXT and further reinforcing not only the fifth wall between Total Divas/E! and WWE, but one between WWE and NXT, as well.

Ryan Boyd unpacked the relationship between kayfabe and social media further in a piece for The Spectacle of Excess. He writes:

[U]nder the new rules of kayfabe, the audience is encouraged to be just as interested in Kofi Nahaje Sarkodie-Mensah as they are in Kofi Kingston, and what’s more than that, the Nashville crowd got worked like hell when Kofi-the-real-guy said that country music sucks purely because he went one further in his heel antics. Kofi-the-real-guy is as much a part of the show as Kofi-the-heel—they’re both props for generating heat and selling T-shirts.

“Kayfabe is a matryoshka doll of carny deception, and if you think you’re not getting worked, that just means you’re getting double-worked. The kayfabe is coming from inside the house.”

*

A few years ago I was involved in the making of a wrestling mockumentary with a smorgasbord of former WWE Superstars which then led to me working in an indie Australian promotion that often brought out big names to compliment its own talent. While most of the wrestlers I grew up watching on TV were lovely in person, I did observe a certain disconnect between their characters and reality. But it must be hard to get a good grip on reality when the bulk of your life is spent perfecting your craft and the development of the character that goes along with it. There is an expectation in the professional wrestling world that you stay in character at all times to protect storylines and maintain “kayfabe”—despite the widely held belief that wrestling is “fake”—at all costs, but what toll does that take on everyday life?

One indie wrestler who knows the importance of social media and utilising it to portray your character to your fans is Melbourne wrestler JXT, who recently received a tryout for WWE when they were in town with NXT.

With a YouTube show entitled JXTv and a photo op gimmick appropriated from Instagram’s polaroid-esque layout, JXT’s social media presence compliments his status as a party-loving, millennial everyman and will show industry heavyweights that he has an in-built following if and when the time comes to make the move to the U.S.

JXT believes that to be a wrestler and have a strong social media presence is “super important.”

“I see wrestlers now without Instagram or Twitter and straight away in my head I say ‘they’re not serious’,” he continues. “WWE talks about Twitter constantly and references [its] Superstars’ Instagrams. The fans want to invest in you so having platforms where they can talk to you and see what you’re up to constantly is key in giving the fans a chance to make that deep emotional connection. It’s 2016: people have 7-second attention spans; they want to see a lot of their favourite wrestlers in short, sharp bursts. So things like Instagram and YouTube help because there isn’t a show on Tuesday morning but they can just check your Instagram to get a dose of what you’ve been up to.”

JXT’s main goal with JXTv and his other online endeavours is to make a name for himself. “You look at any big independent wrestler, [if] they have a heavy social media presence [then] that’s how they get their name,” JXT says. “You hear of all these cool wrestlers who aren’t signed to a big company yet through social media. CM Punk was renowned [in] internet wrestling circles and that’s why he broke the mold and WWE signed the independent guy. He had so much buzz they gave him a chance.

“Everyone knows who Colt Cabana is yet he doesn’t wrestle for any big wrestling company [save for] ROH in its smaller days… Kevin Owens, Samoa Joe, Sami Zayn… Everywhere I go I want people to know who I am before I even get there. That is the goal.”

But JXT insists his character, like so many of the most successful wrestling gimmicks, is just a heightened version of himself. “I love to party and I love wrestling so I take that and over-dramatise it. [But] when I’m just being me, I’m calmer and less over the top. You need to know who you are as a person, and not get lost in the hype and perceived ego of your wrestling character.”

While maintaining some semblance of suspended disbelief is integral to professional wrestling, it’s also a delight when wrestlers break kayfabe for real. Take the Four Horsewomen’s curtain call at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn when Bayley won the NXT Women’s Championship from Sasha Banks in a hellacious match, culminating in Charlotte and Becky Lynch coming out to join them in a tear-jerking show of friendship. In my opinion there’s no greater reward than seeing competitors who gave it their all express respect and, oftentimes, love for one another. Give me that over neatly packaged “reality” any day.

If we can take one thing from the shitshow that was the Rusev/Lana/Dolph Ziggle/Summer Rae storyline it’s the ability to ask the question, what even is the point of kayfabe, anyway? If Vince McMahon claims that WWE is entertainment and not sport, then why not treat its Superstars as actors and let them do what they want, within reason (*cough* Hulk Hogan *cough*), on their own time? With social media and the 24-hour news cycle the kayfabe model is a risky one that’s no longer feasible.

Related: World Wrestling Entertainment Will Never #GiveDivasAChance As Long As It Prioritises Bad Men.

In Defence of Eva Marie.

My Weekend with Wrestlers.

Elsewhere: [Harlot] Whorephobia & Misogyny in Wrestling: Still Real to Me, Dammit.

[Intergender World Champs] Smack Talker! Daniel Bryan’s Tiresome Vocal Misogyny.

[Complex] Over The Hills: The Afterlife of Heidi & Spencer Pratt.

[The Spectacle of Excess] Kayfabe is Dead. Long Live Kayfabe.

Image via Courtney Rose/Calling Spots.

The (Enhanced?) Beauty of Courtney Stodden.

 

From “Hollywood’s Teen Bride” by Maria Elena Fernandez on The Daily Beast:

“… ‘Seducing the sensuous nights senses by sweetly swaying my body to a seductive strobe-light as rock-n-roll rhythms reign over me ;)’ [Courtney] tweeted…

“‘I think she should be elected poet laureate for the universe,’ says TV writer and author Julie Klausner. ‘I think those alliterations, oh my God, that stuff is drag-queen shit. She put an original patina on the aspiring-skank archetype. She happened to have chosen the sexual qualities of a gay guy making fun of Jessica Rabbit. The entire persona is brilliant. It’s sort of what I hoped Heidi Montag was going for when she got all that plastic surgery, which really did seem like an art project.’”

Elsewhere: [The Daily Beast] Hollywood’s Teen Bride.

Image via The Daily Beast.

Beauty VS. Brains*.

Earlier this week I blogged about Grey’s Anatomy’s Cristina Yang being a feminist.

I mentioned that she scoffs at being called beautiful by her husband, Owen, and would rather be complimented for her brains, not her beauty.

Sure, I enjoy being called beautiful just as much as the next girl, but I, too, would rather people recognise me for what’s on the inside, not what’s on the outside.

From “What’s the Point of Pretty?” by Sarah Von on Yes & Yes:

“‘How would you feel if the only thing people ever praised you for was something you had no control over? And how would you feel if every day, you were slowing losing the one thing people complimented you on?’”

Pretty shitty, especially when striving to be good at things outside the realm of the physical.

So I asked my friend Katrina, the most beautiful woman I know, what her thoughts on the matter were. Would she rather be considered beautiful, or be complimented on her mind?

“It’s a tough question really, so many women—beautiful or not—are inherently self-conscious. Living in the world we do, so much pressure is put on us to fit a particular type of mould. Sometimes I look at other women and think ‘I wish I had her legs’ or ‘I wish I was a unique creature like her’, but it’s not that often. More often I am happy with the way that I appear. In fact, I put more pressure on myself to be intelligent! This is therefore my choice—brains over beauty. I suppose I feel I have something to prove to myself—I’m always striving to be better, to know things. I feel like a failure if I’m not getting where I want to go—but it is my brain that enables me to get how far I am now! Our intelligence enables the world to be our opus, and I’d much rather be admired for taking up that challenge than for swanning around it in a cloud of beauty!”

But do those who are beautiful take it for granted? Is that why they choose brains over beauty? Because they’re already physically blessed? I’d be interested to know in the comments if anyone reading this feels they’re more well endowed in the brains than beauty department, and if they would change this given the choice.

As the quote from Yes & Yes illustrates, it’s actually kind of insulting to be complimented on your looks alone. If anyone should be proud of the way you look, it’s your parents, right? Beyond getting a flattering haircut, using makeup to present your (arguably) best self and—in extreme cases—getting cosmetic surgery, we don’t really have a hand in the way we look.

Maybe this is why young, cute girls are always told how young and cute they are over how smart, how unique, how funny, how nice they are. It’s usually parents and adults who say these things; children are often oblivious to the way they look until a certain age. There are articles circulating the blogosphere at the moment in regards to this. Let’s focus on things other than looks in kids, lest we end up with a world of Heidi Montag’s et al.

It’s also a generational thing, I think. People my age are more aware of the effects of focusing on looks alone, especially for women, and will hopefully raise their kids accordingly.

I had a coworker who’s pushing 40 comment on my hair recently. I was having a bad hair day anyway, and I asked if he was insulting me. He replied: “I could never insult you… not on your looks, anyway.” I found that even more insulting than the fact he thought my body hair was open for discussion!

Perhaps it was the age difference, perhaps it was because he was a man… I don’t know. I just know it’s so not appropriate to comment on people’s looks in the workplace (more on this to come tomorrow). And that equating looks to the only positive thing about someone is reprehensible.

So back to the question at hand: brains or beauty?

I would choose brains hands down. I have chosen brains.

If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have gone to uni. Or started a blog. Or read books. Or incite spirited arguments amongst my friends to see what their opinions are on asylum seekers and SlutWalks, and to challenge my own.

Brains will still be with you when your looks have been washed down the drain with the dirty dish basin water. (Provided you don’t get dementia which, if my dad inherits from his dad, could be a very real possibility for me. Argh!)

*And by no means are brains and beauty mutually exclusive.

Related: Cristina Yang as Feminist.

Poor Little Rich Girl: Who Cover Girl Heidi Montag.

The Hills Have (Dead) Eyes.

My Response: Go Back to Where You Came From.

Elsewhere: [Yes & Yes] What’s the Point of Pretty?

[Jezebel] Should We Tell Little Girls They’re Pretty?

[The Huffington Post] How to Talk to Little Girls.

Image via All Posters.

TV: Top 10 TV Moments of the Year.

 

1. OMGSW: Derek Gets Shot on Grey’s Anatomy.

I spent the season six final of Grey’s bawling my eyes out as Reed Adamson and Charles Percy died, Derek, Alex and Owen get shot, and Meredith loses her baby. One of the best season finals I’ve ever seen.

2. Another Day, Another Gun Shot Wound: Chuck Gets Shot on Gossip Girl.

While season three’s finale wasn’t the best I’ve ever seen, it certainly set the ball rolling for an epic season four thus far (see below).

Chuck issued Blair an ultimatum; Dan was revealed to be the father of Georgina’s baby; Chuck raped Jenny; Jenny went to boarding school; Blair took Chuck up on his ultimatum; Blair found out Chuck slept with Jenny; Serena and Blair went to Paris; Chuck got shot in Prague.

3. Katy Perry’s Chest is Too Ample for Sesame Street.

Sure, Katy’s dress was a little revealing to be prancing around the street named Sesame, but wasn’t it the responsibility of the show’s costume designers to put her in something a little more child-friendly?

4. Airy Fairy: Sookie is a Fairy on True Blood.

What the?! Aside from lots of Eric action and the introduction of hot werewolf Alcide, season three was a confusing exercise in vampirism, culminating in the revelation that Sookie is a fairy, the idea being that her blood is so irresistible to Bill, Eric et al. because it helps them walk amongst the living. (More on Sookie’s allure to come.)

5. The ANTM Debacle.

Well… at least it got Aussie Top Model into the international (entertainment) news. It probably boosted sales for Harper’s Bazaar, with the two finalists on the cover.

6. It’s “Britney/Brittany”, Bitch! Britney Spears on Glee.

In what was probably one of the most anticipated TV moments of 2010, Britney Spears appeared for (literally) a moment on Glee.

7. What Once Was LOST, Now is Found: LOST Finale.

The last ever episode of LOST seemed to ask more questions that it answered, but ultimately was a bit of a letdown.

8. Romeo Serena & Juliet: Serena’s Stalker Saga on Gossip Girl.

GG has always been a guilty pleasure of mine since it debuted in 2007, but it hasn’t always had the greatest of storylines. This season, however, has been one of my favourites, with the mystery surrounding Juliet’s entry into Serena’s life getting stronger each episode. The story arc was resolved in the U.S.’s most recent episodes, but instead of spoiling it for Aussie viewers (which The Scarlett Woman has been known to do *blush*), I’ll wait til it airs here to catch you up on the saga.

9. Sexual Double Standards on Jersey Shore.

Speaking of guilty pleasures, Jersey Shore is the epitome of “guilty” if ever there was one!

Violence, racism, sexism and sun damage run rampant in the show, which seems to have gotten even worse in its second season.

Femme fatale Angelina Pivarnick is vilified for sleeping with two guys in one week, when the men of the house have a rotisserie of women for every night of the week. The resentment of Angelina for being a “single girl” and “enjoying herself”, which she constantly made reference to, comes to a head with a cat fight, a “dirty pad” found on the bathroom floor, and Angelina exiting the house for the second time in as many seasons.

10. The Hills’ Curtains Draw to a Close… But Not Before Lifting Them on Reality TV.

Living vicariously through The Hills’ girls hedonistic Hollywood lifestyles is something I’m really going to miss in 2011.

I suppose there’s always Heidi Montag’s tabloid transgressions and Lauren’s new reality show to indulge in…

Related: Gun Shot Wound to the Head: Grey’s Anatomy Season Final.

The Last Tango… For the Season: Gossip Girl Season 3 Finale.

The Underlying Messages of Glee’s “Britney/Brittany” Episode.

It’s All About Britney, Bitch!

Glee Against the Music.

What Once Was LOST, Now is Found?: Lost Finale.

Surfing the Third Wave: Second Wave VS. Third Wave Feminism on Gossip Girl.

The Hills Finale: All Good Things Must Come to an End.

Poor Little Rich Girl: Who Cover Girl Heidi Montag.

Elsewhere: [Jezebel] Jersey Shore: If Men Can Wax Their Eyebrows, Why Can’t Women Sleep Around?

The Anatomy of a Douchebag.

The other day, I was talking to my friend about a mutual acquaintance of ours, and how he is somewhat of a “douchebag”. He’s not malicious in any way (which might make him an “asshole”, “prick” or, depending on the severity of said maliciousness, something more severe, beginning with an “f” orGod forbid!a “c”), but some of the things he says and does can only be described as “douchey”.

Urban Dictionary ensures that douchebag (“Someone who has surpassed the levels of jerk and asshole, however has not yet reached fucker or motherfucker”) is “not to be confused with a ‘douche’”, “… an individual who has shown themself [sic] to be very brainless in one way or another.” So perhaps just plain old “douche” is the word I’m searching for here, but I still maintain that a douchebag is just a misguided knob who does things seemingly to look “cool” and gain others’ approval.

But you’ve seen the douchebag in popular culture; you know what I’m talking about.

He’s not the equivalent of Jesse James, who cheated on Sandra Bullock with tattooed fetish model Michelle “Bombshell” McGee, is an alleged Nazi sympathiser and ran dog fights out of his West Coast Choppers studio. He’s not in the same ball park as Charlie Sheen, who is a raging drug addict and wife beater. And he’s certainly nothing like Joel Monaghan, the disturbed and idiotic Canberra Raiders player who was in the news last week for engaging in a sex act with await for itdog! Tiger Woods, who is a massive dickhead for cheating on his gorgeous wife with the multitude of women, would probably be the closest thing to a douchebag out of the men I’ve listed above, for the simple fact that his acts hurt no one but himself. Sure, there was some very public pain and suffering from his wife, Elin Nordegren, and some of his floozies who thought they meant more to him than they actually did, but there was no drug use, animal cruelty, bigotry and/or violence against women.

But from my research (FYI, who would’ve thought there were so many websites dedicated to the phenomenon?!), I’ve found that the douchebag is most comfortable in their natural habitat; reality television.

I’ve always maintained that Spencer Pratt and Jon Gosselin are the douchebags du jour, pulling publicity stunts with on-again/off-again wife Heidi Montag and ordering Starbucks in Ed Hardy garb, respectively. More recently, the cast of Jersey Shore have been known to exemplify the douchebag attitude, with the women of the show inspiring me to coin my own personal term for the female equivalent of a douchbag: a douchebaggette.

Speaking of Ed Hardy; the fashion label favoured by Gosselin and the Shore cast (Pratt seems to have moved away from the brand and towards a more derelict, hippie look, in keeping with he and Heidi’s crystal-healing-meets-bankruptcy lifestyle. But Pratt surpasses the physical attributes of the douchebag; he is inherently and eternally a douchebag. Heidi, however, still gets her douchbaggette on in the label.) is a key ingredient in the anatomy of a douchebag. Other external ingredients might include, but are not limited to; men who think their ridiculous hair, which they’ve spent more time on than I spend on my own locks, looks good (Pauly D, I’m looking at you), with a special mention to rats tails; men who wear copious amounts of jewellery or blinged-out clothing; men who wear headbands; and men who insist on getting the perfect pose for their Facebook profile pic. Feel free to submit your own physical douchebag attributes in the comments!

In essence, though, I think the douchebag is an insecure bloke (bogans are not exempt from douchebaggy-ness; in fact, in Australia, I’d say bogans make up a significant portion of the douchebag population), who strives for the acceptance of others in the way he projects himself and the things he says and does. Again, the douchebag poses minimal threat to non-douchebaggy majorities (or is that minorities? The douchebag seems to be sweeping the nation in record numbers)… except when they blind you by flicking their rats tail in your eye and/or from the glare of their rhinestone covered Ed Hardy tee whilst photobombing you!

Related: Why Are Famous Men Forgiven For Their Wrongdoings While Women Are Vilified for Much Less?

Beauty & the Bestiality.

Poor Little Rich Girl: Who Cover Girl Heidi Montag.

(Sex) Ed Hardy.

Extreme Makeover: Jersey Girls.

Things Bogans Like.

Chase You Down Until You Love Me, Paparazzi…

The following is based on a 2006 uni essay I wrote about the camera as an intruder, so sorry for any overly academic phrasing. I have attempted to bring it into the modern day with less formal language after reading an article on Jezebel, “The Day I Trailed a Paparazzi” in which—what else?—one of the blog’s writers trailed a paparazzo for a day.

Is the camera an intruder? Some would say that, in this day and age, with advanced photographic technology and increased access by photojournalists to worldwide events, it is. However, others assert that because of this advanced photographic technology and increased access, paired with the public’s growing need, and right, to know and see, that the camera it is not.

In terms of the cult of celebrity and the growing phenomenon of the paparazzi, privacy is a major issue. Peter Howe, in his book Paparazzi, provides this definition of the occupation:

“It refers to those photographers who seek out and follow celebrities… in order to photograph them in their most unguarded moments. In short, it’s taking photographs you shouldn’t take in places you shouldn’t be”.

However, some might argue that in becoming a movie star or rock star, and thereby a celebrity, you give up your right to privacy. Privacy laws in the US, specifically in Los Angeles where most paparazzi dwell, state that “if the subject of the photograph can reasonably expect privacy in a specific situation, such as inside his home, photographs of such situations cannot be published without permission”. And, as is evident in any glossy tabloid, most paparazzi shots are taken in public places, such as shopping strips and restaurants. “The consensus of opinion among the paparazzi is that the celebrities get the privacy they deserve, and that if you really don’t want to be photographed, then you don’t go to eat at Mr. Chows or the Ivy, where there are always photographers,” says Howe.

French theorist Roland Barthes states that “people change when they’re aware they’re being photographed.” So “when long lenses can ‘trespass’”, “the traditional definitions of privacy may not apply”.

The paparazzi are viewed as the most morally and ethically irresponsible photographer in the business but, “if everyone hates their work, why are they the best-paid and busiest photojournalists in the world?” asks Howe.

Our obsession with celebrity has only grown since I originally wrote this article back in 2006, a time which was already seeing the tabloid market explode, causing “the number of paparazzi to quadruple”, explains co-owner of L.A. paparazzi firm Bauer and Griffin, Randy Bauer, in an article from Cosmopolitan that same year.

Increasingly, blogs have become the stratosphere through which paparazzi pics circulate, however magazines still pay the big bucks. The first pictures of Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie and their adopted son Maddox on a beach in Africa sold for $100,000; a far cry from the $6.68 million People magazine paid for the exclusive photographs of Pitt, Jolie and their first biological child, Shiloh.

In the five years since Pitt & Jolie got together and were hunted by the paparazzi (Wagner, a paparazzo who participated in a story on Jezebel, asserts that family pics of the couple are still the highest fetching shots), reality TV has reached its pinnacle, with celebs like Kim Kardashian milking their celebrity for all its worth; sad sacks like Lindsay Lohan and Heidi Montag tipping off the paparazzi in order to sell shots of themselves and keep their names in the media; and those in a league of their own, like Lady Gaga, whose song “Paparazzi” and albums “The Fame” and “The Fame Monster” take the piss out of the very machine that made them and creating a new definition of the über-celebrity/icon.

As above, though, the paparazzi are predominantly viewed in a negative light, not only by serious art photographers and the general public but, obviously, the stars they photograph. Kristen Stewart, for example, is one star who has been vocal in her dislike for the paparazzi; those in opposition to her stance might use the argument above, that to have success in the acting world is to accept the constant presence of photographers. Especially when you’re one half of the most talked about couple since the Jolie-Pitts. Elsewhere, the Jezebel article, written by Dodai Stewart, has a focus on Michael Douglas, who is receiving treatment for throat cancer, and the unremitting swarm of photographers outside his house every day. Is hounding a sick man taking our obsession with celebrity too far? American author and journalist Nathaniel Parker Willis says that, “the idea [is] that to really know someone, we must know their private life”.

From the Cosmo article: “[the paparazzi] can make celebrities feel anxious, depressed, and even mildly agoraphobic” That explains the notorious picture of Cameron Diaz, with then-boyfriend Justin Timberlake, attacking a paparazzo, then!

But, increasingly celebs are embracing the paparazzi, realising that if they work in cooperation with them, their public lives will be less tumultuous.

Stewart relays her story about Wagner trailing Liev Schreiber and his son with Naomi Watts, into the subway. After talking to the subject for several minutes, Wagner tells Schreiber that he’s “gotta get a picture of you”, and “Liev said sure, put the kid on his shoulders and let Wagner snap away… No other photographers were around, so it’s an exclusive shot.” Wagner gets paid, Schreiber comes across as a cool family man; it’s a win-win situation.

Celebs with kids can get a bit weird about them being photographed, understandably, and in the same article, when Wagner encounters Watts with the kids, she kindly asks him not to take pictures, and he obliged. See, Hollywood dwellers? There’s no need to get violent with the paps. (Granted, the pics of Schreiber and Watts were taken in New York City, where the paparazzi scene is less brutal than in Los Angeles, and there seems to be a certain air of respect between subject and object.)

Other NYC dwellers such the cunning Sarah Jessica Parker, have some up with ways of making themselves less desirable targets:

“‘[SJP] wears the same thing everyday,’” he [Wagner] says. ‘On purpose. Because you talk about this today, then she wears it tomorrow, then what do you have to say? Nothing.’”

There is almost an element of protection there, too: provided both parties behave themselves and there exists a certain professional relationship, when your every move is recorded on camera, it’s got to be mighty hard to be mugged or attacked. Although, the victims of Alexis Neiers and her young-Hollywood burglary bling ring probably don’t subscribe to this school of thought.

Still, the opinion among the stars, the paps and the consumers who view their snaps on blogs and in magazines and newspapers, is that celebrities need the paparazzi to generate publicity around them, and the paps need to earn a buck. “An interdependency develops between them,” says Howe.

Stewart sums the cycle up nicely:

“We’re interested in celebrity minutiae. Despite ourselves. It is possible to be fascinated and repulsed at the same time. You can find celebrities appealing while finding the gossip culture appalling. We buy the magazines, hate them for lying to us, critique them, laugh at them, talk about them with our friends and buy the magazines again the next week. If you’ve ever read a gossip site or flipped through a celebrity weekly, you’re part of the system: the paparazzi take pictures for the mags and blogs, the mags and blogs exist because there is an audience.”

Related: Poor Little Rich Girl: Lindsay Lohan in Who.

Poor Little Rich Girl: Who Cover Girl Heidi Montag.

Elsewhere: [Jezebel] The Day I Trailed a Paparazzo.

[Vanity Fair]: The Suspects Wore Louboutins.

On the (Rest of the) Net.

 

Once upon a time, a disillusioned Los Angeles writer bemoaned the fact that when you start getting dermal fillers and can’t speak to someone else who hasn’t, “you realise there is actually something quite wrong with L.A… And then along comes Heidi Montag and you feel normal again.”:

“The amount of women, like Heidi, I see in Los Angeles walking around like blow up dolls, victims to the horrific mental disorder of body dysmorphiais huge. Body dysmorphia is as much a disease as anorexia, as bulimia, as over-eating, as alcoholism, drug addiction. These are mental disorders which manifest themselves in physical self-harm.”

Like the compulsion to have DDD size boobs implanted on your tiny, surgically-sculpted frame that cause you constant pain and prevent restful sleep and exercise.

Girl with a Satchel asks if new British magazine “…Just as Beautiful [is] Fetishising & Sexualising Fuller Female Figures?”

From “Gender is Not Just a Performance”:

“It is a crass oversimplification, as ridiculous as saying all gender is genitals, all gender is chromosomes, or all gender is socialisation. In reality, gender is all of these things and more.”

To celebrate No Make Up Week, Rachel Hills contemplates why we feel there’s something wrong with us if we don’t go around looking flawless at all times.

Still with Rachel Hills: her “Kanye West Syndrome” article, “I’mma Let You Finish…” and “Himglish & Femalese”, about how men are women are the same, but different, are stand-outs.

The New York Times, in an article from last year, ponders the vampire’s place in fashion.

In more vampire news, Billie Doux offers up Buffy Quotes for Every Occasion”, paying special attention to librarianship, in which these gems pop up: “I love the smell of desperate librarian in the morning,” and “I mean, I can’t believe you got into Oxford… That’s where they make Gileses”.

Gender blogger Greta Christina lists the “5 Stupid, Unfair & Sexist Things Expected of Men”, in which she states that “… sexism hurts men. In particular, … our society’s expectations of men, [and] our very definitions of maleness. I’ve been looking at how rigid and narrow many of these expectations are…”, such as “being tall”! Not much a man can do about his height… much like the stupid, unfair and sexist things expected of women.

We all know how much I love professional wrestler cum author cum sexual assault crusader, and finally, Jezebel has cottoned on to the awesomeness that is Mick Foley, even going as far as to say that “we need more men like him.” Amen to that. Also, check out his blog.

There’s a lot of debate over whether a straight man and a straight woman can be “just friends” (FYI, I believe they can), and this article favours the notion that having “Platonic Female Friendships Can Make For a Better Man”.

If my love for Beauty & the Beast (the DVD is currently out of the Disney vault on re-release; I have a birthday coming up…) is anything to go by, “Brunettes Love Beauty & the Beast”. As “princess hero”-affirming as that might be, the article ends on a negative note, saying that “a brunette [is] more prone to rational expectations of life and thus… the ‘We Love Belle’ fan-club must be an awfully boring place to be… Blondes: 1 Brunettes: 0”. Ouch.

ScreenCrave on why Twilight’s Bella Swan is a Feminist’s Nightmare”.

In the spirit of such Girls Night In staples as Mean Girls and Bring It On (more on my Girls Night In to come next week), Jezebel advocates for the “5 Life Lessons Learned from The Ladies of 00s Teen Films”.

In “Print This Out & Give it to Every Boy You Know”, Jezebel debunks the myths of the feminist. For example:

“[Myth:] Feminists are angry/predominantly lesbians/man-haters/all of the above… Some women are angry, yes. Some are lesbians. And some probably hate or fear men. Some women also identify as feminists. These characteristics exist independently of each other. If there’s overlap, it’s coincidental and correlated or causal…”

and

“Feminism has more flavours than Baskin-Robbins and a hundred and one areas of focus, covering everything from reproductive rights to international development to political reform or popular culture. Beyonce is a feminist and so is Hilary Clinton. And men can be feminists, too! It’s a big tent party, y’all! Heck, some women live their entire lives according to feminist principles, but never use the term.”

I would like to tell that to a certain “I hate feminism” espousing lady I know…

Magazines: Poor Little Rich Girl—Who Cover Girl Heidi Montag.

 

I’ve blogged in the past about how sorry I feel for Heidi Montag. And now, apparently, she feels sorry for herself after undergoing ten completely unnecessary plastic surgery procedures in one day.

It was only a matter of time before regret seeped into her consciousness and , once again, Montag’s expressing it publicly.

Seen on the cover of Who with bandages covering her nose, Michael Jackson-style (whom she references in the accompanying article, saying “I don’t want my face to fall off like Michael Jackson’s), and dark roots (“I’m just done worrying about my looks. I haven’t died my hair for months and I hardly even put on makeup anymore.”), it seems Montag has had a change of heart.

Unfortunately, there’s no going back, and with her plastic surgeon, Dr. Ryan, dying in a car accident last month, it looks like there’ll be no amending the work of her beloved surgeon by the man who created Heidi 2.0 (well, actually, 3.0, as she had a nose and boob job a few years ago after she first started on The Hills and, incidentally, met über-douche estranged husband Spencer Pratt).

Related: Why Are Famous Men Forgiven for Their Wrongdoings, While Women Are Vilified for Much Less?

The Hills Have (Dead) Eyes.

TV: The Hills Finale—All Good Things Must Come to an End.

 

A lot of viewers might have argued that The Hills had passed its prime awhile ago, probably around the time its star, Lauren Conrad, bid farewell midway through season five.

While that may be somewhat true (personally, my favourite seasons were the second half of season three, and season four), The Hills has always been what it was intended to be; a guilty pleasure.

It was also one of the first shows to really catapult the “scripted reality” notion into the mainstream, in the footsteps of which so many others followed: The Real Housewives, Keeping Up with the Kardashians, Girls of the Playboy Mansion and pretty much every other MTV show since The Hills’ debut (bar Jersey Shore, which Perez Hilton, in last week’s column for Famous, called “raw [and] real”the antithesis of The Hills).

But the buzz has been around the show’s final episode, which aired two weeks ago in the US, and which Australia is still waiting for.

After so much criticism of the action on the show being fake vs. real, with scenes being shot several times for the best angles (both camera- and storyline-wise) and “cut up to death”, the producers and writers (?) decided to capitalise on that allure.

SPOILER ALERT: The final scene sees Kristin Cavallari and Stacie Hall packing the rest of Kristin’s things into a waiting car, as she’s moving to Europe (E! television personality Joel McHale of The Soup hilariously noted that Europe is a continent, not a country, and Kristin never once mentioned where in Europe she was going!), to “find myself” and “figure out what I want”. Brody Jenner is waiting by the car to say a final goodbye to Kristin, who told Brody she loved him but was knocked back. He says he would have got together with her if he knew she would move away when he rejected her. Kristin says “that’s all I’ve ever wanted to hear”, but she’s still going. They hug, kiss, cry, and the car drives away with Kristin inside, leaving Brody brooding beneath the Hollywood sign.

As the camera pans out, the Hollywood sign starts moving, and it is revealed that Brody is standing on a film lot. Kristin runs from the car as the director yells “cut!”, embracing Brody as the two are congratulated by the crew for wrapping the last scene. END SPOILER ALERT.

Confusing, much?!

While The Hills season final may not get as much publicity and/or examination as, say, The Sopranos or LOST, it is a clever poke at the media and Hollywood. Brody said:

“I think the show has always battled with what’s real and what’s fake, and this ending was perfect because you still don’t know what was real, what was fake and it’s kind of like LA in a sense.”

Oh, how poignant!

There are still a lot of loose ends that fans are left hanging with, though, and I guess that’s the dilemma of having a “reality” show that is based on the real lives of its stars, but it scripted to within an inch of its life, and some of its stars (ie. Speidi) can’t reconcile those difference.

I would like to know what happened with Heidi and Spencer, and if they ever reconciled with Holly, Heidi’s sister, and their mother, Darlene. And if Audrina finds what she’s looking for by moving out of Hollywood. Ditto Kristin in Europe.

But I guess we will find these things out in Heidi’s new reality show with The Hills alum Jen Bunney, and Audrina’s rumoured show, The Audrina Patridge Show.

Until then, there’s always the tabloids.

Related: The Hills Have (Dead) Eyes.

Elsewhere: [MTV] Brody Jenner Reveals Alternate Hills Ending with Lauren Conrad.

The Hills Have (Dead) Eyes.

 

While The Hills has come to an end (more on that to come), its final season has been one marred with controversy.

First, Heidi Montag debuted her plastic (not-so-) fantastic look in the lead up to the premiere.

And in other Speidi news, the couple accused a producer of sexual harassment and left the show soon after.

Kristin Cavallari was suspected of having an eating disorder and a drug addiction, while Stephanie Pratt came clean in the tabloids about her past food and alcohol problems.

And finally, Heidi filed for divorce from Spencer, who demonstrated signs of drug dependence and anger management issues in his final episodes.

Phew!

A recent episode, aptly named “This is Goodbye” for Speidi’s last hurrah, was troubling, in that it showed just how distorted Spencer and Heidi’s perception of reality has become.

Kimberly, in a topical blog post on I Love Wildfox (a component of the brand Wildfox Couture), came to the defence of Kristin, Audrina et al, saying that with the seemingly low expectations the producers have of its cast, it’s no wonder Heidi, in particular, “has a warped perception of who she should be”:

“Maybe I need to watch the prior seasons to understand what MTV was really going for, but basing my opinion on this [one] episode I gathered this message from the astoundingly popular series: look pretty, gossip, sunbake, flirt, look pretty…

“The girls on the show are all incredibly physically beautiful. Looking good in every light at every camera angle is not normal. Most girls don’t look half as pretty on camera as they do in real life.

“It saddens me that MTV chose the easy suck-you-in route once again, telling all girls everywhere, ‘this is what you should talk about, this is what you should want to be,’ without showing (even once in an entire episode) what these girls actually struggle with, what they are good at, or what they dream of; even The Girls of the Playboy Mansion managed to do that!”

The buzz surrounding the final episode, which aired last week and featured Kristin leaving for Europe, with a saddened Brody Jenner (Kristin’s ex) watching as she drives awayonly to have the Hollywood sign Brody’s standing in front of revealed as a green screen, and that the whole final scene was shot on a film lot, seems to be taking a stab at the “scripted” label, leaving audiences wondering whether the whole thing was a set-up or if it somehow morphed into one along the way.

Kristin has been quoted as saying that The Hills was just her job, and she would never put her real friends and the people she cares about on TV.

So why did “Heidi’s family appear on the show to discuss her surgery, further condoning the need for limelight on their daughter’s sad and massive insecurities”?

You will notice that it’s really only the Pratt and Montag families who were caught up in the “drama” of the whole show, which bodes the questions: were Speidi’s marital woes all a set up? What is the extent of Heidi’s body dysmorphia and the necessity of her multiple surgeries? Did her family really express shame at her new look, or were they all in on the act, if it was an act, too?

Going back to “This is Goodbye”, there is a scene at a club that Heidi and Spencer rock up to, uninvited, during a fun night out with most of the other cast members. Spencer speaks of he and Heidi’s life together, saying, “I don’t let her go on [watch] TV, no computers. The only thing Heidi does is read and write poetry, and pray, and pet puppies…”, while Heidi sits there genuinely and enthusiastically nodding along, only interjecting to add, “and I read books”.

When Kristin confronts her about being isolated from her friends and family, Heidi says she’s just focussing on her love for Spencer and asks, “who am I without Spencer?” If she’s not an emotionally battered wife, I don’t know who is. As Holly said, “she’s brainwashed”.

Furthermore, Kristin and Audrina add that “there’s nothing going on behind those eyes anymore” and “there’s no emotion”, respectively.

I would tend to agree with these statements, however I don’t agree with what comes next.

When the girls discuss what to do about the abusive state of their friend and sister’s marriage, Lo asserts that “Heidi is guilty on all counts… she hides behind Spencer and plays the victim”.

If this was real life, I would say that Heidi’s alleged friends and family should have stuck by her a little harder, supporting her through her inevitable marriage breakdown.

But we don’t know how real The Hills really is, so I have to say that maybe Heidi did willingly become a victim to Spencer’s controlling ways or, to take it a step further, to Hollywood’s ideal of what a woman should be.

Kimberly declares that she hopes “those of you out there who criticise yourselves and your bodies, who look at thin girls all over the place in fashion, who watch outlandishly pretty young ladies on television, who admire movie stars and supermodels and yearn to be like them can know: That’s not what it looks like. Ever.”

It is also interesting to note that Heidi, and to a lesser extent Stephanie, Holly and Audrina, is the only one whose succumbed to this ideal.

Lauren Conrad, the original star of the show, got out when the going was good, and now leads a relatively quiet life as a fashion designer-cum-author slashie. Kristin, as her earlier comments illustrate, knows it’s only a job. Lo is fairly low-key and we really don’t know that much about her, which is probably the way she likes it. And while Audrina, Holly and Stephanie may have had surgical augmentations of some kind or another, they all remain fairly down-to-earth girls, or so it would seem.

Kimberly also notes that while almost everything on the show is fake, The Hills “is the realest account of female self-destruction I’ve ever seen on television”. This may be true, but this unravelling of Spencer and Heidi can be taken as an exercise in critical discourse about “reality” television, Hollywood and celebrity culture, which bodes the question: why can some people handle fame whilst others become the next Lindsay Lohan, trapped in a prison sentence, both literally and figuratively?

Elsewhere: [I Love Wildfox] That’s What Girls Are Made Of.