Thursday, June 09, 2005

Sign of the Apocalypse #7: Welcome to Brangelina

A brilliant dissection of America's celebrity culture (and those of us who live vicariously through it), via the Sawyer-Pitt interview on ABC a couple of days ago, by Slate TV critic Dana Stevens. A must-read. Key passages:
In its particularly stark association between gossip and guilt -- watch these dying kids for a while, and we'll throw you a Pitt/Aniston tidbit for your trouble -- the Prime Time encounter exemplified the kind of sadomasochistic push-pull that's constantly at work between the celebrity media and its consumers. For weeks, ABC has been dangling snippets of the upcoming interview that promise some kind of revelation or intimacy; when, as instructed, we tune in to watch, we're upbraided for having been interested, then offered a drop of Jolie juice, then scolded again. How can we even think about such things when children are starving in Africa? But look: Brad and Angelina are so hot together! The dialectic carousel goes round and round, all the way to the bank: Brad Pitt is above all of this media frenzy. Brad Pitt has his priorities in order. Therefore, go see Brad Pitt's new movie...

The inner lives of celebrities have become our Torah, our Quran, our Book of Revelations (or maybe our Dianetics), to be scrutinized and deciphered as if performing exegesis on some cryptic sacred text. Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes leap on talk-show sofas, snog openly in front of hordes of paparazzi and hysterically declaim their passion to the press ("I miss him right now," Katie told one reporter, "And it's been like an hour!") -- but we know, we just know, they are lying -- their fake affair must conceal some far more perverse reality. Conversely, Brad Pitt wearily denies the existence of the mutant couple-creature that Access Hollywood has already dubbed "Brangelina" (that 60-page photo spread in the July issue of W, featuring Pitt and Jolie as a fictional suburban married couple, should be a big help in quelling the rumors), but we know he's lying too. Is our suspicion a healthy sign of resistance to celebrity bullshit, or just another trick to keep us buying magazines?

Memo to the celebrity-industrial complex, for whenever you hold your next top-secret cabal in a secure bunker beneath the "Hollywood" sign: It isn't fair. You can't brainwash us with the culture of celebrity, only to scold us for wanting the myth. You can't have your publicity-machine cake -- a tasty confection made entirely of money -- and eat your moral righteousness too. If the studio wants to use every means necessary to hawk tickets to Mr. and Mrs. Smith, so be it. But I'll take mine without the guilt, and worry about Africa on my own time.

Exceptional stuff from one of our finest cultural observers. (So good that I'll avoid my usual commentary, which in this case would be just a bit too obvious.)

This "celebrity-industrial complex" is truly the mother of all Signs of the Apocalypse, perhaps even the Apocalypse itself. I think I need to lie down.

(Anyone wanna see Mr. and Mrs. Smith with me? I can't resist!)

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