Ever since Moses hauled the Almighty’s stone tablets down from Mount Sinai, celebrities have taken to the written word to tell other people exactly where they can shove it. But now, celebrities pop up for unscheduled declarations of all kinds right on our smartphones—blasting pics, views, and news on every outlet from Twitter to Facebook to their own blogs. Like us, their output ranges from the mundane to the mortifying. Unlike us, they have millions of readers.
Yes, it is unfair that we fight to have our recipe for risotto repinned while a “So what are you guys doing this morning?” FB status from a Real Housewife receives 43,237 replies. But remember: for every Twitter battle with a corporation that leads to policy change faster than a congressional order, there is that mistakenly uploaded nude cellphone pic. (Scarlett, what were you thinking?) We forget, after all, celebrities have a far bigger handicap than obscurity: usually, someone else tells them what to say. Here’s the best of what happens when that’s not the case.
Jean-Paul Sartre refused to accept the Nobel Prize because, he wrote, the “writer must refuse to let himself be transformed into an institution.” J.D. Salinger turned down a literary prize from Brandeis because he was afraid “credulous strangers” might show up to see him receive it.
Today’s celebrities are more generous with their rationales, stepping up to their virtual podiums to make a sort of anti-acceptance speech for the assembled. Axl Rose, declining induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in a bombastic press release this week, waxed openly on his “mixed emotions,” the history of his band Guns N’ Roses, and his respect for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, all the while impressively avoiding the express purpose of his letter, viz, “to help clarify things from my and my camp’s perspective.” He concludes by going meta, asking us to get the “‘no show, grandstanding, publicity stunt, disrespectful, he doesn't care about the fans’ crap out of the way as quickly as we can and let’s move on.” Luckily, calling fans concerns’ crap in anticipation of their widespread distress and telling them to get over it isn’t disrespectful or grandstanding at all.
This week also brought us director Joe Eszterhas’s outraged letter to Mel Gibson, which is useful not least in that it rounds up Gibson’s most stunning alleged anti-Semitic nicknames for Jews—“oven-dodgers,” for one—for future historians. Incensed at Gibson’s rejection of his screenplay The Maccabees, which Gibson called a “Jewish Braveheart,” the writer best known for baring it all (he was behind Basic Instinct) unwinds a veritable Talmudic scroll of other alarming intimations of Gibson’s hatred: during his and Gibson’s work together, he claims, Gibson confided his belief that Jews sacrificed Christian babies to drink their blood, continually used the word “Hebe,” and lightly informed Eszterhas’s son Nick that he’d like to stab the mother of his child to death. “I believe you announced the project,” Eszterhas begins his letter, “in an attempt to deflect continuing charges of anti-Semitism which have dogged you, charges which have crippled your career.” You think? And Mel—you should live and be well.
THE BAT SHIT
Though Gibson makes an impressive stab at near-hallucinatory psychosis, he is dogged at the end by sticking too convincingly to the script. Not afraid of mission creep are the two leading lights of the genre, Courtney Love and Charlie Sheen.
Love, who, as far as one can tell, has done little else but pen rants since the death of her husband, Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain, has been given the power to beam her brain in real time to Twitter, where last week a synapse accused Dave Grohl of seducing her and Cobain’s daughter, Frances Bean. (“i’m not made at her. him i’m about to shoot, dead.”) In scarcely more than 140 characters, Frances Bean issued an icy statement in response: “I have never been approached by Dave Grohl in more than a platonic way. I’m in a monogamous relationship and very happy. Twitter should ban my mother.”
Equally adept at destroying his career and alienating loved ones is Charlie Sheen, who took to radio, talk shows, and eventually a sprawling failure of a speaking tour after an open letter to producer Chuck Lorre spitting on his blockbuster show Two and a Half Men. In Gibsonian tradition, Sheen’s letter began by referring to Lorre by his supposedly original Jewish, and, apparently, damning, name (“Haim [sic] Levine”) then moved on to an impressive raft of imagery, including bringing Lorre into “his octagon” and destroying him with “fire-breathing fists.” This we did not see. On a brighter note, he did bring our culture a better, if short-lived, response to “How are you?” The answer: “Winning.”
We understand. You can’t go to Starbucks without a bodyguard, and $750,000 per episode can’t make up for the loss of privacy. New York condo boards always reject your applications, so you have to buy the whole building. The dark side of celebrity life has been reflected on more often than the Lakers in Jack Nicholson’s sunglasses, but that doesn’t mean that stars aren’t people—sort of—with rights.
Launching a national conversation about body-snarking right here on The Daily Beast is Ashley Judd, who last week decried how women “are described and detailed, our faces and bodies analyzed and picked apart, our worth ascertained and ascribed based on the reduction of personhood to simple physical objectification.” (She did go to Harvard.) Another recent hero of the people is Hugh Grant, who raised the profile of the News of the World’s phone-hacking scandal by testifying in the case against Rupert Murdoch, then going to the papers with his story. (People unafraid of dating themselves may also recall he went on Leno to apologize for going to a prostitute.)
And while it may be a stretch to call anything emanating from Al Gore a “rant,” let us remember that, for this calcified politician, toting around An Inconvenient Truth, the PowerPoint presentation that went from darkened auditoriums to film to book to Nobel, was his cri de coeur, the equivalent of streaking across the field at the Super Bowl. In any case, it’s always nice to have stars take a stand greater than ordering fries to prove that they eat.
THE FREQUENT TWEETERS
Once upon a time, planes—like prisons—were the kind of place you couldn’t complain: thousands of feet in the air, cheek to jowl with a hundred others, you were at the mercy of a cabin crew of five who could pretend they didn’t have pretzels whenever they wanted.
But now, the ease of Twitter and long runway waits have created a perfect sturm und drang—the ability to complain to 1.6 million people while refusing to talk to your seatmate. First came Kevin Smith, who was not allowed to board a Southwest Airlines flight because of his girth. His Twitter tirade led to an apology from the airline and an immediate rebooking where, Smith noted acidly to his equally outraged followers, he didn’t even need the seat-belt extender.
A less-sympathetic case is Alec Baldwin, booted from an American Airlines flight for a spat with the stewardess over his refusal to stop playing Words With Friends before takeoff. (No one seemed to enjoy the irony.) American Airlines took to Facebook to publish a full statement denouncing Baldwin’s behavior; Baldwin’s publicist tweeted back, “hey @American_AA: How come ok 4 other 1st class passengers 2 tweet while @alecbaldwin asked to leave while using his device? #hypocrisy.” #makethatfreechampagneadouble!
The most fun celebrities, however, are those intemperate enough to forget others can press “Save Page” as quickly as they can “Delete Account.” In addition to Baldwin, who briefly kissed TweetDeck goodbye after the American Airlines incident, musician Chris Brown tried to eradicate the F bombs he showered on followers criticizing his Grammy appearance, while seemingly mild novelist Alice Hoffman went so far as to publish the email and phone number of critic Roberta Silman after the latter gave her a negative review in The Boston Globe. “Now any idiot can be a critic,” Hoffman wrote. Or use Twitter.
THE ALL CAPS
If you do not have a telethon upon which to declare GEORGE BUSH DOES NOT CARE ABOUT BLACK PEOPLE or a stage upon which to jump to say BEYONCE WAS ROBBED, your second-best weapon is a BLOG UPON WHICH YOU MUST WRITE IN CAPS ALL THE TIME TO IMPRESS YOUR WORDS UPON YOUR READERS WITH THE SEARING FORCE OF A HOT CATTLE BRAND. Just ask KANYE WEST.
In this image-driven age, one doesn’t always have time to write out the thousand words that one fake iPhone shutter-click can manage. Celebrities of the fairer sex tend to use the photo medium to show us that they (a) are just as ugly as we are without makeup, (b) are not as skinny as we are saying that they are, or (c) still have it. Hence pics of Demi Moore in a bikini squinching blearily at her cellphone, Miley Cyrus asserting she’s not “anorexic,” Lady Gaga without makeup, Katy Perry without makeup, and Lily Allen without makeup. (That’s a fave.) The male sex, which is to say, politicians, on the other hand still seem under the impression the Web is the best venue for intimate encounters, perhaps because they used to showing up in public without anyone knowing who they are. Thus they confidently post photos of their privates. Oh, Anthony Weiner, Louis Maguzzu, Roberto Arango, C. Stephen Eckel. We only really sort of recognized ye.